A low-effort way to increase sales
Attracting new customers is hard work. But, once you’ve won their business, it’s a lot easier keeping them. That’s because these are the people who have already chosen your product or service and who have bought into your brand – so selling to them (again) makes more sense than trying to convince someone who’s never bought from you before.
Here are six ways to increase sales from existing customers:
- Get to know them
More importantly, understand why they keep coming back and what tempts them to leave. You can gather this type of customer feedback via a courtesy call or questionnaire and can use it to improve your sales strategy.
- Use social media smartly
Tap into your followers to improve your product or service. Test the waters of your new offerings on social media, or start a thread asking for their honest feedback. Social media is also a great way to check out what your competition is up to.
- Upsell and cross-sell wherever possible
Make the most of your customers’ support by expanding the value or range of what you offer. If your sales are mostly online, target specific customers based on their buying habits when in your marketing campaigns.
- Stay top-of-mind
Tell your customers when you release new or improved products or service offerings. A weekly newsletter is a great way to keep in touch.
- Show appreciation
Pinpoint which customers are the most loyal and high spending and encourage orders by offering them specials or discounts.
- Get people talking
Drumming up referrals through your existing customer base is a sure-fire way to bring in new customers. Incentivise them by offering discounts based on their recommendations to others.
- Target with care
Be cautious not to badger your customers with sales pitches that don’t relate to their needs. Ensure your sales campaigns are carefully targeted at the right people. If not, you could exasperate them and lose their trust. Rather than chasing a quick buck, focus on nurturing long-term relationships.
7 business benefits of cloud software
There is a reason so many businesses have embraced the cloud. If yours isn’t one of them, the question shouldn’t be if you will, but when.
If you’re still not convinced, here are eight reasons your business could benefit from cloud software:
- Work remotely
It’s estimated that 1.3 billion people now work remotely, with more people joining the ranks every day. By introducing cloud software into your business, you’re freeing yourself from geographic restriction as well as reducing your operational cost. It allows your team to work remotely while collaborating around the clock. For remote working to be successful, it needs to be seamless, and this is where the cloud comes in. It allows you to keep in touch with your team and to keep your finger on the pulse of your business at all times.
- Save money and space
Cloud software lets you avoid in-house IT systems, which rack up costly energy and operational bills. The cloud can also scale along with your business needs, without having to invest in more hardware.
- Enjoy simplicity
Consumers expect sleek, simple, and intuitive technology in all aspects of their lives, which is why most cloud solutions were created to resemble and function like many of the most popular sites. This is good news for your team, as it means mastering these tools is quick and easy.
- Stay compliant
Legislation changes quickly and often. As soon as employment law, tax, or data protection requirements are amended, cloud software is instantly updated, so that all necessary laws are adhered to.
- Live in the now
In a time of instant gratification, no one has a year to wait for software upgrades or improvements. With traditional software licences, you have to do just that – and pay for it each time. However, cloud applications constantly deliver the most recent versions without you having to lift a finger.
- Change your mind when you want to
Because cloud services don’t require installation and or capital outlay, you can easily switch to a new package or subscription plan to suit your current business requirements.
- Level playing field
Small business owners no longer need to be at a disadvantage due to their size. With project management tools, shared data, and accounting software, there’s no reason that your small business can’t compete with even the largest competitors.
The entrepreneur’s guide to accounting
The entrepreneur’s guide to accounting
The health of your business’s accounting and financial systems plays a big part in your success. While it’s tempting to hire someone to take care of your finances for you, or to ignore them altogether until tax season rolls around, managing your money smartly is a non-negotiable when it comes to running a successful business.
While no entrepreneur can be a master of all trades, it’s worth knowing the basics when it comes to your finances.
Here are eight things every new business owner needs to know about accounting:
- Know your growth number
So, you’ve spent weeks perfecting your business plan, painstakingly highlighting your vision – but have you outlined your financial targets? Even setting a baseline goal of 5% growth per year, for example, can keep you focused and make it easier to measure your growth.
- Consistency is key
Set aside time every day or week to update your accounts, so you can get into the swing of managing your revenue, costs, and expenses. Having oversight of your finances will help you to make informed decisions and spot any financial red flags before they become serious.
