Flexi-hours: The pros and cons

We live in an age of technology and with it comes greater connectivity. This is something that has undoubtedly fueled the idea of flexible working hours more than ever – gone are the days of people having to stick rigidly to the constraints of a nine-to-five job. Flexi-hours are fast becoming a more viable reality for businesses around the world, one which is allowing employees to have more freedom and control of their working hours than ever before. As with many concepts though, there are both advantages and disadvantages that come with the flexi-hour system for employers and employees alike – read on to discover just what some of these are.

Let’s start with the pros:

  • More motivated: Because employees are no longer “schedule-bound”, they tend to be more enthusiastic about their jobs.
  • Higher levels of productivity: As a result of being more motivated, employees are seen to be more efficient and productive, with absenteeism as well as turnover rate falling significantly.
  • Loyal workforce: Happy, productive employees invariably mean loyal employees – it’s a win-win situation for both sides.
  • Attract and retain top talent: In today’s working world, there is a high value placed on flexibility, so it’s not unheard for prospective employees to seek out specific companies that are known for being more flexible than others. Offering flexi-hours can give a business the power to both attract and retain the top talent in the industry.
  • Garner a reputation: This is one for the employer – offering flexi-hours can position you in an attractive spot to be considered as a friendly and flexible company that people want to work for. It also shows that you are progressive (to a degree) and you’re willing to take your employees’ needs seriously.
  • Maintain a better work/life balance: Flexi-hours can be particularly appealing to working parents who need to be more available for their children. The same can also apply to those who maybe care for a spouse or an elderly parent. Yet even if these don’t apply, flexi-hours can still give you the freedom to meet both family and personal commitments more easily, helping you to master that seemingly elusive work/life balance.
  • Higher quality of work: Because employees are able to work during the hours they find they are the most productive, the chances of producing higher quality work become increased.
  • Goodbye to commuting and peak-hour traffic: With the freedom to choose their working hours, employees may be able to avoid peak-hour traffic and in some cases, a long commute all together. This eliminates the negative effects that sitting in traffic and early wake-up calls can invariably have on mood, attention span and exhaustion levels – all things that can (and do) affect productivity levels on a daily basis.

The other side of the coin: the cons:

  • Lack of control: With people operating on different schedules, there’s always the possibility that managers/business owners will start to lose control and lack awareness when it comes to the work being carried out.
  • Communication break-downs: Without there being set hours in place for all employees, it can become increasingly difficult to get in touch with the right people when you need to, and therefore harder to co-ordinate meetings and presentations.
  • Taking advantage: The flexi-hour system is a trust-based one with employers choosing to believe that delivering flexibility to their employees will not result in a drop in work quality or people taking advantage of a concept that can very often come across as being deceptively laid-back.
  • Lack of supervision: Because employees are not being watched every minute of the day, some can veer off the path and start to show signs of non-compliance with company policies and even tardiness.
  • Hard to build an office culture: With employees not being all together day in and day out, creating an office culture can become difficult, if not impossible. The lack of cohesiveness can lead to people feeling alienated and as if they are not part of a team. For this reason, flexi-hours may not be the best idea to implement within team-based businesses.

Flexi-hours can do wonders for some business, but within others, it can wreak absolute havoc. As a small business owner, it’s vital that you weigh up all the pros and cons before choosing to apply this system to your business. Be sure to consider whether or not it would be beneficial to everyone involved, both now and in the long run.

Just as technology has brought us the ability to introduce more flexible working hours, so too has it brought us reliable and impressive online accounting and payroll productssuch as those available from Sage One.


Featured image: http://livejamaicaupdates.com

Amazing statistics about local businesses

Almost a decade on from the start of the global financial crisis, South African businesses are still facing a number of challenges. Here are some astounding figures about the state of South African small and medium businesses.


