Ooooota Adepo: Africa needs to connect with the world and itself

Ooooota Adepo is the Founder of Cross Culture Creative, a consultancy which addresses business challenges in Real Estate, Energy and Technology between Africa and the Western World.

Motivated by her drive to simultaneously tackle social issues and capture business opportunities in the global marketplace, Ooooota seeks to build a world in which all cultures are uplifted, and borders do not impede growth.

As director of In-Decks, Ooooota feeds her passion for food and travel through culinary insights and from some of the world’s most interesting food personalities.

She holds a B.A. in Economics from the University of Pennsylvania and a Master’s degree from Cambridge University in Urban Planning. She is fluent in English, Yoruba, French, Spanish and Italian.

Ooooota recently gave a Ted Talk in Berlin, where she highlighted the need for a more connected Africa, culturally and in business.

As an African, have you experienced travel restrictions within and outside Africa? Watch this Ted Talk by @ooooota1 Click To Tweet

Watch the Ted Talk here:

Here are 5 takeaways from this TED Talk about Africa’s connection with the world and with itself:

1. If Africa is to be culturally or diplomatically engaged with the world, it needs to be
viewed as an equal, not as an object of charity, nor as a fad.

 
2. Our history and our cultures (languages included) must be reinforced internally if they are to stand against the veracity of Western civilizations. With time, histories fade and languages die. We are responsible for ensuring this does not happen if we are to remain relevant as a people in centuries to come.

 
3. Africans need to be fiercely curious about the world but more importantly about Africa. There is so much to discover.

 

Unfortunately, African's still face restrictions in traveling their own continents. How did we get here? - @ooooota1 Click To Tweet 4. When we present ourselves to the world, either in conversations with non-Africans or through our businesses, we must keep in mind our global brand. We must always be ambassadors of our continent. We must also always treat fellow Africans with respect.

 
5. The solutions I outline in my talk towards building a prosperous Africa through infrastructure, trade, industry, and education need urgent attention. I see African women spearheading this.


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The Art of Customer Service every business should adopt

As important as branding and advertising are, one of the most important elements of selling a product/service is customer service.

Excellent customer service puts your business ahead of the competition as it is something that is often missing from the a lot of countries, especially the Ghanaian business model.

Small businesses tend to jump straight to digital marketing or advertising without taking a moment to fully understand their business model and industry and how their product (or service), pricing, place (online store or brick & mortar store) and people (service personnel) intertwine and affect the overall brand and ROI.

In case you didn’t know, people are one of the most important aspects of the business, that is service personnel across the production line or yourself if you are running a run man show.

Customer service does not begin and end at the point of transaction and as a small business owner, you must consider the pre-purchase experience, purchase experience, and post-purchase experience

So what does this mean for your business? 

Pre-purchase experience

This refers to the experience your customer has with your brand before they decide to purchase anything. Is your website appealing? Does it have enough information to allow the customer to make an informed decision – or are your photos outdated? How is your advertising?

Are people speaking positively about your brand?

Purchase experience

This is the actual moment of transaction where you exchange the product (or service) for payment. If you run an online store, you must consider your interface – is your website easy to navigate? How does your customer pay for their purchase – do you have Mobile Money integrated? Can they use a Visa Card?

There are many services in Ghana that allow you to develop a website that allows your customers to shop online. A personal favorite is Storefoundry, it works very well for small businesses in Ghana.

If you run an actual brick & mortar store, what is the ambiance like? Is it easy for customers to locate the products in your store? Are they on high shelves and do they always need an attendant to help?

Is your store so small that your customers can only come in one at a time? Is your shop attendant interactive, willing to help and offer alternatives? Or are they constantly on their phone?

Post-purchase experience

This covers your follow-ups and interaction with the client after the transaction. Are you bombarding them with irrelevant SMS messages and emails? If you provide a delivery service, was your delivery driver dressed appropriately?

Below are practical tips you can put into action to make sure your customer service is top notch.

