Tips for growing your customer base in 2019
The age of the customer is here. According to Forrester analyst Kelly Price, this trend will see many successful enterprises reinventing themselves in an attempt to better understand and serve increasingly powerful customers.
But here’s the issue: not only do businesses have to come up with smart strategies to attract new customers; they also have to find ways to keep existing customers coming back for more.
Here are our 10 top tips to expand your customer base in 2019:
- Embrace social. A recent study by World Wide Worx and Ornico revealed that 16 million South Africans are on Facebook. Social media platforms allow businesses to engage with existing customers and to raise awareness about their offerings among potential clientele. Getting customers to visit your website via social media also improves your search rankings and, as a result, your organic growth.
- Let them test the waters. With so many options out there, customers may need a little convincing to choose your offering over another. By providing no-strings-attached experiences, you can give people the nudge they need to become paying customers. Ideally, you should try to subtly get something in return, like an email address for your marketing database.
- Take a personal approach. Businesses have so much data about their customers and this should be used to personalise experiences. Consider how delighted customers will be if you offer them specials on items you know they like or use. At the end of the day, it’s about respecting them as people and treating them like more than just another sale.
- Network. People talk. If they’ve had a bad experience with your business, it’s unlikely that they’ll recommend you to a friend. Trust and authenticity are powerful commodities in today’s oversaturated business landscape.
- Find solid partners. In line with the above, partnering up with a business that offers complementary products or services is a great way to tap into a new audience. If you’re in the device repair business, why not align yourself with a company that sells accessories, for example?
- Show your skills. If you’re an expert at something, it’s a good idea to share your knowledge, for free. By setting up a YouTube channel or offering master classes, you’re tapping into people’s natural curiosity and you’re also accessing a captive audience who are already interested in what you do.
- Diversify. If the only thing you offer at your business is shampoo, and you’re selling plenty of it, now may be the time to expand your product range. Something as simple as bringing in options at different price points can be the trick to attracting a variety of new customers.
- Offer micro-services. Long-term contracts that involve large financial commitments make people uncomfortable. Flexibility is key. If you can, try to unbundle your services into smaller pieces so that your customers can pick and choose what they need.
- Dump doubt. You need to make it really easy for customers to do business with you by removing any financial, psychological, or emotional risks. It comes down to giving people options – perhaps they don’t want to pay using a credit card. This means you need to allow them to do an EFT or mobile payment. With the right cloud-based accounting solution, all of this is automated and fuss-free.
- Don’t forget to adapt. Things change constantly. Staying ahead is about keeping updated on what’s coming next. This requires an innovative mindset. The businesses that succeed are the ones that aren’t afraid to constantly evolve their products and services to meet changing customer needs.
If you want to generate leads, retain existing customers, scale your business, and diversify into new markets, your customers must always be top of mind. Every touch point is a chance to pique their interest. Ensure you’re taking advantage of every opportunity.
Why SMEs need options to succeed
Funding conundrum: Why SMEs need options to succeed
Did you know that as many as 75% of South African small businesses fail within the first year? A lack of funding, or poor financial management, is one of the biggest stumbling blocks. For many SMEs, securing funding proves tricky, either because they haven’t been in business for long enough, or they don’t understand the ins and outs of the lending market.
With this in mind, alternative lenders offer a welcome lifeline for small business that are struggling to survive. Speaking during a recent episode of the Sage #NextGenAccounting podcast, Marilynn Leonard, Co-founder of FundingHub, a credit marketplace that matches SMEs with suitable lenders, outlined a few reasons why SMEs fail to secure funding. These include:
- Lack of compelling reasons to borrow money;
- Applying for a loan equal to their annual turnover; and
- Not being in business for at least a year and not turning over R1 million.
What many small business owners fail to understand is that they can only borrow a percentage of their turnover, she explains. “No lender – whether a bank or an alternative lender – will advance a loan equal to their entire turnover.”
Alternative lenders are not registered with the National Credit Regulator and cannot loan money to businesses that don’t meet the one year / R1 million requirement. If you fall into this revenue bracket, you’d have a better chance securing funding through an equity partner or personal finance, advises Leonard.