- Think ahead
Plot your income and expense projections up to the end of the financial year. This will help you to anticipate your future cash flow and makes it easier to adjust your operations in future.
- Value your time
Time is money. Entrepreneurs need to master time management because it’s one skill that can’t be outsourced. Keeping your most important vendors and customers happy is possible when you prioritise effectively and take care of the most urgent matters first.
- Keep a sharp eye on your costs
You need to know your expenses inside and out. Whether they’re essential to your business or are more general (like stationery and printing), knowing where your money is going and being strict with your internal purchasing processes is paramount when it comes to managing your finances.
- Guard your revenue
Being paid on time (in fact, being paid at all) can be a challenge. When invoicing your clients, be up front about when they can expect an invoice and what your payment terms are. Include these terms on the invoice itself and try to get the client to agree on them beforehand. Some clients might struggle to meet your payment terms; in those cases, you’ll need to compromise. Usually it’s easier to wait longer for payment than to take legal action.
- Do your future self a favour
Save yourself a stressful year-end by filing your financial documents every month. By storing your receipts, invoices, and other accounting documents in chronological order, they’ll be easily accessible whenever you need them.
- Automate as much as possible
There’s no reason not to make the most of the technology available to us within our businesses – especially when it comes to our finances. Use whatever accounting tools and software you can to lighten the load of your workflow, set reminders, and ease the general day-to-day financial responsibilities.
Startup Culture Podcast
Have you ever wondered why startup culture is synonymous with foosball tables, bean bags, and great snacks? Do these things really attract millennials? As a business owner, should you try shape a culture or let it emerge naturally?
In this episode of the Sage podcast, Vincent Hofmann chats to Business Design Consultant, Danielle Jaffitt, about what culture at work really means, how the founders’ beliefs shape a company culture, and what happens to culture when a company experiences rapid growth. They also chat about the effects of diversity on company culture, and some practical things you can do to make work more fulfilling for your employees”.
Listen to the podcast here.
5 accounting habits to break
There are countless surprises involved in starting a business. For those who haven’t had official training, accounting will likely be one of them. Managing your cash flow and balancing your books is no walk in the park. But, like it or not, the survival of your start-up hinges on the strength of your financial strategy. This means keeping efficient records and ensuring your cash flow is smooth and consistent.
While it’s admirable to try and manage your business’s finances and accounting on your own, you could be wasting a lot of time and effort that could be spent elsewhere in the business.
Here are five accounting habits your business needs to break.
Stop using spreadsheets
Regardless of how careful you are, if you’re capturing manual entries into spreadsheets, errors are likely. Rather than being forced to start from scratch each time you catch a mistake, it’s worth looking into cloud-based solutions.
Integrating your invoices and accounts, and automating your data-capturing processes not only saves you time, but reduces errors. In fact, in the Practice of Now research conducted by Sage, almost half of accountants said they’d like to automate their day-to-day diary management, number crunching, and data entry – with as many as 66% saying they’d like to invest in AI to streamline these repetitive tasks.
Stop putting things off
It’s tempting to ignore your financial admin until tax season rolls around, but this is another way you’re opening yourself up to easily avoidable errors. If the idea of setting aside 15 minutes each day is too daunting, then set aside just one hour a week to get all your financial ducks in a row.
Record income and expenses and chase those unpaid invoices. Not only will this improve your cash flow, but it will help you spot problems that can be remedied before they get out of control.
Stop giving away control
While it’s a good idea to ask for (and pay for) help when you need it, outsourcing your financial management as a whole can easily end up costing you more than it’s worth.
Rather, find a happy medium. Business solutions like Sage One are a great way to get the help you need to manage your finances, without handing over control completely. This easy-to-use solution also complies with tax laws automatically – eliminating any nasty surprises around tax season.
Stop trying to control everything
While it’s important to have sight of every aspect of your business, some things, like tax, belong in the capable hands of experts.
Stop using outdated systems and processes
Rather than kicking it old school with a shoebox filing system (which may be simple, but isn’t very efficient), consider doing the following:
- Scan your receipts. These can be saved to the cloud or linked to your online accounting solution.
- Name your receipts. Each one should be renamed with its date, vendor, and expense category.
- Organise your receipts. This is simpler than it sounds. Simply create a folder for each financial year and make a habit of transferring your receipts to it.