  • Recruitment & Training – Recruitment and training is the beginning of providing excellent customer service. Even if you are running a run man show, you need to stay up to date on customer relationship trends and train yourself to always put the customer first.  If you are hiring others to handle the customer interaction, make sure you hire people who know and understand the vision of the brand and are willing to be brand ambassadors both inside and outside the workplace. Personnel must also be conversant in the industry-speak as well as in the product itself, in order to serve as a salesperson.
Hiring the right people will allow you to build the right company culture that is well aligned with the brand Click To Tweet
  • Go the extra mile – The data you collect from your customers serve many purposes. One of the main ones is to compile a mailing list for your newsletter but another important use would be to study your customer’s purchasing habits and stay a step ahead of them all the time. Group your customers by date of birth and send out a personal message to them via text message or Whatsapp, which has become a popular medium for business communication in Ghana. Get to know your customers personally, are they parents? Do they celebrate religious holidays? Make sure to reach out to them accordingly.
Reminding customers that you have them on your mind will make them feel involved with the brand. Click To Tweet
  • Feedback is key – Receiving feedback from your customers at least once a quarter is important. Simple tools such as Google Forms or Survey Monkey are helpful for designing easy to use surveys which gives you direct feedback from your customers and clients. This way, your clients feel involved with and connected to your brand.

 

  • Appearance – You and your staff’s appearance is one of the most important elements in building a strong brand. Ensure that staff (and yourself) look the part at all times. Customers appreciate a smile and a helping hand, as difficult as it may be on some occasions.

The best way to make sure your customer service is on point is to align the pre-purchase, purchase and post-purchase experience to ensure a smooth transaction!

Go forth and provide an excellent service!

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5 things you can learn from Talaya Waller’s Ted Talk on personal branding

Dr. Talaya Waller is an internationally known, award-winning personal branding consultant, speaker, and marketing scholar who works with thought leaders from a variety of industries.

She combines professional experiences with years of marketing research to build awareness, influence, and credibility for personal and organizational brands. Her mission is to help leaders share their stories and leverage their expertise to make a positive impact on society.

Dr. Talaya earned a Doctorate of Business Administration in 2015 and is currently conducting independent research on personal branding. In 2011, she completed an Executive Education at Harvard. She also holds a BSc and an MBA in Managerial Sciences focused on Entrepreneurship.

With an online presence of over 35,000 followers and haven being published in Forbes, Fast Company, and The Chronicle of Higher Education, Dr.Talaya gave a TEDx Talk where she shares her insight on personal branding.

The future of branding is personal - Talaya Waller Click To Tweet

Watch the Ted Talk here:

Here are 5 things you can learn from this TED Talk

 

1. Technology has caused a major shift in influence. Today, one employee can have more influence, and also consumer trust than their entire organization.

2. People are tired of being sold. In business marketing, we have moved away from humanizing objects to influencing people with other people who they know, like, and trust. Individuals who want to build an influential personal brand can use the know-like-trust formula.

3. Everyone has a brand, but most people don’t manage it strategically, effectively, or consistently. Individuals who have a well-defined personal brand usually generate increased value for their company, whether they work for themselves or someone else.

4. Your personal brand is the most powerful tool you have to accomplish your goals. A branding strategy is essential to success in fundraising, growing a business, or changing careers.

5. Branding is no longer about companies trying to manage our perception. Today, it’s about people creating and sharing human experiences.

The future of branding is personal.


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4 simple steps for developing a marketing strategy for your Small Business

It’s common to see many small business owners unintentionally ignore marketing, as in this digital age, a lot of SME’s interchange ‘marketing’ with ‘social media’ and ‘advertising’.

This article aims to get small business owners to think about marketing holistically and systematically. Marketing is definitely not a few social media posts with a few Instagram ads here and there. You need to put in WORK!

Running a small business without a strategy in place leads to confusing your customers with mixed messages, and worst of all, confusing yourself with a lack of direction.

We’ve put together for you, some simple steps to developing a marketing strategy as a small business owner.

Step 1: Take a step back

Look at your entire business as it relates to your marketing strategy, plans, and campaigns as well as your competitors, your customers and your industry as a whole.

Take the time to write (or type) things down, getting your thoughts out of your head allows you to see the bigger picture.