Banks vs alternative lenders
Leonard believes that banks should be an SME’s first choice for funding because they’re the cheapest. But the process of securing funding through a bank can be lengthy because of the checks and balances they have to complete.
Should an SME need money quickly – to pay invoices or salaries, for example – alternative lenders provide a good supplementary option. But this comes with a price tag. Alternative lending is costly, so the benefits of accessing funding must outweigh the cost of acquiring it.
How to guarantee lending success
Start with the why. “Lenders won’t just hand over money,” says Leonard. “They’ll want to know the purpose of the loan, like expanding into new markets or paying salaries.” Once you know why you need funding, you can decide what funding options suit you best.
According to Leonard, it can be confusing, overwhelming, and time-consuming to find the right alternative funder. This is where a credit marketplace like FundingHub can prove valuable because these resources guide you towards the right lender without you needing to know the intricacies of the available products.
What funding? Here’s what you need before you apply:
- You must have an active bank account. No lender will give you money without one.
- At least one month’s trading activity and transactional history should reflect in that account.
- Gather your accounting records from whatever platform or accounting solution you are using.
- If applying for funding from a bank, you’ll need a copy of your audited financials.
In addition to this, she explains that credit marketplaces safeguard SMEs against unsecured lending, or “loan sharks”. While a same-day loan is appealing, the fine print often reveals high interest rates and undisclosed costs.
If you are eyeing alternative funding, be sure to partner with lenders that are registered with the South African SME Finance Association (SASFA), which encourages transparent and responsible lending.
Cash flow problems caused by slow or late players can cripple SMEs.
Should a small business have to wait between 30 and 90 days for payment, they run a high risk of experiencing cash flow problems, notes Leonard. As such, many SMEs are realising that alternative funding can be an enabler of their success.
Don’t forget that lenders are in business because you’re in business. They want to see you succeed. If you have a problem repaying your loan, banks and responsible alternative lenders are generally quite understanding and accommodating with loan repayment terms, Leonard explains.
Ultimately, everyone has a role to play in enabling SME success. From government and the private sector, to consumers who have the freedom to support small, local ventures over more established alternatives. “It has to be a collaborative effort. We have to work together to empower the SME space and micro enterprises if we want to grow the economy.”
Setting new hires up for success
If you’d like to kick off the New Year on the right foot, transforming your onboarding experience for new hires is a great place to start. The moment a new hire signs on the dotted line, they’ve entered into a relationship with your business, one that will flourish if it’s built on trust, respect, and a commitment to self-improvement.
The benefits of comprehensive onboarding programmes speak for themselves. Almost 70% of employees are likely to stay with a company for three years if their onboarding experience was positive. Similarly, companies with an engaging onboarding programme retained 91% of their first-year workers and saw an 11.5% improvement in employee performance.
By setting new hires up for personal success, the outcomes naturally feed into your business’s success, so everyone wins. Here are a few ideas to get the most out of your new hires:
- Roll out the welcome mat. By introducing new hires to their colleagues as soon as they start, you’ll immediately make them feel like they’re part of the team. Similarly, having regular catch-ups with new hires when they start out ensures that they feel welcome beyond the first day.
- Boost the benefits. If you want to attract the best candidates, you need to offer the best benefits. Not only does this boost loyalty, it also increases job satisfaction. Because different things motivate different people, it’s important to align benefits with the values new hires identified during the onboarding process.
- Set goals and plans to achieve them. Want to keep your team focused? Be sure to set solid goals and come up with realistic strategies to achieve them.
- Monitor performance. It’s important to regularly keep tabs on how someone is doing and adjust goals where necessary. This also makes it possible to reward good performance, introduce new challenges, and deal with issues promptly.
- Encourage them. By allowing your new hires to apply their knowledge to business challenges and offering them training opportunities outside of their comfort zones, you’re developing them into more valuable, well-rounded employees.
- Champion collaboration. There is so much value in learning from others. Enlist the help of more experienced team members to participate in the training of a new hire’s training. By doing so, you’re recognising their abilities and upskilling your new staff at the same time.
- Be upfront. It’s crucial to be honest with new hires. If the job requires a lot of overtime or entails working with tough clients, this should be disclosed upfront.
