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.

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.


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

The importance of business reputation

The reputation of a business is essential to its survival, but how do you create a positive reputation?

While intangible, having a good reputation can benefit a business in a multitude of ways including consumer preference, support for an organisation in times of crisis or controversy, and business value.

If an organisation has an excellent reputation; consumers have a preference for that company, it can enable a company to differentiate in highly competitive markets, allows for premium pricing, and can become the ultimate factor in whether a customer decides to choose one brand over another.

In my experience, there are ten components to reputation measurement:

  • Ethics: behave ethically, be admirable, worthy of respect, and trustworthy
  • Employees/workplace: have talented employees and treat your people well and have an appealing environment.
  • Financial performance: be financially stable and profitable with growth prospects
  • Leadership: be a leader and innovative
  • Management: the business has a high-quality management team with a clear vision
  • Social responsibility: recognise your social responsibilities and support good causes
  • Customer focus: cares about and be strongly committed to customers
  • Quality: offer high-quality products/services
  • Reliability: stand behind products/services, and provides consistent service
  • Emotional appeal: make consumers feel good

Knowing this, entrepreneurs looking to build reputation can do so in many ways:

  • Establish trust: keep your word no matter what
  • Be responsive: return calls and emails promptly
  • Resolve mistakes: never make excuses or place blame on the client if an issue is the fault of the company
  • Offer value: provide free services to loyal customers and pay attention to details and their preferences
  • Become tech savvy: proficiency in technology is critical to being perceived as a competent and capable business
  • Communicate efficiently and transparently: any correspondence should be direct and to the point. Check spelling/grammar and provide contact information
  • Maintain a professional website: having a clean, up-to-date website is essential for any business
  • Community service: generosity to local non-profit organisations can go a long way toward building and establishing a reputation

Before social media, businesses relied on word-of-mouth and campaigns by public relations and marketing professionals. But today, maintaining reputation through social media takes time and requires careful management. As an entrepreneur, you can establish a reputation by:

Assigning responsibility: as a leader, you must brief and trust someone to become the ‘voice’ of the organisation on social media.

Be responsive: the lack of a well-crafted, well-meaning response could cost you. Social media has given customers multiple options to voice their opinions. Taking ownership of your social media sites gives you the control you need to manage conversations and respond to feedback.

Establish your online reputation: when a potential customer searches online for your brand, your business should be on the first page. Creating a strong online presence is essential for an organisation to establish its brand and maintain its reputation.

Monitor conversations: use monitoring tools to find out what feedback your company is receiving; this is also a time-saver for the person in charge of social media content.

The reputation of a business depends on many factors, but being transparent, trustworthy and responsive are essential to the survival of any company. While an intangible asset, maintaining a positive reputation is fundamental to profitability, relevance, and existence of your business. Bad word-of-mouth, lack of response to a crisis, and lack of transparency can rapidly decimate the reputation of a company, so it is essential that entrepreneurs be steadfast in maintaining goodwill to their stakeholders.

Time management skills for entrepreneurs

We all have the same 24 hours a day to accomplish our goals, aspirations, and dreams. So how do we best utilise the time given to us with the millions of things we have going on each day?

Firstly, you can’t manage time; you can only manage yourself. As long as you focus on managing time – searching for systems, lists, and tools – you are ignoring the real issue: how to manage yourself.

Every time you repeat “Too much to do” and “Not enough time”, you are letting yourself off the hook for managing yourself. You are blaming circumstances beyond your control and playing the victim. Stop it! Of course, there is too much to do! Of course, there is not enough time! Get used to it!

Which leads me to priorities, you cannot have too many priorities. By definition priorities are the top few tasks that deserve attention next. If you have too many, you have none. So know your top few priorities because if you have two to three priorities, you will complete two to three tasks. If you have four to 10, you will complete one or two. If you have more than 10, you won’t finish any. The more items on your list, the more time you spend focusing on the list and feeling overwhelmed.

So here are my five ways to deal with too much to do:

  • Accomplish more – this is simply wishful thinking unless you actually find a new, faster method that makes a measurable difference. You won’t save significant time trying to be faster and more disciplined
  • Postpone – some things can wait. Push them out
  • Cut corners – cutting corners sounds bad, but it isn’t. Not everything has to be awesome or perfect. Before starting any task, always ask the question, “How well?” Those last tweaks are usually discernible to no one but yourself
  • Ignore – some tasks just don’t need to be done
  • Delegate/outsource – too many people are doing things that should never be on their plates in the first place. If you don’t know how to delegate effectively and confidently, you need to learn. If you are a control freak or simply unwilling to let go, stop it!

When you fail to manage yourself, establish top priorities, and make conscious decisions about what to do and what not to do, the stress is unbelievable and the results aren’t pretty:

  • Your inbox and meeting schedule starts to control your day
  • Important tasks are trumped by easy tasks that you can dispense with quickly in exchange for the feeling of progress
  • “Fun” tasks, those for which you always have time and energy, somehow get finished
  • Short-term initiatives beat out long-term efforts.

And every week you copy and sort those to-do lists hoping they will magically become feasible.

It’s time to bite the bullet, narrow your top priorities list to two to three items at any one time, schedule time on your calendar to tackle those items and devote the rest of your energy to focusing and getting them done. Quit wasting so much time and energy listing, managing, and prioritising the things that deserve to fall through the cracks.

Considerations for starting a business

You may well have the characteristics to be an entrepreneur, but there are three large, practical hurdles to overcome:

Do you have the requisite skills to do the primary work of the business?
I’ve known many people who have charged headlong into a venture without having thought this through clearly. It’s unusual for a startup to succeed if an owner lacks the ability to do the primary work of the business, so if you can’t do it all. Find a partner who can.

Have a plan for performing the ancillary functions
If you are going to start a company, you had better want to run a business. That means you’ll have more to do than just the primary work of the enterprise. You will have to do admin works such as accounts receivable and payable, payroll. You’ll probably need some sort of IT infrastructure. The list goes on…

Getting ancillary functions right is critical for your business to survive. Yes, some functions can be outsourced, but you’ll need a plan to do each of them.

Growth means you will have to let go
You might be going into because you are passionate about doing the primary work of your startup. And you need that passion. But if your business is successful, it will grow and one day you will face a choice: delegate doing the primary, stop growing or hire someone to run the company while you continue doing the work.

Before you launch your new venture, know which path you’ll take and be prepared to handle success.

Starting a new business is exciting. But as with anything planning can help you avoid disaster. Make sure you have thought through the three critical issues above.