Step 2: Plan ahead

Lucky for you, here is a FREE template you can use ( because who doesn’t like freebies?) to develop your marketing strategy, which you can download and work through. Make sure you are as thorough as you can so you don’t get overwhelmed later on when it is time to execute your plans.

When you answer these questions, it is time to think about how they will affect your marketing communication.

Step 3: Communicate appropriately

Your communication depends on your strategy (which you should have created using the template above). For example, if you provide a home service or you offer delivery services, your communication should play upon the element of convenience.

If you do not have a permanent location and offer a nomadic experience, then your communication should play up the element of mystery.

If your target customer does not have a car and uses public transportation, your location is key as it needs somewhere that is close to where your customer works/lives or you can consider a delivery service and cut down on your overheads.

Your product, customer base, and price point will determine your tone of voice in your communication for example, if you are selling luxury high-end handbags to women over 40 years old, it is not advisable to use slang such as ‘slay’, ‘beat’ or extensively refer to popular culture as your customers are unlikely to relate.

If you are selling a luxury product/service, your communication should be minimal, professional, impersonal and aesthetically pleasing. Make sure you are not partnering with brands that might dilute the luxury i.e. lower end brands or brands that cater to a completely different market in the same industry.

If you are selling a product/service that is complementary to another e.g. if you are a makeup artist, your service complements or relies on makeup products and tools. Therefore, your communication can involve displaying makeup products or you can possibly collaborate with brands that offer the complementary product/service.

Step 4: Stick to your plans

Defining your USP (Unique Selling Point) and communicating effectively will allow you to play up your strengths and allow you to stay consistent and relevant in your consumers’ minds. You will be able to let your customers know exactly what problem your product/service solves and what gap it fills.

Without actually writing down these points, you may be communicating something that you think is a strength but is actually your weakness in comparison to your competitors.

Once your marketing strategy is in place, it becomes easier to develop your marketing plan for different instances, e.g. your launch, new product releases, and your seasonal campaigns.

Go forth and strategize!

Traits to Consider Before Settling on a Business Partner for your startup

You have been working for five years, in this time you have set out a plan to help you become a Motherland Mogul. The plan is getting into the business. You have gone as far as saving up for a couple of years to finance your to be start-up.

Recently, you have been toying around with various business ideas, the idea that encompasses both your passion and need to make some extra cash on the side wins.

You have looked at the various ways you can implement this business idea and realised you need a partner to do so. This could be because you are a good accountant but for the business to be a success you need a partner who will be the face of the business.

Or you are the sassy lady who is good at communication and drawing in the customers, and a manager is needed to make sure all that money you are raking in is properly managed. So currently the idea and the money are in place the only thing that remains undone is getting a business partner on board.

What are the things that you should consider to ensure you end up with the right person as a partner in your business?

Sharing the Vision of the business.

At the beginning, the business is usually just an idea. If implemented correctly, it could impact your lives and those of your clients tremendously in a positive way.

The person or people you choose to work with as partners in the business must own the vision of the business as much as you do. If your partner does not agree with you on the levels to which you want to take the business. They will always have negative vibes on the job that will result in your business losing money.

A partner is part of management, and if they are pessimistic with regards to the business, the employees will notice and get demoralised. The vision is the business. It’s what positions you strategically against competitors.

It is thus a prerequisite that before you decide to partner with someone on a business, be in sync on where you see the business going to in three months’ time or in five years’ time.

Honesty and Transparency

Honesty is a virtue that is a must-have in business. Individuals who are shrewd and unscrupulous ruin your business. You could have been saving for a really long time to start off this business or you got a loan from your bank to get it running.

Therefore, you cannot afford to lose the money or destroy your business name. It is therefore necessary to vet the person you intend to partner with. Inquire into the person’s character from others who have worked with them prior to you considering to partner with them.

If the feedback is positive you have a partner. If not, find your business train another station to disembark, as this one is a definite NO!

Hard work and Resilience

Start-ups are a mountain to climb on their own. The faint-hearted cannot survive this climb. Setting up a business from scratch is not a walk in the park. A partner will share in the business profits. This means they have to put in the work and the time needed to get the business to the top in your chosen field.