- Offer training. Cover everything from company culture and benefits, to opportunities for growth. Training people is costly because they’re not being productive in the short term. However, taking your time with on-the-job training means that you’re making sure that new hires fully understand what they need to do before they actually start working.
- Communicate. This is essential. New hires must understand expectations and should feel comfortable asking questions. If experiences at their previous jobs can be used to improve productivity at your business, they should be able to suggest alternatives.
- Stay positive. If you’ve ever worked with a negative colleague, you’ll know how someone else’s mood can set the tone for the entire office. To ensure your team is enthusiastic about your product or service, you need to create a positive space for them to work.
Keeping people motivated and productive comes down to providing them with the tools, knowledge, and support they need to do their best work. With all of these elements in place, they’ll be perfectly equipped to come up with bright ideas, they’ll be more motivated, and their productivity will undoubtedly improve.
Ask these 6 questions before implementing IoT
The IoT journey: Six questions to ask before getting started
Did you know that a massive 20 billion smart devices will be connected via the Internet of Things (IoT) come 2020? The information generated by these devices offers real-time insights that can be used to improve the customer experience, increase efficiency and productivity, reduce operating expenses, and streamline processes.
With this in mind, embracing the IoT as a way to further business transformation seems like a step in the right direction. But if your IoT strategy isn’t properly developed, deployed, and supported using the right resources, tools, and data, you could face a number of challenges relating to costs, security, and regulation.
As such, before any business embarks on an IoT project, it’s important to answer these six questions:
- What is your goal?
It can be easy to get carried away with all of the opportunities related to the IoT.
With your implementation, be sure to start small and identify how your strategy can offer better customer service and increase revenue. A manufacturing company, for example, may start by looking at how the IoT could be used to manage inventory – from optimising logistics and maintaining stock levels, to detecting theft.
Be sure to have a clear vision of how your IoT initiative aligns with customer needs, as well as how to further your own strategic objectives. By doing so, you will ensure that you choose a solution that meets your business’s needs.
- What is your plan?
Planning is usually the most time-consuming part of the process. But this phase is an important part of setting you up for success – or failure.
Some questions to ask include:
- What are the metrics?
- Are there specific project timelines?
- What is your budget?
- What skills do you have available, where can you upskill, and where should you outsource?
- How will you deal with unexpected issues and changes in scope?
- What data can you access?
- Does this data relate to the business goal?
- Where are the gaps in processes, policies, and infrastructure and how will these be plugged?
- Can your infrastructure cope with the IoT?
If you’re still operating on legacy infrastructure, the answer is probably no.
IoT platforms must be able to support thousands of vendors, different standards, and millions of devices; all of which are constantly sending and receiving information. Legacy infrastructure simply cannot cope, meaning that additional investments in networking and connectivity may be necessary before getting started.
Whether you choose to manage the infrastructure yourself or outsource it, if you want your IoT platform to succeed, it needs to be secure and reliable. These platforms should also have the ability to automate tasks like real-time device discovery, monitoring and maintenance, data capture and analysis, and issue identification and diagnosis.
- Are there any security gaps?
With the rewards, come the risks. IoT attacks increased by 280% in the first half of 2017, as all of these unprotected entry points into business networks were leveraged by savvy cyber criminals.
Security has to form the foundation of any IoT project and must be considered at every point across your IoT infrastructure – from software and hardware, to each endpoint and all of the data they produce. The golden rule is this: if it’s connected, it must be protected.
Data is the main output of the IoT. Guidelines for protecting this information are governed by strict data protection regulations, including the Protection of Personal Information Act (POPIA) and the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). As a starting point of any IoT project, businesses must establish a solid data governance framework. This should outline what data will be collected, for what purpose, how it will be secured, and who will have access to it.
- Got data?
Implementing an IoT initiative is only valuable if you know what data you already have access to, what data you still need, and what you plan to do with the insights produced after the data is analysed.
Let’s imagine a mining company is using the IoT to improve site safety. To get this right, they’d need data about unstable shafts, faulty equipment, or poor air quality. This information can then be used to improve access control around dangerous areas.
These insights also help businesses better serve their customers by anticipating future needs and can be used to develop new and improved products. In addition to this, when used effectively, IoT data has a positive impact on workflow performance and outcomes and can help the business achieve its strategic goals.