South Africa’s failing to increase the number of small businesses


In 2008, South Africa was home to 2.18m small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs), with 666,500 formal SMMEs (meaning that they are registered with government and subject to company tax), 1.4m informal SMMEs, and 95,000 SMMEs in agriculture and households services (classified as ‘Other’), according to the Bureau for Economic Research’s 2016 SMME research note.


In 2016, the total number of SMMEs was 2.25m, only 3% more than were present in 2008. Formal SMMEs numbered 667,400, informal SMMEs numbered 1.49m, and there were 86,000 ‘Other’ SMMEs. Limpopo and Gauteng experienced the largest growth in SMMEs between 2008 and 2016, at 34% and 14%, while the Northern Cape and Free State experienced the largest declines in SMMEs, at -31% and -16% respectively.


But the importance of small businesses to the economy is increasing rapidly                


Despite the difficult environment for small businesses, their operations have become even more crucial to the good health of South Africa’s economy. In 2010, SMME’s total contribution to the South African GDP was 33% of total; in 2015, this share had increased to 42% of South Africa’s GDP, according the Bureau for Economic Research.


South Africans think highly of entrepreneurs, but don’t want to be them


The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor’s 2016 report on South African entrepreneurial environment catalogues statistics on perceptions towards entrepreneurship. Drawing on a dataset going back to 2001, they show a remarkable increase of positive perceptions towards entrepreneurs. In 2001, only 19.7% of South African adults perceived good opportunities for entrepreneurial activity in their area, which rose to 40.9% of adults in 2015. In 2003, only 48% of South African adults perceived entrepreneurship as a good career choice, rising to 73.8% in 2015. The increase in status was not met with an increase in those wishing to achieve that status however. In 2003, 12.2% of South African adults had entrepreneurial intentions – that is, they planned to start their own enterprise within 3 years. In 2015, this share had decreased to 10.9%. These figures are in stark contrast to the African continent as a whole – 39.3% of adults in Africa, as a whole, had entrepreneurial intentions.


Most South African small businesses are feeling throttled by red tape


The Small Business Project’s SME Growth Index 2015 reported that South African firms face an extraordinary regulatory burden, inhibiting the ability of small businesses to grow and face the myriad challenges of entrepreneurship. In 2015, 75% of those surveyed reported that the burden of red tape had increased in the course of the year, with 40% of firms citing this as a top factor for impeding the growth of their business. There is a tragic irony here: government is looking to small business to drive economic growth, but it is government that is the greatest inhibitor of growth in small business.

Do you have what it takes to start your own business?

Can you support yourself?


There are many practicalities that may inhibit your ability to start your own business. If you’re planning making your endeavour a full-time job from the get-go, you will need to have enough savings to cover your living expenses.


Opinions vary on how much is enough – if you’re transitioning from a part-time business to a full-time business with your market already established, you’ll likely require only 6 months’ worth of savings to keep you afloat. If you’re building your business from scratch, having 18 months covered will give you a year to establish an income flow, and 6 months padding in case things don’t work out.


Being able to support yourself as you start your own business is more than having all financial bases covered. You have emotional needs that need to be taken care of. Many first-time entrepreneurs find it incredibly valuable to have a mentor that they can turn to for advice; an experienced voice can keep the drive going.


Do you have more than just an idea?


Ideas have no value by themselves; everybody can cite that one idea that “will make them millions”. By nature, you will believe in your ideas, but value is something that is determined between people. Getting another person to believe in your idea is a true test of your ability, and the idea itself. Moving an idea from your head into reality is no easy feat – you’ll have to negotiate moments in which your enthusiasm wanes and you consider abandoning things. It’s in these times that you’ll need the encouragement of others, as well as a reserve of resilience to push you through to success.


Moving an idea into fruition requires patience. The entrepreneur must be able to meticulously plan the development of their business. They will have to wear many hats – bookkeeper, project planner, sales – and will have their time spread thin. But they will know too that every moment that seems futile is in the service of the idea, and making their dreams reality.


Are you empowered by the idea of deciding for yourself?