There are qualities that you will compensate for each other but working hard and smart is not one of them. One could be unquestionably talented but if they never take time to create and get their skills or work to the market no one will ever know of their talent.

Moreover, if you partner with a lazy person you will shoulder the whole burden of the business which beats the logic of having a partner in the first place.

Resilience is also key in your partner. Quitters run at the first sight of trouble. With new businesses, you will meet challenges that you never anticipated at the start of your journey. This will not mean that you quit.

Overcoming this challenges is exactly what you will need to do to solidify your position in the market.

Nkechi Adimora: 5 things that kept my business running during the recession

Nkechi Adimora

Nkechi Adimora is the CEO of Ozi Express, a logistics business she started with her husband a little over a year ago. This startup is focused on local delivery of food, parcels, and errands within the city of Abuja, Nigeria.

Prior to this, Nkechi has run businesses ranging from retailing authentic human hair, a mobile clothes and accessories boutique, and a food vending stall. Although Nkechi’s educational background in International Relations and Development gained from Sussex University and School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) London seems a little different from her savvy and quest for business, she has successfully integrated these skills to ensure she runs her logistics business with class and excellence.

The young CEO shares with us some key things to note while keeping your startup running during the recession.

I adopt the 'customer is always right principle' because my main goal is not money Click To Tweet

My employees

Let us be honest while it is somewhat fulfilling to become an employer of labor, it is getting increasingly difficult to find good employees. Somehow it seems like everybody wants to earn money but nobody wants to work. My employees are not the best but they all have one thing in common -they are very hardworking.

The business needed a lot more effort to keep customers which meant that we had no room to mock about especially since we now have an almost saturated market for delivery business. But they wake up every day and self-motivate themselves to work – and this helped us through the recession.

My employees self-motivate themselves to work - this helped us through the recession Click To Tweet

Loyal Customers

I began the business handling the customer relations myself – this meant that despite my regular day job, I spend an enormous amount of personal and family time responding to customers and ensuring that they were satisfied with the service I am providing.

Now I love speaking to customers – and sadly I feel that nobody can handle my customers like I do. This is because I can instantaneously take decisions in order to ensure customer satisfaction such as offer discounts, deal with complaints immediately and appease customers whenever my employees have delayed a delivery/errand.

I also always adopt the good old ”customer is always right principle” because my main goal is not the money but rather to keep them coming back to me. I had years of customer service related training and work experience right from when I was in University – from being an International Student Ambassador to call centre jobs in corporate companies where I sharpened my Customer Service Relations (CSR) skills to the core.

Accounting

Now, this is one area where I am still not an expert in but I realize you do not need to be an expert to do simple numbers. I am very strict with monitoring the accounts (which I do myself).

I keep a simple spreadsheet which helps me track my daily income and expenditure. And this year when the recession really hit, I administered cost-saving strategies so as to keep our costs as low as possible in order to maximise profits.

Pricing

When I initially started I offered very low prices for even far distances. In the new year, we announced a price increase to our customers which was between 100 – 200 naira.

Unbelievably, we lost a lot of customers even though the majority of them understood the reasons for our decision. But of course when you lose some you gain new ones and this was our case. We had to ensure the price was right so that we do not end up running a charity business.

Supporting Small Businesses

Every small business or start-up in Nigeria already understands that the environment is very unfriendly to our business. With this in mind, I consider small businesses when I want to offer discounts to my loyal customers. It’s simple.

If food company A has a product for 5 naira and my delivery cost is normally 5 naira, it does not make sense to me to charge him or her 5 naira for delivery. In such cases, I am usually willing to charge 2 naira for delivery. In my opinion, I am also contributing to support small businesses to achieve their dreams.

A lot of my customers now are startups/small businesses who have negotiated affordable prices for delivery that they feel their customers will be happy to pay (although not in all cases). Generally, in business, people only think of how much they can make out of it.

While this is not in itself a bad thing, I think that money should be the second thought – crazy as this sounds. The first thought could be passion, filling a gap or meeting a need…then comes the money.

Ozi Express is on Instagram as we continue to leverage on innovative ways to support businesses and grow our clientele.