To leverage these actionable insights, you need an advanced analytics infrastructure capable of analysing the structured and unstructured data generated from thousands of sources, all with different levels of protection.
- But can it scale?
By understanding the business value presented by the IoT, you can quickly identify what other areas of the business can be optimised and automated.
IoT networks and devices are always improving. This means that you need to build scalability into your infrastructure, which will allow you to easily upgrade as new technologies become available. Scalability also makes it easier to expand into new markets and capitalise on new revenue opportunities.
While the business benefits of the IoT are undeniable, without a proper plan in place to meet specific goals, and to manage costs and complexity, your initiative can quickly spiral out of control.
How schools around the globe teach entrepreneurship
In South Africa, there is a desperate need for entrepreneurs. With several ratings agencies downgrading SA to junk status, and GDP growth leaving much to be desired, entrepreneurs could offer the stimulation the South African economy really needs. Not only do these small business owners foster innovation and aid job creation, they also boost competition, promote new technologies, and create solutions that people actually need.
The 2016-2017 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) Report is based on the findings of the GEM survey. According to the survey, South Africa experiences persistently low levels of entrepreneurial activity relative to the other countries that participated in the survey. And South Africa has one of the lowest established business rates, ranking 61 out of 65 economies. This is nearly five times lower than the average across Africa.
So, how do you create young entrepreneurs?
President Cyril Ramaphosa recently explained that young people must be encouraged to innovate and solve problems. Quite importantly, he stressed that they should be leaving school with the skills needed to turn ideas into real businesses and with an understanding that entrepreneurship is a viable career option.
Various schools around the world are already working to equip learners with the skills they need to take their entrepreneurial aspirations to market. Some examples include:
- Future Proof is a South African initiative that teaches children everything they need to know about starting and running a business. Skills are taught through bootcamps, online classes, immersion experiences, and podcasts – all of which are hosted by experienced coaches and entrepreneurs.
- Hand in Hand Eastern Africa is a Kenyan venture that sets up entrepreneurship clubs in primary and secondary schools to teach communication, entrepreneurship, and self-esteem. The clubs also teach more technical skills, like baking and soap-making – which learners will often pass on to their parents, who use them to supplement the family income.
- In Nigeria, the government’s Senior Secondary School Education Curriculum teaches the trade and entrepreneurship skills needed for poverty eradication, job creation, and wealth generation. The curriculum aims to promote an interest in entrepreneurship among the youth.
- The Young Enterprise Challenge is a project run by the Cambridge International School in Dubai. Giving students an initial investment, they are challenged to make as much profit as possible, learning about financial literacy and gaining confidence that will prove valuable when they eventually enter the workforce.
- Rhode Island’s Big Picture Learning programme pairs each student with a mentor who works in a field that is of particular interest to them.
- AltSchool, in California, aims to equip learners with a range of technology skills and promotes flexible thinking. Students are taught practical skills that will prepare them for careers in technology – like 3D modelling and how to build a circuit board.
- The Sra Pou Vocational School, in Cambodia, was built by the community. They worked with architects and learned valuable construction skills that they could later apply in their own businesses.
- In New York, the Blue School encourages children to wrap their heads around real-world problems by building 3D models of the city. Attendees are also taught how to fix home appliances.
- Finally, a Digital Youth Programme at the UK’s Dunluce School develops digital entrepreneurs and teaches students about careers and opportunities within the digital sector.
Many of the skills students learn through these programmes wouldn’t usually be part of a traditional school curriculum. They teach everything from investing, business strategy, problem-solving and brainstorming, to learning from failure, risk-taking, goal-setting, collaboration, and personal branding. These are just a few of the crucial skills learners need to succeed in a workplace that is changing at a rapid rate.
As we head into a new academic year, these global models and ideas should serve as inspiration to develop entrepreneurial-minded students who will one day create businesses that boost employment and grow the economy.
Why school leavers should start a business
You’ve finally finished school; it feels like you’ve waited your whole life for this. What’s next?
Perhaps you want to go to university, but that’s not an option for a lot of matriculants: of the 624,000 students who sat for the National Senior Certificate exams in 2018, only 172,000 can enrol for further studies at a university. For many young South Africans, studying further after school is out of reach, either because they can’t afford it or because they have families to support financially and need to find a job.
