Tag Archive: how to start business


By Charles Pittaway, Managing Director of Netcash, part of the Sage Group plc.

Charles Pittaway

Charles Pittaway

Connected Services is a buzzword in the industry at present, though many people are still grappling to understand just how important it will become.  I strongly believe that any business or personal solution simply cannot afford to operate in isolation.  In order for software, handheld devices and hardware to offer something of real value, they will have to be developed to interact with one another.

In the face of the information explosion that is changing the way that we communicate at core level, I feel it necessary to take a step back and investigate where it all started.  When Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone in 1876, it was initially intended as a voice communication tool.  The realisation that the telephone was able to transfer data set the wheel in motion for the evolution into the telex and faxing sphere.  The connection of the humble telephone into cellular networks ultimately formed the foundation for the internet, which was the big game changer.

We now had the ability to transfer information and data across multiple platforms, which has had a tremendous influence on how we do business.  An example is internet banking, which essentially allows two different banking systems to connect in order to perform a transaction.  The user then receives a notification via SMS or e-mail, which brings two additional platforms into the equation, beautifully illustrating the concept of connected services.

The question however remains as to what further evolution may be on the cards for connected services and the ramifications it may have.  There are currently two very different schools of thought in play.  The advent of the cloud led to the creation of Software as a Service (SaaS), which essentially allows us to utilise software such as accounting and payroll solutions through the web on a pay per use basis.  The traditional business model is however application based, where the software is downloaded onto a personal computer and utilised from your desktop or laptop.

I foresee these two schools of thought merging in the next five to ten years into hybrid solutions.  In order to evolve into true connected services, both online and offline solutions will need to change its platforms to allow inter-changeable communication to take place.

The international business economy was non-existent 20 – 30 years ago.  Countries were isolated and restricted to trade within its own borders.  It has since developed into a global economy that is interlinked:  Whatever happens somewhere in the world has a knock-on effect elsewhere.  If you bring that same analogy back to connected services, then hardware, the internet and software has given rise to a global economy of technology.  All the different vendors cannot operate in isolation and truly successful vendors and service providers will be the companies that get that right.

Inter-operability is already well on its way to becoming the next buzzword, paving the way for strategic alliances and agreements that will allow every application or software solution to be accessible from any device.  Business Intelligence (BI) will become a key aspect in the process of collating all the available information in such a way that it will assist users to make intelligent decisions about their business.  Imagine if you had your order system, warehouse, banking, accounting, distribution and every other aspect you can think of, connected with one click of a button?  The vendors that can ultimately get all the links in the chain connected, will be king.

Connected Services allows for transactions to be owned by various vendors, whether it is a banking system, order system, e-mail or SMS.  It is ultimately not about the number of systems to be linked in a supply chain, but how these systems interact to automate a total solution.

By Steven Cohen, managing director, Softline Pastel Accounting

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Steven Cohen, MD Softline Pastel Accounting

Softline Pastel, as I’m sure you know is an ardent supporter of the development of SMEs and like all businesses we started out small. The company, which was founded in 1989 in Johannesburg, is now a leading developer of accounting and business software supplying 52 countries including 18 in Africa. The past 22 years haven’t all been plain sailing and I believe it’s worth sharing some of our mistakes and successes to highlight the fact that entrepreneurship isn’t always easy but it’s certainly rewarding.

We started out as three partners and two employees. Our strategy was to grow the business organically but also incorporate some acquisitive growth by using cash to buy smaller businesses with strong synergies. This way we slowly acquired new customers and from there, more employees.

Organic growth is slower than acquisitive expansion but is less risky in the long term as it comes from within the company and the management team can form strategic goals from which to guide the enterprise. This method also gives the company a chance to test its own business model while relying on independent finances. Purchasing other businesses has its merits, particularly in terms of gaining new customers and revenue quickly but it may come with challenges including shareholders that you don’t want. Integrating two businesses also involves streamlining different cultures, systems and work ethics into one entity with common values and goals – not always an easy task.