How to protect your small business from day one

shehive london she leads africa small business
5 key steps to protect your small business from a legal standpoint Click To Tweet

Congratulations on deciding to become a  business owner! Are you wondering what you should be doing to ensure business continuity and profitability?  Below are five key steps you should consider taking, from a legal standpoint, to protect your small business.

1. Determine what permits you require and whether you need to incorporate

– Determine whether to incorporate your business

Most small businesses start off as unregistered businesses or sole proprietorships. The need to incorporate immediately is country specific, as some countries require immediate incorporation for certain business activities.

But, as your business grows, incorporation may be ideal, as it offers many benefits including separate legal entity status

– Determine what licenses, permits or approvals you need.

In addition, you should find out what permits, approvals or licenses you need to start and run your business legally. You can obtain this information by asking contacts in a similar trade or business. You can also reach out to regulatory bodies or organizations that assist small businesses.

Find out what permits or licenses you need to start and run your business legally Click To Tweet

2. Protect your confidential information and intellectual property

–  Protect your intellectual property

Consider registering your intellectual property with the regulatory body in your country, as that is the usually the most effective protection.

–  Register your domain name

With the increasing importance of social media, if you intend to establish a web presence, you should register and secure your domain name as soon as possible.

–  Protect your confidential information

Determine how much information on your business know-how (information peculiar to your business that gives you a competitive advantage) that should be disclosed to third parties.

Before you speak to a lawyer or intellectual property expert, err on the side of caution, by not disclosing or disclosing little, about distinguishing aspects of your business.

–  Sign confidentiality agreements

Sign a confidentiality or non-disclosure agreement with potential investors/ business partners. While this may not always be well received, you should still try.

You can conduct an internet search for websites that offer agreement templates that you can tailor to your needs or ask a lawyer to draft an agreement for you.

3. Pay attention to your contracts

–  Review it

Before you sign an agreement, review it thoroughly. Some useful questions to ask are: What are my rights and obligations? What are the other party’s rights and obligations?

When do each party’s obligations end? Are there any red flags or issues of concern that should be discussed or resolved before signing?

–  Document your understanding

Also, as a best practice, have an agreement for every business relationship. If a dispute arises, an oral agreement would be very difficult to prove. Even if both parties agree on the existence of the contract, they will definitely not agree on the exact details.

But, if a signed contract is not practicable, have a paper or email trail that highlights the important details including your understanding and expectations.

–  Address payment concerns

Payment for services rendered is another common concern. You should, therefore, always inform clients of your fees and timelines before you commence work.

More importantly, know your client’s payment reputation, based on past interactions or market research, it will help you decide whether to do business with them or not.

If a signed contract is not practicable, have a paper trail that highlights important details Click To Tweet

4. Talk to a lawyer

Another way to protect your small business is to seek legal advice on key aspects of your business early on. You can avoid or save on legal fees by asking a skilled lawyer friend for free/discounted legal advice.

If your friend does not practice in that area, they may be able to refer you to another lawyer that can provide premium services at competitive or discounted rates.

5. Monitor your brand

Finally, use the internet to your advantage. Set up Google Alerts. It’s a great way to monitor your brand/business because you get updates any time your brand or business name is mentioned.

I wish you every success in your entrepreneurial journey!

Note: This article is for information purposes only and it should not be used as a substitute for legal advice.

Celebrating small time business women: 5 lessons for the #MotherlandMogul

small time business women

“Buy tomatoes!”

“Buy your frozen fish!”

Where I come from, the voices of women calling out to customers can be heard as early as 7 am. I believe that the local, small scale business woman has a lot to teach young women in cities looking to startup their businesses. Growing up, I took note of how these local business women conduct their businesses, and noticed some habits.

Forget stereotypes, they are not weak, they do not whimper and they do not wait for men to feed or clothe them. These women have pull and sway and most of all, they do it to provide education for their children.

Here are some of them that have sustained local business women over the years and that you can learn from.

1. Consistency and persistence

At many warehouses, vegetable markets or cold rooms, it is not unusual to see women exhibiting highly skilled bargaining powers over produce to purchase at 5 am.