There is another option: entrepreneurship.
There are many advantages to starting your own company, including a chance to learn new skills, an opportunity to earn money doing something you love, and the honour of creating jobs for others and contributing to economic development.
South Africa needs more entrepreneurs for two main reasons:
- SMEs contribute 36% to the country’s economy, comprise 40% of all businesses, and are expected to provide 90% of all jobs by 2030;
- Thanks to technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning, it’s estimated that 50% of today’s jobs won’t exist in the next decade. By then, there will also be a host of problems that don’t exist today, and we’ll need fresh thinkers and doers to solve them.
Here are a few reasons why you might consider starting a business:
- You can set your own hours, be your own boss, make money doing what you love, and have more time and flexibility.
- You get to use your knowledge and creativity to change lives and leave a legacy.
- An opportunity to develop yourself and others. Owning a business means you never stop learning and refining your skills – both business and interpersonal. You’ll wear many hats, including director, finance and HR manager, administrator, and marketer.
- There are no limits to how much you can earn and learn.
Before you start…
80% of small businesses fail within the first three years. Here are a few ways to avoid becoming a statistic:
Know your customer. 42% of start-ups fail because there was no market for their product or service. Is there one for yours?
Gather your resources. Improve your chances of success by improving your business skills, accessing funding (start-up and cash flow), finding a mentor, and getting support from friends and family. Find out what business incubators offer support in your industry.
Dive in. Identified a market? Accessed the resources? Good. Now, start. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Try, fail and try again. You’ll get better every time.
But test the waters first. Start small and test your idea with real customers. Implement their feedback – especially if it can improve your product or service – and test again.
Get a job. The best way to build a business is as a side hustle while you’re in full- or part-time employment. This gives you valuable workplace experience and also lets you build up a financial safety net.
Get an education. You need basic business management, marketing, sales, communication, accounting, and HR skills to run a successful business. As an entrepreneur, you’ll wear all these hats until you can afford to hire dedicated resources. Read books and sign up for free online courses.
Be patient. It can take up to three years to establish a business. Until then, you might not have a lot of free time or money but hang in there, it will come.
Coming up with a unique business idea can be challenging. If you can’t think of anything different, think about how you can do something that already exists, better. How can you make people care and how can you use your passion and skills to help people solve problems or add value to their lives?
- Good at Maths or English and can tutor schoolchildren;
- Have a knack for fixing computers and gadgets and can offer repair services in your community;
- Love animals and children and can become an au pair or pet sitter;
- Passionate about writing and can help small businesses with blog and social media content.
Building a business is hard work. It requires sacrifice and resilience in the face of failure and unexpected challenges. Success doesn’t happen overnight but, when you are successful, it will be even more rewarding and fulfilling.
You won’t always feel motivated and there will be tough days when you feel like giving up. But stick with it, and remember why you started your business in the first place.
Big data for small businesses
A popular novel, written for young and/or single females and housewives, wasn’t resonating as well as expected with its target audience, despite targeted marketing campaigns. To find out why, the publisher unpacked the book’s sales data and found that the majority of readers were actually men and older women.
Using this information, the publisher changed its marketing strategy and noted a massive increase in sales, practically overnight.
Small businesses can get the same value out of their data, to influence decision-making and drive transformative change – especially on the bottom line.
Yet, most SMEs are still cautious about big data, believing it’s complicated, that analytics is expensive, and that they don’t have the skills or tools necessary to process massive volumes of information.
But, as we head deeper into a data-driven economy, SMEs that don’t act on their data will miss out on growth opportunities and might not survive digital disruption.
Demystifying big data
Type in ‘big data’ in a search engine and you’ll probably see the words ‘volume’, ‘velocity’, ‘variety’, and ‘value’.
In a nutshell, this means that businesses are producing so much information, so quickly, that it’s difficult to make sense of everything. Some of the data is organised – for example, it might be neatly categorised in a client database – but most data is ‘unstructured’, meaning there’s no real order to it and it comes from multiple sources, including internal systems, social media, audio, video, and text.