- Create one folder to rule them all. Now that you have all your slips organised in the correct folder, work on saving these in a master tax folder. Your future self will thank you.
If you’re concerned about the health of your business, having clarity about your finances is a non-negotiable. Rather than dealing with a disaster that’s already arisen, avoid them altogether with efficient record-keeping.
Why the future of accounting has nothing – and everything – to do with technology
University curriculums are battling to keep up with the rapid advancements in accounting and bookkeeping technology. As a result, graduates are entering the workforce at a disadvantage and will have to take charge of their own education if they want to be successful business advisors.
So says Nyemeko Njoli, a chartered accountant and chairperson of the Association for the Advancement of Black Accountants of Southern Africa (ABASA), speaking in a recent episode of the Sage #NextGenAccounting podcast.
“New apps and software solutions make accounting simple. When supported by artificial intelligence, these solutions perform many accounting functions faster – and better – than humans. The reality is, anyone can sell this technology, and businesses will go with the lowest price. Accountants need to differentiate themselves by figuring out how to complement these solutions. They need to learn new skills so that they can add value to their clients’ businesses beyond technology.”
Much to learn
Njoli recalls the days when he started his own consultancy. “I had an inkling that I could be a great businessman and sold the idea to my wife. The first two months were exciting – I even secured my first client. But then reality set in and I soon realised that running a business is not a natural skill – it’s something I had to learn. It’s not like being in a corporate environment, working for an established brand that already has clients and working systems and processes. Being on your own means you need to be able to sell yourself; you need to build your confidence to find clients.”
He says he didn’t learn any of this in school or at university – learning how to sell was something he had to teach himself. And quickly.
“When the clients weren’t coming to me, I realised I had to sell myself – and selling is a skill that doesn’t come naturally to accountants. No one teaches us how to sell. So, I had to navigate through that uncomfortable journey of not knowing what I was doing but also trusting my own learning process. I asked my own clients how they got clients, I watched YouTube and LinkedIn videos, I spent a lot of time at SARS figuring out their systems and processes. You can’t make a mistake with a SARS submission because it’s your client’s business on the line. None of this is in the theory we’re taught. I’m still learning. I’ve realised that there are no shortcuts – you have to get out there and learn.”
Bean-counter to consultant
Another skill Njoli had to learn fast was how to be a business advisor and consultant. He advises new accountants to first decide what sector they want to serve and what value they can add.
“Clients of large accounting firms have certain expectations, in terms of what reports they want to receive and by when. But businesses in the informal sector, where I work, have different expectations and perceptions of accountants. Most of their challenges are directly linked to the success of their business. My role now becomes more than delivering a report on time. I’m an advisor who helps them make a success of their business, by guiding them on strategy and trends.
“Many business owners in this sector survive month-to-month and don’t turn a profit. Their cash flow situation is precarious. For them, it’s not about the accounting package – taxi drivers don’t have time to click buttons and learn new systems. They don’t have the skills to manage their paperwork. That’s because accounting is not their primary focus. So, it’s up to me to make the accounting process as simple as possible – for example, by recommending easy-to-use apps. But the real value I bring to the table is the advice I give them – helping them to run their businesses better, to understand pricing, admin and quoting, and advising on how they can better interact with their customers.”
Njoli says there’s a perception in the informal market that an accountant’s role is to crunch the numbers, talk to the bank when a business needs funding, and get tax clearance certificates.
“As much as we need to educate ourselves, we also need to educate our clients, especially those in the informal sector. We need to show them how we add value to their daily operations and we need to tailor our approach to their needs, for example, by introducing them to easy tools. We need to build trusted relationships with our clients so that they know they can come to us for sound business advice, rather than just an accounting pack.”
“We’ve been taught that, as accountants, we’re going to arrive at a company and solve a certain problem. But, in the informal sector, some business owners might only have a Grade 4 education – it’s hard work convincing them to do things differently. Approaching them from a sustainability perspective and telling them what they need to do in order for their business to survive, is how you gain their trust. A lot of these businesses don’t understand cash flow and how it affects their business. One panel beater slashed his labour costs in half because he was trying to make me happy. In the end, it took twice as long to fix my car and he still had to pay his staff. He was operating at a loss. That was the perfect time for me to educate him about why he’s not making money – because he was under-pricing his service.”