Growing up, I had a neighbor who cooked food daily to sell to the early morning crowd. She was always up before 3:30 am. I am amazed at the tenacity, determination and savvy displayed by these small time business women, many of whom are uneducated.

The “local” business woman, over the years, builds her customer base by being consistent and persistent even in the face of bad sales and weather. She is there, in the rain and in the sun. Small time business women never take holidays or breaks, even at Christmas! For those who trade in seasonal goods like green vegetables, they go far and wide to source for their goods off season, albeit at a higher cost.

I’m not saying you don’t deserve a vacation, but you can learn to be as focused on your trade as the fruit seller at your local market.

2. Trustworthiness

My grandmother never heard of a business plan or proposal. Yet, till her death at the ripe age of 103, people gave her money for safekeeping. What’s more, she sent my mother and her sisters to school up to university from the money she made selling farm produce.

People came from far to trade with my grandmother asserting her honest dealings as reason. My mom followed in her foot steps, selling garri at the next village and buying dried fish from that village to sell in hers.

During her diploma days in school, my mom would fly to Lagos and buy clothes and sell them at the secondary school where she worked. She is still running her business. Now she distributes well refined palm oil.

My mom practices the honest business ethic of her mother. Even after changing businesses, she still retained the patronage of her clients. The most popular words about her are “Miss no dey cheat person and she no dey sell fake things”. That’s Nigerian pidgin for, “Miss is honest and sells high quality products.”

3. Customer care

With sweet words, smiles and cajoling, local business women can change the minds of their customers. Talk about the art of seduction! (In a non-sexual context of course).

Ladies, I am describing a specific woman here, delete the idea of the “market woman” you have in your mind and instead picture this woman. These women start out with greetings, calling the customers either “auntie”, “uncle” or by their names or children’s names and asking them personal questions based on details garnered over time from previous discussions.

They listen and file away information for future use. This gives the customer a sense of importance. Some go as far as having the customer’s personal number and calling to just say “hi”. Imagine the lady that sells roasted plantains calling to check in on her customer. It happens!

Some women even go out of their way to serve as personal shoppers for the customer if the need arises. Talk about diversification.

The local business woma may have never read a book on the art of marketing, but she could probably sell ice to an Eskimo. They probably never heard of customer care, but the have loyal customers spanning years.

4. Sound investments

These small time business women may not know of investments but they have savings and assets. They invest their money wisely, from saving in various forms of local thrift savings scheme to buying real gold with resale values.

They are also usually involved in property, building and leasing out houses. Better still, majority of them own several houses which they rent out. And all this to ensure that they are investing in something more precious, their children’s education.

It is not strange to see a woman whose children are engineers now based abroad, thanks to the money she made from selling akara (Bean cakes) every morning.

5. Information

Any local business woman has her ears always open for news concerning her business. Whether it is increase in wholesale prices, new products in the market, fall in prices, customer’s most popular demand, etc.

They make sure they’re always in the know. They form tight bonds with their wholesale traders who in turn keep them in the loop.

In summary, the small scale business women are the women we should not forget to celebrate today. They are the women on whose backbones some of us have grown and excelled, whose examples we have unconsciously followed.

These Motherland Moguls didn’t care to sit down and twiddle their thumbs. They did not let their degrees —or lack thereof, or their social standings or background hinder them. These women who have defined “The African Woman”.

I personally celebrate my mother, wife, friend, sister and multi-entrepreneur Patience Irene Omoruyi. Who do you celebrate?

The 4 minute guide to SME marketing

4 minutes

The average human’s attention span is… oh look, a notification on my cell phone!

oh my god gifAccording to scientists, the age of smartphones has left humans with such a short attention span even a goldfish can hold a thought for longer. As such it is no longer surprising when people complain that a 1000 or 2000 words post/article is toooooooooo long.  So I asked a couple of friends and acquaintances;

“What’s the most amount of time you would be willing to spend to carefully read an article that piques your interest?”

The answers varied between 2-7 minutes and at the end of the day I arrived at an average of well, 5 minutes! And this was one of the considerations that inspired “The 4 Minute Guide to SME Marketing” series.