Both structured and unstructured data – whether it’s stored on your own servers or someone else’s – must deliver genuine value to the business for it to be worthwhile to collect and analyse. There’s no point gathering information that will not serve the business’s bottom line or help it to achieve it’s goals.
Why should small businesses care about big data?
Facing a mountain of data can be overwhelming. Where do you start? What questions should you ask?
Our advice is to find a small but specific business problem that you’ve been struggling to solve and play around with your data until you find an answer.
Some questions you might want to ask include:
- Am I targeting the right audience?
- Why does product X sell well in one city but not another?
- Why did my sales peak on this specific day, and how can I repeat that?
If you haven’t started collecting your own data, you can start by tapping into free public data sources, like social media, government census data, corporate market research, and weather patterns.
You can easily start analysing your own information, like website traffic data and social media sentiment, using social media monitoring platforms and Google Analytics. Most of these tools have a light, free-to-use option that gives you insights that you can act on immediately, like:
- Breaking down your sales data to better understand customers, which helps to refine your marketing strategy;
- Analysing the language and sentiment that your customers use when talking about your brand on social media or when phoning the call centre, to identify problems and address them faster, resulting in happier customers;
- Seeing what your competitors are doing and where there are gaps in products or services that you can fill;
- Understanding how factors like weather in a certain area impacts customer buying patterns, which helps you to better manage your inventory;
- Using the data analysis and business insights tools in your cloud accounting and invoicing software to better understand trends in your own business, like which products sell better over the weekends;
- Measuring website traffic to understand how people access and interact with your content and, therefore, where to focus your content marketing efforts; and
- Analysing search trends – freely available from Google Trends – to see what people are searching for and how you can adapt your content to attract more website hits.
Modern data analysis tools have been designed for the business user – you don’t need to be a data scientist to use them. Insights are presented in easy-to-understand visuals and graphs and most software uses familiar applications like Excel to extract data.
As a small business owner, you might not think that you have a lot of data and don’t need to worry about analysing it. But the reality is that every business is a data business, and every business should be looking to its information – no matter how much or how little they have – to uncover insights that could positively impact their operations, growth, and profit.
Information is power and the more you know, the better decisions you’ll make for your business.
Career tips for accounting graduates
The new year welcomes a fresh batch of accounting graduates into the workforce. If you’re one of them, congratulations – you’re about to embark on an exciting, rewarding, and challenging journey.
Your accounting qualification is just the start. Now is when you’ll kick your self-development into high gear and discover the business skills you need to thrive in this competitive marketplace.
Now is when you’ll learn how to:
- Engage with clients authentically;
- Use industry software and tools to automate much of what you’ve learnt;
- Become an advisor and strategic consultant to clients – you’re not just a number-cruncher; and
- Nurture a willingness to learn and collaborate.
Sounds exciting, right?
The best way to learn is through an internship at a reputable accounting firm. But there’s a challenge: there are a lot of accounting graduates competing for few internship opportunities.
Don’t sit around waiting for a job opportunity that might never come. Give yourself a head start by taking control of your own education and improve your chances of attracting the right opportunities.
Here are a few places to start:
- Take online accounting courses
We’re not always taught how to use digital and cloud-based accounting software at university. But because they’re widely used in industry, this should be at the top of your list of skills to learn. The good news is that modern accounting software is easy to learn and use. And, once you know how to automate the mundane accounting functions, you’ll free up your time to focus on becoming a business consultant.
Start here: Sage’s official training courses show you how to use one of the most popular software toolsets used by companies in all industries, all over the world. You can also register for a free 30-day trial of Sage software.
- Get good at Excel and admin
Most accounting software extracts data from Excel. Considered an essential accounting tool, you need to know how to use the mathematical tools, formulas, and equations to get the right data, when you need it.
You also need basic – but important – administration skills, like knowing how to file documents correctly, how to access information, and how to write a cheque.
- Know tax laws inside-out
Start here: Learn how to use SARS’s eFiling service and understand the requirements for submitting VAT, PAYE, and corporate tax.
- Get certified
Supplement your qualification with a globally-recognised professional accountants’ certification, or CPA.
Entry-level CPAs usually earn more, depending on their experience and education. You can start out as an accounts assistant and work your way up to senior accountant and, one day, finance director.
Start here: Find CPA courses in your area here.
