Research and development benefits for the SMME

Research and development (R&D) isn’t something large corporations invest in. Small businesses can leverage R&D to be sustainable compete on and lead the market too.

Your business is only as good as your product or service, and there are many ways in which R&D can elevate your product/service and therefore your business:

It gives you a USP (unique selling point)
Products and services don’t have to be brand new to benefit from a little attention from R&D. It can drive product improvement and innovation within existing offerings and make you stand out from the crowd.

Increased income
Increase your profit from new or enhanced income streams following the creation of unique products and services resulting from R&D. And, if you stand out and show your entrepreneurial prowess, you can also attract potential investors.

Doing R&D can have cost implications for small business. However, R&D can also offer many opportunities for businesses to seek public-sector innovation, research and development grants. Look into what is available to you, and see how you can take advantage of financial support.

Get ‘the edge’
Through R&D, you can develop an advantage over your competitors and establish yourself as a market leader. By developing of new products and services you can also generate intellectual property for your business and realise further financial benefit.

I will write more about this next month, but collaboration is key for any successful R&D project.

Collaboration can take place between yourself and any other organisation. It allows for the transfer of skills and knowledge, and gives you access to facilities, knowledge, experience and potentially new ideas that would otherwise be unattainable.

Engaging in R&D can help you strengthen your brand and reputation. If you’re collaborating with a trusted, reputable partner the potential commercial success from their involvement is huge.

The business benefits of entering awards

South Africa has numerous awards designed to recognise the achievements of our homegrown industries and entrepreneurs. And while it’s great to celebrate excellence, business awards have multiple business advantages.

Whether your business is starting out or well-established, you can benefit from entering the right awards. Here are my reasons for putting yourself forward.

Maximise brand visibility
By being shortlisted or winning an award, your brand is thrown into the spotlight. Credible awards can generate significant publicity, and with the process spanning weeks or even months, you have a steady stream of content you can use on your website and social media platforms. So use it! Share your involvement on social media, use the hashtags associated with the awards and connect with other businesses involved. You can also use comments from the judges commending your business, in press releases, in your newsletter and place the award logo on your marketing material.

Evaluate your business model
The application process forces you to look at your business from a different perspective. In entering, you need to make sure you stand out from the rest. Look at what makes you different: innovation, diversity, growth, customer service, investment in people or strategic thinking.

Review what works and adds to your success, and what hinders business growth. And if you don’t win, this processes might even be more valuable than winning the award itself! 

Network opportunity
Awards tend to be judged by successful entrepreneurs, and by being shortlisted you have a chance to discuss your business with industry leaders. During the awards process, use all opportunities to meet fellow entrants, forge new relationships and learn from your peers. They’re there because they’re also an achiever, and there are always things to learn.

 Increase credibility
An award win, short-listing or nomination is a form of a third-party endorsement. And as such, it increases your credibility and positions you as an expert in your industry.

As a winner, it differentiates you from your competitors and can provide a competitive advantage when attracting and retaining customers. If you’re looking for investment, an award win demonstrates that you are recognised as the best or holding great potential.

Celebrate your team
Awards recognise the hard work your team has placed into your business. So use a shortlist or win to boost staff morale and motivate them. You wouldn’t be where you are without them, which is why it’s important to acknowledge their contribution.

Awards allow you to benchmark yourself against others and will enable you to stand out from the rest. To gain maximum value, do your research and choose an award aligned to your business and values.

By carefully selecting the right category for you, you can find a niche which makes you stand out from the rest. If you can show how you make a difference, and how you are different, you can create a differentiator that means customers pick you over your competitors.

Your SME doesn’t define you

We’ve all been to a networking session either organised by the local business chamber, or similar organisation. And when used correctly they can hold great value. But what irks me, is that when you introduce yourself you’re defined by your SME as an entrepreneur, and people do business with people.

If I am looking for an accountant, I will look for someone who has similar values to me, someone who sees the purpose of being a business person as I do. If I can’t sit and have a cup of coffee with someone, how can you expect me to form a business relationship with them?

When presenting an elevator pitch some jump straight to their accomplishments and what their business does. The truth is, I’m interested in knowing your priorities. What defines you as a person? Are you someone I can do business with?

What your business does isn’t you, it’s a part of you. Few sit and consider what defines them as a person. And it’s incredibly valuable to sit and reflect. If you don’t identify what matters most to you, you’ll never know if you’re heading in the right direction, if you’re working with the right people to get you there, or if what you’re doing makes you truly happy.

Ask yourself:

Do you want success or happiness?
What are you willing to compromise on, to get what you want?
What could you eliminate in order to gain more?
Do you seek self-satisfaction or acceptance from others?
What percentage of your time is spent doing what you enjoy?
Do you do things because you want to, or because you have to?
What do you consider a higher priority: having more or being more?
Do work demands interfere with your personal life?
How much influence do others have on your priorities?
Do you value possessions more than relationships and experiences?