He adds, however, that as much as it’s not about the technology, it has everything to do with the technology.
“We’ve become comfortable with the way things are in South Africa but that’s because we’ve been slow to adopt new technologies compared to international markets. But change is coming, and not enough people are investing the time to understand those changes, which means we can expect a lot of job losses. Industry bodies like SAICA are already changing the CFA exams to include topics like blockchain. Universities can’t keep up, so it’s up to us to make sure we stay current.”
3 types of late-paying customers and how to handle them
Most small businesses will have to deal with late-paying customers at some stage. According to our ‘Late Payments: The Domino Effect’ research, 52% of South African Small & Medium Businesses experience direct negative impacts from late payments, like:
- Struggling to pay bonuses,
- Being forced to pay their own suppliers late, and
- Delayed investments into their businesses.
We’ve identified three types of late payers, and offer tips on what you can do before, during, and after the job to get them to pay on time.
- Procrastinating Peter
Peter has no reason for paying late; you’re just not high on his priority list. He knows he’s doing it and may even avoid confrontation by ignoring your emails, phone calls, and messages.
Don’t let Peter forget about you. Send regular reminders, not only about the money he owes you, but also about the value you provide.
Our tips for getting paid on time:
Before you start any work, offer an early payment incentive or ask for 50% payment upfront.
During the job, keep Peter updated on progress and respond quickly to his emails, messages, and phone calls. If you’re too busy to send a detailed reply, send him a quick message, acknowledging his query and follow up as soon as possible. It pays to keep procrastinators in the loop – literally.
When wrapping up the job, nudge Peter towards paying. Let him know that the job is almost complete and remind him of the payment due date and your payment terms. In their book, ‘Nudge’, Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein discuss how regular reminders and ‘herd behaviour’ can nudge people towards certain decisions – like paying on time.
- Perfectionist Penny
Penny generally follows processes to the letter. For example, she won’t process an invoice without a purchase order (PO) number. This is not a bad thing, since it safeguards both parties. But, sometimes, doing things by the book can result in delays.
Our tips for getting paid on time:
Before you start any work, understand exactly what needs to reflect on your invoice to avoid processing delays, and clearly outline your own payment terms. Ask Penny how long it takes to process an invoice and on which day of the month she makes payments, so that you know when to start following up.
During the job, send Penny regular progress snapshots, first drafts, and work-in-progress documents. This shows that you respect and are responsive to her needs. It also helps her to better project manage the job from her side. Remember, Penny values processes. Respect this and she’ll be less likely to push back, come payment time.
When wrapping up the job, let Penny know about your own processes. When the job is almost done, send her a message, saying how you’ll submit the invoice and what it will include (this shows that you paid attention). This way, she can correct any errors before you submit the invoice.
- Preoccupied Paul
Paul wears many hats and juggles many balls. While he generally pays on time, some months, things might slip through the cracks. Stay on top of his to-do list by checking in regularly, acknowledging his challenges, and suggesting easier ways to pay you. But be persistent because he’ll quickly forget again.
Our tips for getting paid on time:
Before you start any work, agree on payment terms upfront. You can ask when Paul would prefer to pay, but get it in writing. This way, when you’re chasing payment, it’s less awkward because he’ll know there’s an agreement in place.
During the job, remind Paul about your deliverables and check in regularly to find out if his requirements have changed. With so much on the go, he might forget to update you on changes.
When wrapping up the job, send Paul a mail letting him know that the job is almost complete and will require his approval/feedback soon. If you need to meet to discuss the project, book time in his diary now.
General tips for getting clients to pay on time
When sending your invoice
Use cloud-based accounting software, like Sage One, to automate the invoicing process and reduce errors that could delay payment.
Create a checklist of what your customer requires on the invoice, like VAT number, PO number, address, contact person, etc. As soon as one invoice is accepted without changes, save it as a template that you can duplicate and edit in future.
After the job is done
When reminding your customer that your invoice is due, don’t only talk about money. Provide feedback on how you felt the job went and ask if there are any loose ends that you need to tie up. This again reminds them of the value you provide and helps to build lasting relationships.
Once you’ve been paid
No matter what type of late-paying customer you’re dealing with, always acknowledge payment and send them a thank you note showing your appreciation.