You’re going to be making a lot of choices as an entrepreneur. Very often, you’ll be making decisions that have uncertain outcomes – hiring this person, trusting that supplier, chasing those leads. In many situations, it’ll pay off to know as much as you can. If you’re considering renting an office space, you should know whether you can afford it, and whether having the office will add something to your business. But to be an entrepreneur is a risk, and you’ll need to be ready to roll with an indefinite future.


The freedom that entrepreneurship brings comes at the cost of being the one at which the buck stops. Your success will, ultimately, be your own responsibility; and it takes a certain character to have that level of self-confidence.

How to handle retrenchments in your office with sensitivity

Retrenchments are an agonising process for any business. They can cause upheaval in the lives of all involved, with those who lose their jobs being most seriously affected.


Keep to the letter of the law


South African labour laws dictate that business owners and managers must follow a rigorous process prior to the decision to retrench, and following the decision, if retrenchment is deemed unavoidable.


As a business owner or manager faced with the unenviable task of having to let employees go for the sake of the business, it is critically important that these procedures are followed correctly to avoid legal censure; but it is also important that the manner in which retrenchments proceed are done sensitively. An improper approach to retrenchment can hurt the morale of remaining employees, leading to unplanned exits, stunted productivity, and increasing the hardships of an already troubled business.


When it seems as if retrenchments may become a necessity, but before the decision to retrench has been made, it is your duty, as an employer, to hold formal consultations with employees. A written memo should be distributed, detailing the factors that have made retrenchments seem unavoidable.


Help old employees find new beginnings      


Once the consultation process has been completed, and retrenchments confirmed, it is important to reveal the details of retrenchment with care. Ensure that those who will face retrenchment have as much information as possible – make certain that their packages are clearly explained.


Provide references to help them find new employment. In the reference letters, make certain to talk about the retrenchment so that the termination of employment does not reflect poorly on the retrenched, as may happen in the case of an employee being fired.


Life after loss


A well-handled retrenchment process, in which discontent among those made to leave is kept to a minimum, is essential if you hope to prevent lingering unhappiness in the remaining workforce. Communicating properly – being thorough in providing the rationale behind the retrenchment decision – will allow those remaining employees to be more assured in knowing why they were kept on, and prevent ‘survivor’s guilt’ from affecting their productivity.


A new direction


Retrenchment periods are moments of change in an organisation. Having to downsize a workforce is an extreme measure. With this act, an organisation must seize the opportunity to change. Remaining employees shouldn’t be made to shoulder a vastly increased work burden because those that formerly performed those duties have left. This is not only a sure-fire way to foster discontent among the remaining employees and have valuable employees seek work elsewhere, but it is an inefficient use of remaining human resources.


Rather, management should devote thought to improved systems that can allow productivity to flourish, and to get the company back on a growth path.

Four things to keep in mind when starting your accounting practice

1. Have you got the experience?


You may be freshly qualified as an accountant, with a strong independent streak coursing through your veins, and eager to break into the working life as your own boss. But this may be an error. It is recommended to accrue a good deal of varied experience as an accountant if your dream is to start your own practice.


Working for a large firm (one of the so-called Big 4 of PricewaterhouseCoopers, EY, Deloitte and KPMG, for instance) provides you with knowledge of best practice and niche accounting. Transitioning from a role in one of these firms to a smaller accounting firm, specialising in local clients, will give you experience in the dynamics involved in smaller clients, and a good sense of the variety of tasks that you can expect to do when you decide to open your own firm. Collecting experience will serve you well, and the time spent in these kinds of firms can serve to fire up the passion needed to strike out on your own.


2. Have you got the passion?


As a freelance or small business accountant, your clients will typically be small business owners or private individuals. This means that, unlike working at a large firm in which clients can seem more like faceless entities than collections of human beings, one of your primary skills is going to be managing personal relationships. There must be a strong empathetic streak running through you. Your work is likely going to have a large effect on the successes of those for whom you work. Passion for this kind of work – intimate, specialised, with a view to long-term connection – is indispensable, and will be the difference between failure and flourishing.