This list isn’t extensive, but it will provoke a feeling and an emotion in you, and that emotion will let you know if you’re on the right course or not.

 Always remember to:
Be your own person and make yourpriorities a priority. Focussing other people’s happiness will see you sacrificing your happiness.
Don’t be afraid to make the tough choices.
Keep it simple. Don’t become blinded by ambition, power, or success.
Learn how to say, no.
Keep your promises.
Let your actions speak for themselves.

Make a life while you make a living
It’s easy to get so caught up in the day-to-day ‘busyness’ that we lose sight of the big picture – whatever that might be for you. And when you finally take a moment to catch your breath, you realise what you should have done. Unfortunately, life’s not a dress rehearsal.

So follow your passions, focus on the things that matter, and be grateful for what you have. Enrich your life and leave every room a little better than when you entered it.

Now, if someone asks you to “tell me about yourself,” what would you say? While career and entrepreneurial accomplishments are something, they’re not everything.

Matric reunions

A few years ago I attended my matric class’ 40-year reunion. I went more out of curiosity than the need to reconnect with folk or revisit the passages we’d walked.

I didn’t have any bad memories of my school years, yet I felt like a fish out of water… I didn’t necessarily belong.

Looking back now, I think my reservedness was part of my inferiority complex; everyone else was smarter, more beautiful etc.; I coped by playing sport and reading books.

Why did I feel out of place? I wasn’t an academic nor could I go with the crowd. As I grew older, I found my place, and I discovered my passion and purpose and gained strength in my voice. Although this might seem small and insignificant; until such a time that I had found my voice, I didn’t know what career path to follow or how to spend my time constructively.

I discovered I was extremely driven and ambitious. That I loved people, working as part of a team, but also as a supporter. I found that if I followed my gut all would be good. Being an outsider served me well. I got to observe and understand people better. It also taught me I don’t have to take the busiest road; the path less travelled is never as crowded, and far more interesting.

Getting back from my reunion I realised that I was not the only outsider; several others felt the same. The people I thought had everything going for them, actually didn’t. The folk we had least expected success from had achieved the most.

I came to realise too, that although I felt so uncomfortable in myself, I had been accepted for who I was. That was incredibly comforting.

Why do we always try to fit in to conform to a specific mould? In my opinion, no growth and development can take place here. Accepting yourself, being true and reaching for your dreams allows you to achieve your goals.

“Having a sense of purpose is having a sense of self. A course to plot is a destination to hope for.” Bryant H. McGill

I’m busy and stressed all the time…help!

There are very few people who do not feel like this every day and it only gets worse as we draw closer to December. Here are a few tips to help you manage your time and emotions:

Beware the “busy-ness” trap: all too often the response we give and get when people ask us how we are is that we are busy, that life is so hectic. We have become socially programmed to think that it is acceptable to be out of control or stretched almost to breaking point. Are you busy doing things that are making a positive impact on your life or are you wasting time on meetings that you don’t need to attend, on wandering through each of the aisles at Checkers in an effort to figure out what you need in your grocery cupboard? Look objectively at how you spend your time. Are you really busy or are you just saying so?

Slow down: rushing around from “A” to “B” is very stressful. That’s why the Slow Lounge at OR Tambo exists. You need to give yourself time to breathe, to take “time out” to think clearly and objectively. Slowing down also allows you to focus your attention on the task at hand. That focus is what will allow you to do a better job in less time and with fewer mistakes. Sebastian Vettel doesn’t win F1 races by thinking about anything other than what is happening on the track.

Plan your day: Another line from the conversation above is that we don’t know where the year has gone. Know what you want to achieve in each aspect of your life and know what tasks or activities will get you there. Once you know that, you can divide your day accordingly. Start by blocking time out for regular activities, for example, exercise, spiritual study or family activities. By scheduling these things to happen at regular times, you can start forming healthy time management habits. You can then manage daily tasks and activities by scheduling them throughout the rest of the day. You don’t have to be rigid about this: I attended a training session years ago that advocated the use of labelled lists to manage tasks: @ home. @ telephone, @ laptop etc. Doing this focuses your attention directly on what needs to be done when you are at a particular place. It’s an efficient way of getting to the task when the opportunity arises. You have not restricted yourself to a tight schedule of making a particular call at a particular time. Over-scheduling can lead to failure and stress when unplanned for events throw your plans out.

Use “flat spots” in your day: what do you do when you are being driven to a meeting or when you are waiting for the children to finish sport? Use this time to make the phone calls on your “@ telephone” list or to review the document that needs editing. If you want to use this time to relax and read a book, do so without feeling guilty. The point here is that you should use these flat spots in your day constructively, rather than simply waiting for time to pass.