What I hope to do with this series is help start-ups and small/medium business owners navigate the rather murky waters of marketing. Because I understand the time constraints we all face as busy professionals and business owners, I plan to keep every article interesting, informative, and most importantly, concise. Pinky swear!

I chose to do a series specifically on marketing because, to be honest, I absolutely love the profession and practice. I always tell people that marketing found me (a story for another day).

After spending years in the advertising industry as a brand and marketing strategist and working on a number of brands across different industries, I’ve gained insights that I believe would be useful to small business owners. It can be difficult to access ready and affordable marketing consulting services so

That said, I guess we can all agree that starting a business is exhilarating. Unfortunately, the “build it and they will come” theory doesn’t hold much weight anymore because while you might have a fantastic, the greatest thing since sliced-bread product, if people do not know about it, who you epp?

The process of letting people know about your product or service is a deliberate one hence an entire academic and professional field called marketing. Again, unfortunately, a lot of startups and SMEs have a flawed mindset with respect to marketing (what it entails and what it can do for their businesses) and this is why most of them do not scale or eventually live up to their full potentials.

I mean in today’s business field, battles are won or lost in the market arena and a good product/service alone would not sell itself. As such, marketing imperatives are no longer an option, but a MUST!

You can choose to think about it this way. Your product or service started as an idea and we all know that ideas need momentum. LaunchSquad’s Jason Throckmorton said “you can have the best idea in the world but if you don’t couple that with a strategy to spread your story, your idea isn’t going to go very far.” I couldn’t agree more.

Still in doubt? You can also choose to think about it this other way. As a start-up, as a new business, nobody knows you yet so you need to get people to care enough to try what you offer.

And this is when marketing becomes a smart investment because it can help you legitimize your business, create excitement, engage potential clients/customers, encourage trials and repeat purchases and even inspire loyalty and advocacy.

You see where I am going with this right? 😀

I’d conclude today’s post by saying SME marketing shouldn’t be a flimsy afterthought. Just as you have been very deliberate about creating a top notch product or service, you need to be equally deliberate in creating demand for that product or service.

Until next week SLAyers!

Cheers!

Seapei Mafoyane: Fill yourself up with hope, belief and pure audacity

Shanduka Black Umbrellas CEO, Seapei Mafoyane

Small business is seen by many in South Africa as the saving grace in the fight against unemployment and with the track record of small business success, measured interventions to bolster this sector receive a lot of attention.

One such intervention is Shanduka Black Umbrellas (SBU), a business incubation programme in South Africa that is focused on supporting small black business on its path to achieve sustainability. SBU is arguably the top business incubator in South Africa, recognised for the solid interventions it is making to corporatize black businesses.

2015 was a watershed year for the incubator, as it celebrated six years in existence and won the Randall M. Whaley Incubator of the Year Award at the National Business Incubation Association in the United States.

To top it all off, they appointed Ms. Seapei Mafoyane as the new Chief Executive Officer. Seapei is a bold woman who believes that South Africa needs sustained long-term impact interventions to make notable strides in small business development. She defines this as her mission in her role as CEO.

SLA contributor Asanda spoke to her to understand how she sees the small business landscape in South Africa going forward and most importantly, the role SBU will play in the years ahead.


Asanda:

You have spent a significant amount of your professional career in strategy and financial services, how did you make your way to small business development in the not-for-profit space?

I worked in strategy and the financial services in various capacities for my entire career and this was in line with my undergraduate degree in the sciences. I came into direct contact with the small business development area during my MBA studies at Wits Business School a few years ago.

My research focused on an area that was not explored at the time, the challenges facing black female entrepreneurs in South Africa. It was during this time that I realised I had to be selfish and follow my heart. So you could say my dissertation led me to Shanduka Black Umbrellas.

Everyone is talking about small business development and how it can be the saving grace for the current economic climate is South Africa, why do you think it is receiving so much attention?

I think we have the buzz that we have now in South Africa because of the realisation of the dire needs in this country in terms of entrepreneurial activity and the economy as a whole. Sustained security of the black person is no longer in the employ of the white person. Black people can now dare to dream.