3. Have you got the financial position?


You may have the know-how, and the desire, but if you cannot afford to eat when you’re starting out on your own, success will never come. Starting your own accounting practice will require planning and prudence. You need to be confident that you can have some time to secure your first clients, and that you can afford the outlays on the equipment that you will need to do your job – a laptop, internet, accounting software, stationery, and so on.


4. Have you got the time?


For many, a great benefit of being employed as an accountant is the regularity and stability of the demands on your time – work hours are set, and everything outside of this is your own. This won’t be the case as you start out on your own as an accountant. Working odd-hours, late into the evenings, is likely to characterise the first chapter of this phase in your life, as you work to establish a reputation as a reliable and hard-working accountant for your clients. For some, this irregularity will be opposed to the life that they want to live – but if it’s not, then starting your own accounting practice might be for you.

The advantages that make up for the risk of going out on your own

Starting your own business involves coming face-to-face with the prospect of failure. This possibility, and its attendant consequences – financial strain, pressure on personal relationships, blows to drive and confidence – can be enough to warn most people off beginning their own enterprise. But the benefits of starting your own business can trump the risks that are involved.


Knowledge of Self


Starting a business for the first time will bring new experiences every day. Facing up to these experiences will teach you about yourself – how you deal with disappointment, how you rise to challenges, how you use your smarts to get what you want, what you’re willing to sacrifice to make your dreams reality. Your success will be a result of your own doing, and with that, you will gain insight that others won’t have access to about what kind of person you are. “Know thyself” was the inscripted instruction that loomed at the entrance to the Temple of the Oracle at Delphi – and starting your own business is a certain route to doing just that.


Risk means reward


You’re putting your money where your mouth is when you begin your career as an entrepreneur. Your bet is on your abilities – and your reward if this bet pays off is being the one who can lay claim to the payoff from your labours. The willingness to risk lean periods of financial health in order to pull in profits at the end of the day is the hallmark of the entrepreneur. You get command of your profits, rather than having the product of your work managed and diverted through a corporate framework.


Variety spices life


Some people are suited to monotony. They like to see the same faces, streets, workloads every day. The entrepreneur is not such a person. The web of tasks for which the entrepreneur must take final responsibility is part of the attraction of being an entrepreneur. No day will be the same as you strive for continual improvement in the fortunes of your enterprise.


Freedom and flexibility


When you start your own business, you get to do what your heart desires, rather than what has been mandated by others. Because your success is derived from your own efforts, and because you can expend your efforts when you deem necessary, you won’t be locked into a conventional schedule as an entrepreneur. This may mean burning the midnight oil as you work to accomplish a project, or it may mean taking a 6-month vacation as a reward for your success. Being an entrepreneur means, at base, that you are doing what you want, and, doing what you need to in order to do what you want.


Pride, before and after a fall


Nobody but you is entitled to claim ownership of the success that comes from your own business. Being one of the few willing to face their fears, and the perils of a life without a safety net, will become a cornerstone of your identity, and a source of pride. You will not be among the multitudes who live with regret over what could have been – even in failure, you will emerge enriched.

Co-working spaces – freeing the freelancer

The internet age has brought about some fundamental transformations in the way that freelancers operate. For many, possessing a laptop and access to a reliable internet connection is all that they need to get their work done. The extraordinary advances in the ways that we can operate have brought new freedom to many – it’s easier to be truly independent. But, for some, this independence can come at a cost.


Many discover that going it alone can be a lonely experience. The unheralded virtues of being a part of a community becomes apparent to the freelancer. It is from the travails of the unrooted freelancer that co-working space began cropping up and flourishing.


What is a co-working space?


In essence, co-working spaces are shared offices. Freelancers, individual contractors, or people whose work consists of large amounts of travel rent space – a desk, a seat at a long table – from which they can do their work. Rental periods can be from a day to a year. Co-working spaces began taking off in the first few years of the new millennium in the USA. The tech-set – independent programmers, designers, digital specialists – quickly became drawn to the idea of workplace sharing. For some, it evoked the atmosphere at university libraries; each doing their own thing, together.