- Join a professional association
Professional accounting bodies, like the South African Institute of Professional Accountants (SAIPA), seek to regulate the profession in the country.
Membership benefits include:
- access to exclusive industry networking events;
- International recognition, enabling you to practise in affiliate countries;
- Level 8 NQF qualification; and
- Professional indemnity insurance.
Start here: Find the right SAIPA membership for you. Or check out other industry bodies, like the Institute of Accounting and Commerce, the Southern African Institute for Business Accountants, the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants, the Institute of Certified Bookkeepers and Accountants, and the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants.
It’s not just banks and accounting firms that need accountant. You’re in demand in all industries, including marketing, hospitality, IT, and property. Every business needs to manage its finances – that’s where you come in.
Whether your dream is to become an accountant, auditor, bookkeeper, teacher, or entrepreneur, these basic skills and certifications will set you on the path to a long and successful career. Good luck.
How to turn customers into brand advocates
You’re in a small, unfamiliar town. You’re in the mood for a steak but aren’t sure which restaurant serves the best. So, you scan Zomato for high ratings and complimentary reviews from other people before making your decision.
According to McKinsey, word-of-mouth drives 20% to 50% of all purchase decisions. This means we actively seek out recommendations from friends, family, and even strangers before we hand over our money and loyalty. And when making buying decisions, 62% of us trust our peers, and 52% of us trust an organisation’s employees.
In other words, your existing customers and staff are the ultimate influencers when it comes to winning prospects and increasing profit. That’s because, when we have a good – or bad – brand experience, we’re inclined to tell others about it. A good review, prompted by excellent customer service, could instantly boost your business’s competitiveness. A bad review, however, can cause untold financial and reputational damage.
Rising importance of customer advocacy
Customer advocacy – when your customers praise you, organically, authentically, and without expecting anything in return – is increasingly important in the age of the customer.
It’s an age where brands are becoming obsessed with keeping their customers happy. They hope that happy customers will share their experiences with others through customer-created content, like reviews, testimonials, case studies, and social media posts.
Research has found that personalisation and customer service will be stronger competitive differentiators than price by 2020. Also, a 12% increase in customer advocacy represents a two-fold increase in revenue growth. This suggests that happy customers means happy shareholders.
Yet, according to Dimension Data, while 81% of companies recognise customer experience as a competitive differentiator, less than 10% have an optimised digital business strategy. That’s because getting customers to talk about their positive experiences is a lot harder than getting them to buy from you – they have to want to do it.
Back to basics
Converting customers into brand advocates is surprisingly simple – and it starts with improving your customer service.
Start by focusing on getting the fundamentals right, like:
- Responding quickly to queries and complaints,
- Listening to customers and resolving issues promptly,
- Making it easy to do business with you, and
- Providing a consistently excellent experience.
Put bluntly, with customer experience driving the business strategy, customers should never have a reason to complain about your service.
In the race to put the customer first, businesses often forget one crucial success factor: buy-in from their own staff and executive leadership.
Being a truly customer-driven business might require a change in company culture, from one focused on profits to one focused on delighting customers. And when it comes to delighting customers, your staff are on the frontlines – an unhappy employee can do immense damage to your brand’s credibility and reputation.
This means keeping staff happy is as important as keeping customers happy. You should be asking your teams the same questions you ask your customers – what’s working, what’s not, what can we do better, are you happy, how can we keep you – and act on their feedback.
Provide customer service and marketing teams with the training, tools, and support they need to provide excellent service and reward those who go out of their way to delight customers. Encourage your teams to produce their own content and amplify it across your customer touchpoints to give your brand a human touch.
Businesses that provide remarkable customer experiences are essentially building an expanded and highly effective sales team that doesn’t cost them anything and drives impressive results.
It’s a snowball effect. One customer shares a great experience and influences a prospect to convert into a customer. That customer in turn becomes another brand advocate, who influences his or her own networks, and so the cycle continues, driving down customer acquisition and retention costs and building a tribe of loyal brand supporters.
Over the next two years, personalisation, ease, and speed will be the biggest customer expectations. Meeting these expectations means shifting from being customer-focused to customer-committed and doing everything you can to keep your customers happy and talking.