The challenge is to ensure that it is not just a buzz but that we have a coordinated approach from the various stakeholders that will ensure that we start seeing the upside to it.

What role has Shanduka Black Umbrellas played in the past to grow black business?

Shanduka Group has played a key role in setting the stage for the face of black business in the country. They led the pack in the establishment of a black-owned investment holding company in S.A. and it was a natural progression to have a foundation that focuses on both small business development and education.

What sets SBU apart is the clear focus that says, ‘we know we cannot be everything to everyone.’ So we chose to respond to the need of 100% black-owned businesses, which also happens to be the greatest area of need in terms of entrepreneurial activity in the country.

The businesses that are incubated at SBU are what we call the ‘cream of the crop’ in terms of entrepreneurial potential. We incubate businesses that will be sustainable so that they can improve the economic conditions in the country.

Our focus is not on survivalist businesses, but game changers and high impact entrepreneurs that can grow into large corporations and employers.

Over the last five years, SBU’s statistics have shown that out of the 100 business owners that walk through our doors, only 5% of them get to be incubated. This is because we have a clear focus on long-term sustainability and choose to support businesses, which can meet our strategic objectives which are aligned to the country’s National Development Plan (NDP).

What sets your business incubator apart from other incubators in the country?

We conducted extensive research on the trends in small business development and we found that 84% of small businesses fail within the first 24 months of operation and out of that, 90% are black businesses. Reducing the failure rate especially of black business is extremely important and that is why we have our mandate to respond to this group in particular.

When a business is accepted into our extensive 36-month program, they need to create a minimum of four jobs during that time. Other structures in South Africa on the other hand create on average 1.2 jobs and when you look at other developing nations, the figure sits at 3.3 jobs over the same period.

Our other focus is to ensure that at least 50% of the businesses that graduate from our program are sustainable. The national average of success currently stands at about 20%. SBU have maintained a statistic of 70% graduation sustainability over the last few years.

What has the business incubation industry and government not done well thus far?

What has not been done well is the maximising of all the available resources in the system to help execute the mandate.

The value chain for small business is still very disjointed and if we are to make the progress needed, this needs to change.

What are your priorities as the Chief Executive of SBU?

No doubt sustained long term impact. However there are a few things that need to happen for that to be realised. We want to not only see businesses doing well but as they graduate, they need to stay a part of the alumni of successful businesses which others starting up can look to for advice, mentorship and potentially market access.

I believe that it is this kind of growth that is needed in small business to start seeing long term, sustained impact. Outside of my work, my greatest passion is the restoration of the dignity of the black person and entrepreneurship is one of those vehicles that can help in the achievement of that.

What have you found to be the greatest challenges facing entrepreneurs?

I have found that the greatest misconception that exists with entrepreneurs is that they need funding to get their businesses going. I have found the main challenge as refining of the business model to ensure that there is a unique value proposition and a plan for scaling the business.

Having said that, SME’s need to take it a step further to understand how to support it once they have scaled it. Other challenges you find are:

  • The business is often the person and they tend to be married to their ideas and they are not open to taking in other peoples’ sound advice; and
  • The inability to adapt the offering to suit the demand of its clients. Most entrepreneurs do not take well to rejection and unless they are able to deal with this, it can be a stumbling block for their growth potential.

What would you say is the one thing SBU needs to work on?

Only 38% of incubated businesses at Shanduka Black Umbrellas are female, in a national population of 50% females. This is a gap that needs to be filled. Women tend to approach entrepreneurship differently, espousing the nurture inherent in them as opposed to the courage often required to start & run a business.

Women have made great strides in politics as seen in our parliament and in other growing sectors and we need to see this boldness in the area of entrepreneurship.

I do believe we will get there as a country as a whole and we, SBU included, need to drive that message of confidence in the abilities of women in business.

What advice do you have for business owners who say this journey is far more than what they bargained for?

You need to be clear about why you want in, in the first place. You need to fill yourself up with hope, belief and pure audacity because there will certainly be bumps along the way and when you reach them, you can dip into your bag of goodness to stay afloat.


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