Do something fun: the pressures of day-to-day life wear us down and you may feel that you don’t ever get to do something just for the fun of it. Think about what brings you joy and factor that into your days. Do something not because it should be done or because you feel obliged to do it. Do it just for fun…and don’t feel guilty or conflicted because you have allowed yourself to do something for yourself.


Setting goals

A well-constructed and well-considered goal can be extremely motivating and rewarding. For example, if you are looking to develop new business, set the sales team a goal to make a certain number of cold calls. Need to increase customer satisfaction? Set a target for the time it takes for supervisors to resolve complaints, and keep track of positive customer feedback.

Knowledge sharing, and mentoring has seen many entrepreneurs set a single, specific, number goals to focus efforts. At first, it makes sense. Single number goals are clear with no room for misunderstanding or interpretation. But there are other factors that influence whether people will pursue a goal.

Two of the more important factors are challengeand attainability. People want to feel challenged so they feel a sense of accomplishment when they reach the target. If the challenge is too easy, the goal will likely demotivate rather than inspire. But, don’t make the goal unattainable – asking too much can be daunting, even disheartening. it is vital that any goal has the right balance. And this can be difficult with single-number goals.

Emerging evidence suggests that entrepreneurs who make high-low goals (goals that have a high-low range that averages the same, e.g. open 18 – 22 new accounts this month) will see their team achieve goals. The reason being, high-low goals are challenging and attainable.

One of the many challenges that managers face is sustained efforts towards achieving wider organisational goals. So use the high-low goal to achieve greater success.

But with anything, there is a limitation to use. High-low goals are likely to be most effective for employees who are revisiting a goal rather than being set a new one. Restricting the opportunities to use high-low goals teams or individuals revisiting goals e.g. missing last quarter’s new client meeting target, still gives you plenty of opportunities to test its impact on your team.

Test it in your organisation, and see how it effects your team for the rest of 2018,


Our inner voice, our biggest stumbling block

While the “inner voice” helps us make decisions, another voice lives in our heads, one that’s evaluating our performance. It determines our value. It judges the level of optimism that is reasonable to hold regarding our future. But I believe it holds many people back.

According to Psychology Today, The critical inner voice is a point of view we internalise early in life based on childhood experiences. It can represent the way we were seen by an influential parental figure, particularly in times of stress when that person was at their worst and was mis-attuned to us in some way. As we grow up, we take on these negative views as our own and the inner voice starts to function like a disciplinary parent holding us back and keeping us in our place. By the time we reach adulthood, we perceive the negative views of us and the critical inner voice as part of our self-perception.

Often the inner voice and past insecurities hold us back in life, not a lack of intellect, knowledge or skills. And it takes a certain amount of drive, determination and perseverance to reach beyond your circumstances and rid yourself of a critical inner voice.

My advice is:

Identify the voice in your head
Start listening for the voice. The next time you succeed or when you fail, ask yourself, “what does the voice inside me like right now?” When you’re nervous or hesitant to try something new, there’s an inner narrative happening. What is it saying? If we’re going to be able to forgive ourselves and understand why we do what we do, this is key.

Establish whether the voice is helping you or holding you back
I believe the voice inside most of us is holding us back.

Avoid shame
I believe it is one of the biggest barriers to forgiving ourselves. But was is shame? According to Dr Brene Brown, “shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.” When we believe we are unworthy of anything, we make dangerous choices. If we believe we are flawed and, therefore, unworthy, we will struggle to accept forgiveness for our own mistakes, and as entrepreneurs, we make and always will make mistakes.

Life should be a journey of continual improvement, discovery, and growth towards a more complete individual. Lack of growth in life and career is so often self-induced sabotage – that inner voice or thought pattern.

The only person who can change it is you.

Writing your CV

So you have your own business (congrats!), And I bet you think gone are the days that you need a CV. Wrong. I thought the same when I launched SmartStone Port Elizabeth in 1995, but over the years I have used my resume for many purposes.

For example, I have needed an up to date CV for:
– Prospective clients who want to see my backgroundBusiness proposals
– The basis for my executive biography which is needed for websites, award entries, speaking engagements and marketing collateral
– Banks ask for resumes for each business owner when asking for a loan
– Your CV is the foundation of all your social media profile content to establish your personal and company brand
– Supplementing income with contract work. And, it’s these initial contracts that often lead you to your first clients

So, what to include?
Just like meeting face-to-face, first impressions are lasting impressions. And your CV needs to make the right first impression. You should include:
– Experiences that demonstrate why you are an expert in your field and where you have successfully worked with clients
– Your ethics and values, how you operate and companies/professionals you associate with
– Plans for your business and any studies you are preparing for
– Your training and education

It is, in essence, a personal marketing document promoting your brand and that of your company. So do not groan that you still need a resume. Rejoice in the fact you now get to have a brag book your fabulous experiences and achievement

What business can you learn from family firms

The phrase “family business” connotes a small or mid-sized company with a local focus and squabbles over succession. While plenty of family firms fit that description, it doesn’t reflect the powerful role that family-controlled enterprises play in the world economy.