Any conversation about money is awkward. Having these talks and setting agreements upfront makes it less so, and increases the likelihood of customers paying on time.
The biggest trends shaping accounting today
Most of the accounting process can now be automated, thanks to advances in cloud computing, HR, payroll, and financial software, and artificial intelligence. In fact, technology has made accounting so simple that someone with little to no financial knowledge can balance a business’s books with relative ease.
This is not to say that technology has made accountants redundant – far from it. In fact, technology has made them even more valuable because it’s fundamentally changed their relationships with their clients, to one of consultant and trusted advisor.
These days, businesses rely on their accountants to guide them on everything from forecasting, to understanding market trends and financial strategy. So, while technology crunches the numbers, accountants have more time to learn skills that will put them in high demand.
These are some of the biggest trends shaping accounting today and how you can leverage them to become better at your craft.
- Everything in the cloud
In minutes – and at little cost – businesses can access easy-to-learn and easy-to-use cloud-based accounting solutions that empower them to manage their finances from anywhere, on any device.
Tip: If you’re still using spreadsheets in your accounting practice, it’s time to upgrade to cloud-based solutions. With smart functionality and automatic compliance, you’ll get the bread-and-butter stuff done quickly so that you can spend more time understanding and advising on your clients’ businesses and challenges.
Accounting used to be a manually-intensive process, requiring the capturing of every transaction and receipt. Now, this can be done automatically and with few errors, giving businesses a real-time overview of their financial health. Modern solutions also link directly to a business’s bank account, running automatic screen scrapes and importing transactions directly into the software.
Tip: Embrace automation. With less time spent on manual tasks, you’ll have more time to research your clients’ industries, trends, and regulations. They’ll appreciate any advice you share on upcoming risks and opportunities.
- Artificial intelligence
With automation comes artificial intelligence, which helps businesses uncover patterns in their information to make better predictions about future financial and market performance. Once the domain of data scientists, chatbots like Sage’s Pegg can churn out useful information in response to simple questions like, ‘Who owes me money?’
Tip: Don’t be afraid of AI. Learn how to use the tools and data to help your clients meet their financial goals. People don’t yet trust bots completely and still want advice from a human.
The Protection of Personal Information Act (POPIA) requires accountants to protect their clients’ information. Those accountants with European clients will also have to comply with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
Tip: Prepare for POPIA now and make data security a habit among your team. Educate them on the importance of accurately processing, storing, and deleting client information. Accounting firms have access to critical client information – and cybercriminals know this. Make sure your systems are secure and that all data is encrypted.
Technology is changing the accounting role and we’re heading for a hybrid partnership, where humans and machines work together to best serve clients.
How to train your team on a budget
Investing in your team’s development has undeniable benefits. Consider these stats:
- Businesses that offer comprehensive training programmes report over 200% higher income per employee and have a 24% higher profit margin than companies that don’t.
- 93% of employees would stay at a company longer if it invested in their careers.
- 42% of employees say learning and development is the most important benefit when deciding where to work.
When presented with an opportunity to learn new skills that will help us reach our potential, few of us would pass it up. We’re all worried about the impact technology will have on our careers in future, so it’s no wonder that most people place a lot of value on growth opportunities when applying for – and staying in – jobs.
This is why it’s crucial that businesses put people development at the core of their growth strategies. Training not only contributes to happier customers and more productive, loyal teams; for some businesses, it’s required by law.
Yet, when it comes to training, businesses have two main concerns:
- Fear that their newly upskilled employees will leave
We’ll get into why training and team development doesn’t have to be a massive expense in a moment. But first, answer this question:
Would you rather have bored, unmotivated, and apathetic people on your team (the quickest route to redundancy), or would you risk losing engaged and productive people who feel valued because you invested in their development? Side note: This is unlikely – see the second statistic above.
Now, back to how you can train your people on a budget. Here are a few ideas:
- Enrol them in online courses. There are hundreds of free online business classes presented by lecturers from reputable institutions like Carnegie Mellon, Stanford, Oxford University, MIT, and New York University. Let your team spend a portion of their days or weeks learning a new skill that can contribute to meeting their personal KPIs and the business’s long-term goals.
- Tap into your in-house expertise. You no doubt have subject matter experts within your own four walls who can share their knowledge and learnings with junior team members. Work with your HR department to structure an internal mentorship programme.