Naturally, we’ve made mistakes along the way but what’s important is what we’ve learned from them. During our growth phase we were constantly fraught with anxiety about the next move and about our overheads. We realised early on that running a business is stressful, but it’s imperative not to let this strangle your ideas. Think big, keep your feet on the ground and work on your emotional intelligence to be able to treat mistakes as growth opportunities! At the end of the day you’re an entrepreneur because of your willingness to take risks.

One of the worst mistakes entrepreneurs make is to become so absorbed in their business ideas that they forget to monitor day to day finances. Don’t underestimate the importance of tracking your cash flow and accounting balances all the time; financial statements are going to be your business’s lifeblood and should never be disregarded. In fact, entrepreneurs, it’s imperative that you know your financial terminology to ensure that you understand the nitty gritty of your business. And apart from balancing the books, I really recommend the use of information systems to help you track and report your daily operations – this just gives such insight into the overall state of your business.

When it comes to hiring employees, I’ve learned that it’s better to pay more money for a good person with the right overall fit for your organisation including the appropriate work ethic, rather than a person who is just good on paper. Business owners may be tempted to pay top dollar for the most knowledgeable and skilled employee without taking note of whether their work ethic and other cultural traits fit in with the business.

When managing new recruits, lead by example and let your staff make a few mistakes along the way. Make them love coming to work by giving them responsibility and keeping them informed and educated. It’s also really important to recognise the ones who go the extra mile.

And don’t forget your most valued asset: your customers. Looking after them will build your credibility so keep your promises and always get back to people. But don’t just rely on the customers you have – always work to increase the size of your customer-base.

While addressing your weaknesses is important, don’t forget to remember what you’re doing right. In our start up phase there were a number of things that I can say were right. We managed to sell our value proposition confidently and always remained ahead of our competitors and industry challenges. To do this we read, read and read but always drew our own conclusions and then shared this information with employees.

At the end of the day, invest for sustainability because your business needs to outlive you. Keep on moving forward as procrastination is the enemy of progress and lastly, give back to the community: it makes you feel good and you are growing your future customers.

By Ivan Epstein CEO (and co-founder) of Softline and Sage AAMEA 

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Ivan Epstein

In the lead up to World Entrepreneur Day this Friday, I am constantly inspired by the tremendous entrepreneurial talent in South Africa. The desire to succeed by South Africans has resulted in an entrepreneurial culture which continues to grow at an encouraging rate in our country. This growth will be vital to fuel economic development in South Africa this year, and beyond.

While people can learn the principles of entrepreneurship, I think it’s very hard to train someone to be an entrepreneur. The steps and the risks you have to take to succeed in your own business can’t be taught. Ultimately, building a successful business and constructing a legacy is about passion; having a vision and sticking to it no matter what.

Starting a business and finding the right concept and vision is a gruelling process. Here are some insights that I gained along the way:

Work with people that support your vision

Finding a business partner that you trust and who shares your common interest and a similar drive to succeed is critical to making a business idea work. In many instances you will question your decisions or the direction you are taking, but having partners and staff that support you and share your vision makes the process substantially easier.

Find the right idea

The right idea might not present itself immediately, and is likely to be the result of a lot of investigative work as well as the current situation.  Revisit your initial idea often. Look back at where you’ve come from, and how the concept might have grown, expanded or improved. Be inspired by this, and use it as a learning experience to grow.

Persevere. It just takes one

With no track record, starting a business and selling a service or product can be difficult. A stand-out piece of advice that I received was simply to persevere until you find that one person that will give you a chance. Once you have gained your first customer the second one will follow. The challenges are many to start with, but these decrease as you persevere and focus on steadily moving forward.

Making mistakes is part of the process

With most decisions it takes time to get into a rhythm of knowing what to look for and how to make an informed decision. It is important to recognise that not every decision will be a good one. Entrepreneurs make mistakes; the secret is that they need to be big enough to admit it, learn from it and move on.

Trust your gut

Many entrepreneurs look for mentors to guide them along the process. Mentors are important, but trusting your gut is just as important to succeed. Taking the advice and guidance of others on board is helpful, but most entrepreneurs will also have that basic instinct for their own businesses. It’s important to tap into that instinct.

In closing, continue to look ahead and to see beyond where the business sits today. Your interest should always lie in the future. That is, after all, where you are going to spend the rest of your life.