Conventional wisdom holds that the unique ownership structure of family businesses gives them a long-term orientation that traditional public firms often lack. But how true is this?

Though family-run companies slightly lag when the economy booms, they weather recessions far better. Why? Family businesses tend to focus on resilience rather than performance. They forgo the excess returns available during good times in order to increase their odds of survival during the bad. A CEO of a family-controlled firm may have financial incentives similar to those of non-family firms, but the familial obligation leads to very different strategic choices. Executives of family businesses often invest with a 10 or 20-year goal, concentrating on what they can do now to benefit the next generation. 

So how do family-run firms manage for resiliency?

1: They’re frugal in good times and bad
After years of working with family businesses, I have seen that they all seem infused with the sense that the company’s money is the family’s money, and as a result they simply do a better job of keeping their expenses under control. You’ll see that family-run enterprises enter recessions with leaner cost structures, and consequently are less likely to have to make redundancies.

2: They keep the bar high for capital expenditures
Family-controlled firms are especially cautious when it comes to CapEx. I have a simple rule for my family business: do not spend more than we earn. This sounds like simple good sense, but the reality is, you never hear those words uttered by corporate executives who are not owners.

At most family firms, CapEx investments have a double hurdle to clear: a project must provide a good return; then it’s judged against other potential projects, to keep spending under the company’s self-imposed limit. Because family businesses are more stringent, they tend to invest only in very strong projects. The downfall is some opportunities are missed during periods of expansion, but in times of crisis it pays off because they’ve avoided projects that may have been money pits.

3: They carry little debt
Family-controlled firms, associate debt with fragility and risk. Debt means having less room to manoeuvre if a setback occurs, and it means being beholden to a non-family investor. People assume many families with their own business are rich and courageous, but in fact, they are risk-adverse leaving most of the cash in the company to avoid giving away too much power to banks.

4: They acquire fewer (and smaller) companies
Family businesses favoured smaller acquisitions close to the core of their existing business, or deals that involved simple geographic expansion. They’re generally not ‘deal makers’.

Family businesses prefer organic growth and will often pursue partnerships or joint ventures instead of acquisitions. Acquisitions represent integration and culture risk, the fabric of any family-owned business.

5: Surprising levels of diversification
Many family businesses expanded into new lines of business organically or through small acquisitions to enter new fields. As recessions have become deeper and more frequent, diversification has become a key way to protect family wealth. If one sector suffers a downturn, businesses in other sectors can generate funds that allow a company to invest for the future.

6: They retain talent better than their competitors do.
Retention at family-run businesses is generally better. The reason? They tend to focus on creating a culture of commitment and purpose, avoiding layoffs during downturns, promoting from within, and investing in people.

Creating your tribe

Successful entrepreneurs and leaders create the outcomes they desire, by surrounding themselves with like-minded people and those working towards the same goal. It’s their ‘tribe’ but how do you create one?

Firstly, a tribe isn’t just a group of ‘fans’ that follow, tweet, like, or share your stuff on social media. A tribe is your second family. They congratulate you on your success. They encourage you, they see your vision when you can’t, and it’s your support network.

When considering who you want to surround yourself, ask yourself the following:

What is your vision for yourself and others in your tribe?
This is an essential ingredient to building your community.

Does your tribe have a shared purpose?
Find out what you are working towards as a unit.

What does your tribe identify as?
Create a name for your tribe.

How will your tribe engage with each other?
Closed Facebook groups, monthly meetings, etc. are great for having a controlled space to monitor and interact with your tribe.

What will you and your tribe do to make your mark?

You can start a blog, host community events, or even create a product.

I am a believer that ‘like attracts like’, and you should surround yourself with people that carry a positive light. Entrepreneurs all need to surround themselves that want to make a difference and bring out the good, warm, and fuzzy stuff that will influence others and gets them asking, “How do I join?”

My motto is “Whatever you put inside, you get out.” Consider this while you’re building and connecting with others. Think of your network are your net worth, if the people you are connecting with don’t share the same purpose or vision that you desire to acquire, what is your net worth?

Create and build your tribe on positive vibes and I promise that you will always have an understanding and supportive group behind you. I could tell you that there’s more to building a tribe than what I have provided you so far, but there really isn’t. Over thinking its creation will probably lead to you delaying putting your tribe together.

It is as simple as starting a book or supper club. Everything else to grow your tribe and solidify its role, will come as you grow your community. Things like jargon you may use within your tribe and the roles people play will come too as your grow.

As I said, don’t over think it, and have fun as your become closer and closer as a group.