- Open a library. Set reading KPIs – like one book every three months – and reward your team for achieving them. Fill your library with books on a range of topics, including leadership, innovative thinking, productivity, time hacks, and creativity. See this article for tips on setting up your library.
- Access government benefits. When you register with your industry’s Sector Education and Training Authority, you may qualify for training grants and can claim points towards your Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment scorecard.
Growth is impossible unless you push your limits, learn new things, and move out of your comfort zone. Encourage your team to adopt a mindset of lifelong learning because when they future-proof themselves, they future-proof your business.
The best business growth advice you’re not taking
Once your business moves out of the difficult start-up phase, you’ll face new challenges, like expanding your product offering and branching into new markets.
But most businesses try to do too much at once. The result? Inefficiency and misaligned teams. Growth should be a slow, calculated process. Focus on one thing at a time and get it close to perfect before moving on to the next. Baby steps still move you forward.
Here are three strategies to get you started.
Your DIY logo served you well in the start-up years but it’s time to bring in the professionals.
Find a brand identity expert who understands everything from the psychology of colour to the smaller nuances of design. They can inject new life into your original design while maintaining the essence of your brand, and can assist with everything from web design, to business cards and stationery, to correctly sized images for your social media pages.
You might also want to consult with a copywriter to add some flair to your marketing message. They can help you get to the essence of what you do and how you solve customers’ problems, and work that into your slogan and web copy.
Don’t be scared of change. Big brands do it all the time (think Absa and Vodacom) to stay relevant in the age of digital disruption. Shaking things up now and then shows your customers that you’re agile and open to new thinking.
Top tip: Keep your design simple and think about the message that the colours, images, and words convey to your customers.
- Delight your customers
Did you know that it costs five to 25 times more to acquire a new customer than it does to keep an existing one? Your existing customers are your biggest source of income. And, if you treat them well and consistently deliver excellent experiences, they’ll also be a secret weapon in your marketing strategy.
But turning customers into authentic brand advocates, who are willing to sing your praises and write positive reviews on public platforms, takes a lot of hard work on your part. Customers are quick to complain when they get bad service but will only talk about great service if it’s exactly that – great. Not average, which we expect of all brands – but unexpected, personalised, and delightful.
How do you do that? By truly understanding your customers’ challenges and how you can help solve them better and faster than the competition. Next time your customer sees a public post from someone looking for appliance repair referrals, they won’t think twice about mentioning your name, along with praises like ‘excellent service, great quality, reasonable price’. Word-of-mouth is more powerful that the most elaborate marketing campaign.
Top tip: Get the referral ball rolling by creating a loyalty programme for your regular customers. Thank them for their repeat business with discounts and reward them with vouchers or free products when they refer a friend.
- Find a mentor
There’s an army of entrepreneurs out there who have been in your position and have great advice on how to navigate any small business challenge. In an age of hyper-connectedness, you don’t have to try – and fail – at every strategy. You can fast-track your success by adopting the strategies of successful business owners.
The flip side is that everyone has well-meaning advice but not all of it will be applicable to your business. Find someone who is in a similar industry and who can help you see the bigger picture by asking the hard questions, pointing out inefficiencies, and helping you to map the way forward.
If you feel like you’re in a business rut, getting an outsider’s perspective could be just what you need to kick-start your motivation again. If you don’t know anyone, tap into global expert knowledge. There’s no shortage of books, TED talks, and podcasts packed with free business advice from those who have been there before.
Top tip: As much as you’re growing your business, you’re also developing yourself personally. Find a mentor who can teach you a new skill or who is knowledgeable in an area you know little about.
Growing pains are a real thing. But if you keep things simple and focus on one strategy at a time, you won’t lose focus on your long-term goals or your customers, which are essential to your success.
Tips to grow your business:
Open a branch in another area or offer your business as a franchise.
- Merge with or acquire complementary businesses.
- Be clear about what makes you different from your competitors and focus on getting better at it.
- License your product or service and earn passive income through royalties.
- Build your online presence to drive more traffic to your website.
- Boost sales through promotions and limited-time offers.
- Bundle your products or services.
- Use technology like Sage One to automate business processes like payroll, accounting, and HR and buy back time to focus on more important things.