11 tips to help start-up businesses get ahead

Identify what success looks like

You’ve come up with a great idea for a new business – well done! The next step is to formulate a clear idea of why you want to start the business (what exactly will your business be doing and what pain point are you solving for customers), identify the vision (what is your goal for the business in the future) and what is your vision of success (what does success look like to you). Setting clear goals provides focus, motivates employees and allows you to set targets to work toward. For this reason, Fetola’s very first engagement with entrepreneurs who enter one of our accelerators involves supporting them to formulate their vision and develop a powerful strategic plan.

Plug the holes

Most new businesses will initially have what I refer to as a leaky bucket. Their human resources practices may not be up to speed, they probably don’t have adequate policies and procedures in place, job descriptions may not be clear and they may not have comprehensive financial management practices in place. Using this analogy, any gaps will present as holes in your bucket. These holes need to be plugged in order for the business to deliver profitable returns. Those businesses that do the small things correctly – including plugging the holes – from the outset will be more successful than those that don’t.

Make yourself dispensable

One of the biggest mistakes many entrepreneurs make is they box themselves into a corner, believing they are indispensable to the business. On the contrary, the more dispensable you can make yourself operationally, the more space you have to be strategic and keep your finger on the pulse of all aspects of the business. Fetola places a great deal of emphasis on systems and processes in our programmes, because these are the building blocks for growth and replication.

Ensure you have access to the appropriate resources

More businesses get into trouble because they’ve bitten off more than they can chew than go out of business due to a lack of sales. For those businesses with growth aspirations, do you have the necessary resources to be able to service a larger client should you land them, and are you able to deliver on their requirements? If not, it’s a good idea to implement a forward-thinking strategic approach with outsourced resources on standby should you require them.

Become financially savvy

Most small business owners don’t engage sufficiently with their finances. If you want to be successful, you have to take charge of the financial side of the business, engage with financial information and know the right questions to ask. You don’t need to be an accountant, but you do need to know enough to ask the right questions. Fetola’s business accelerators help programme participants become more financially astute so that they are better positioned to manage their finances. In fact, we have a component called Money Magic solely focused on this area of business.

Diversify your revenue streams

Ideally, you want to aim for a diversified revenue stream. Businesses that are overly reliant on any one customer or revenue stream are in a vulnerable position should that business stop procuring from them or if that revenue stream is negatively impacted for any reason. One of the biggest learnings of the pandemic was that businesses with diversified revenue streams survive crises better than those with a concentrated customer base. For many of the businesses that I work with, training has become a lucrative additional income stream.

Implement a sound marketing strategy

Think carefully about how to position your business or brand in the hearts and minds of your target market. Make it your business to understand who your target market is, what they are looking for and what they are looking for in the product or service you are offering. Social media has democratised media so take advantage of what it offers. The trick when it comes to marketing is to show up, show value and be consistent. Many of the businesses on our accelerator programmes have benefited when they have implemented a focused marketing strategy. Contour Enviro Group, for example, secured a tender with the Western Cape Government which resulted in turnover increasing by 824% after receiving mentorship in business strategy and help with increasing their market visibility. Don’t think of marketing as a one-off investment but rather as a long-term investment. Look at the brands and competitors in your space that do marketing well and take inspiration from them.

Invest in sales capacity

Henry Ford famously said, “Nothing happens until someone sells something.” Sales is a critically important function in most businesses as it directly impacts revenue generation and growth and helps to foster good customer relationships that lead to repeat business. However, many entrepreneurs don’t enjoy the actual process of selling. If you’re one of those individuals, consider hiring somebody who is good at sales because if your business is not making sales, you may not have a viable business for very long. 

Manage your costs

All businesses should be looking to manage their costs carefully – but not to the extent that it jeopardises the quality of your product or service. Investigate ways to maximise your cash flow, contain your management costs, avoid wasteful expenditure and try to simplify your supply chain to lower your inventory costs. Costing is a bedrock of our work with entrepreneurs.

Introduce circularity principles

Unlike a linear economy model, a circular economy model uses waste as a resource, repairs, reuses and re-manufacturers, is resource efficient and designs out waste, amongst others. The businesses that have participated in Fetola’s Circular Economy Accelerator have grown their revenue and created new jobs. Gauteng-based Ambesha Africa, for example, improved their profit potential and efficiency after cutting their manufacturing waste by 80%.

Make it easy for customers to do business with you

Consciously embark on a strategy to make it as easy as possible for customers to do business with you. I call it removing the ‘stickiness’. If you are asked for a quote, respond within 24 hours. Ensure your website is current and up to date. Consider investing in e-commerce capabilities and stay visible and connected via industry associations and other forums.

Anton Ressel

Anton Ressel

Anton Ressel is an experienced business development professional, coach, mentor and SME growth specialist. He is the Strategic Head of SME Support at Fetola.

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