Get a head start by implementing these effective customer advocacy strategies:
- Involve all areas of the business, from sales and marketing, to customer support and product development teams, to the C-Suite. Customer experience should form the core of a business strategy and should not be run in isolation.
- Surprise one customer a day. Free delivery, a discount, a birthday gift: the smallest things make the biggest difference.
- Encourage customers to share their experiences and amplify their content.
- Build a tribe, where existing and potential customers can engage with each other and share ideas about how to use your product. This will unciver ideas about how to improve existing products or what new products you could launch.
- Reward customers for completing surveys, sharing experiences on social media, and referring your brand to friends and family. Customers referred by other customers have a 37% higher retention rate.
- Include customers in advisory boards for valuable input on product development and business strategy.
- Upskill staff in interpersonal skills and customer service – and reward those who are called out for great service by your customers.
Teams that are given a certain amount of autonomy, along with great training and a clear focus, can deliver outstanding customer service. And when customers are delighted by your service, they tell others about it – and that’s more effective and authentic than any advertising campaign.
How SMEs can win the war against late payments
Every January, many small businesses run into cash flow problems because they’re waiting on customer payments from the year before.
Along with bad debt and unexpected expenses, late payments can negatively impact the sustainability and profitability of SMEs. And the situation is worse than one might think.
Sage’s ‘Late Payments: The Domino Effect’ study found that, in South Africa, 15% of invoices are paid late, and more than 88% of payments due to SMEs are either never made or are made so late that they’re eventually written off.
The knock-on effects of this are far-reaching. Small businesses can’t pay their staff or suppliers and, to stay cash flow positive, they’re forced to use money that they’ve put aside to grow their business to keep their doors open.
But there is one way that SMEs can guard against the effects of late payments, and that’s to maximise their cash flow by cutting unnecessary expenses.
Here are a few ideas how to do that:
- Don’t depend on a single customer. Try not to rely on one source for the majority of your income, especially if the customer often pays late. Another risk of this approach is that you’ll take a massive financial knock when that customer no longer needs your services. A safer option is to draw your revenue from a handful of regular customers.
- Don’t let admin fall by the wayside. Small businesses spend over two weeks following up on late payments, according to our research. Let smart software do the heavy lifting. Cloud-based accounting solutions, like Sage One, automatically sends reminders to customers who are overdue on payments. It generates accurate invoices and reconciles with your bank account, giving you a real-time view into the state of your cash flow. Be sure to send invoices to the right person or department, to avoid rejection and delays, and clearly define your payment terms, including penalties for late payments.
- Make it easy to pay you. By offering a variety of payment options – like card facilities, direct bank deposits, mobile payment solutions, and app payments – you enable customers to pay on the spot, rather than relying on them to remember to pay you once they’re back at the office. This makes it easy to do business with you, which any customer will appreciate. Consider offering discounts to customers who pay their accounts early, or in full, and be sure to check a customer’s credit history before offering payment terms.
- Build a relationship with your bank. Set up a credit facility with your bank before you need it. This not only lets you build up a solid credit history and negotiate better interest rates, but also gives you instant access to funds when you need them most.
- Get inventory smart. Having too little stock means you could miss out on a sale. Having too much stock means you’re losing money – and tying up cash – through unnecessary expenses, like storage and insurance. Sage Inventory Advisor helps you forecast how much stock you need, quickly place orders, and ensures you never have too much or too little inventory on hand.
- Get help. Our research found that 24% of SMEs don’t have a team member on staff who can focus on chasing late payments – and 13% of SME owners don’t have the time to do it themselves. Along with smart accounting software that can do this for you, having someone who can focus on collecting money can drastically improve your cash flow.
All SMEs should have a rainy-day fund to guard against slow months and late payments. Improving your cash flow can help you to meet your own payment commitments and avoid late payment penalties.
- Look out for cash savings, like discounts on bulk stock purchases or incentives for paying accounts on time.
- Tap into the gig economy for immediate access to expert skills, when you need them, for less.
- Be frugal with office space, equipment, and staff – only buy or rent what you need.
- Negotiate with suppliers to arrange flexible payment terms.
- Barter – offer your skills or services in exchange for someone else’s.
- Get free money – investigate government loans and grants for SMEs.