Why use a co-working space?


While working in a traditional office is unappealing to the freelance set – many of whom treasure their independence – it does hold the great benefit of being a community. Being among others engaged in productive activity often helps with motivation. Co-working spaces look to re-engage the freelancer within a working community. Since others in the space are engaged in their own projects, those using a co-working space are surrounded by other individuals with similar work values to themselves.


The benefits of co-working spaces extend beyond acting as a slave for loneliness. For the entrepreneur, just starting out, a co-working space provides a more formal working environment, without the significant costs of a traditional office. Most co-working spaces are located in business hubs – city centres and the like – which gives them easy access to have face-to-face meetings with important clients. Furthermore, because co-working spaces draw in like-minded people, many discover collaborative opportunities with others in the space, or through connections forged through people met in the co-working environment


Co-working in South Africa


Co-working spaces have cropped up in Cape Town and Johannesburg in recent years, as people began to recognise the opportunity for such environments among freelance professionals. CoworkingSA keeps a list of Johannesburg and Cape Town co-working spaces, while Coworker provides international co-working listings, with daily, weekly, and monthly prices for renting space, and user reviews and ratings. Monthly rates in South Africa typically range between R2,000 and R3,000. Many co-working spaces provide private rooms and meeting rooms, which provide the user the benefit of being able to host meetings with clients as well as allowing room for organising group projects.

Four ways to build your team and make them unstoppable

Our world is built of the product of people successfully cooperating. Life, as we know it, is only possible through unspoken convention, and that which surrounds us – houses, roads, technology, and any other artefact – is there only because humans were able to coordinate their actions towards a common end. But people are individuals as well as social beings, and the pull of selfish motives and personal goals can distract, wreck, and ruin endeavours in which their labours are an essential element.


As a leader in your business, your duty to the enterprise is to develop an environment in which your team works in cooperation, to produce something that is greater than the sum of its parts.


Robert Axelrod’s strategy classic, The Evolution of Cooperation, provides foundational principles around which a great team must develop, and how a team leader can construct an environment in which cooperation will flourish.


1. Enlarge the shadow of the future


“[No] form of cooperation is stable when the future is not important enough relative to the present.” 


Your role, as leader of a team, involves defining expectations. A team in which its membership is in constant rotation will not succeed. Enlarging the shadow of the future means emphasising durable relations – it essential that each member of the team knows that others will be there for them, and that they will be a support for the other members of the team. Frequency of interactions is also critical – a team that knows the state-of-play of the present is more likely to maintain forward direction. The future is brought nearer, and looms larger. Bringing people closer more often goes hand-in-hand with keeping others away. Limiting interactions that are outside of the scope of certain members of the team will keep frustrations at bay for those stuck in interactions in which they are not necessary.


2. Change the pay-offs


People coordinate their actions around what they see as the available options. As team-leader, you must be in control of the implicit options for action. There is a risk, in any team, that people won’t do what they are expected to do, and this results in knock-on effects for the other members who are forced to divert their efforts in order to pick-up the slack. Having clear boundaries for what is not acceptable, and sticking to those rules, is critical. Communicating clearly the advantages of success is equally important – your team should be confident about the future, and confident that others will, like them, be committed to seeing that it becomes reality.


3. Teach people to care, teach reciprocity


A successful team knows each other. People cooperate best when they recognise that their own welfare is positively affected by the team around them. It can be easy for people to withdraw to a selfish pursuit of their own goals, but this attitude ends up leaving everyone worse off.


But encouraging altruism is not enough – it is possible for a deeply selfish person to reap the rewards of an altruistic environment, and contribute little in exchange. To avoid these situations, your team should look to reciprocity – if someone helps them, they should aim to help back. If a team member is consistently resistant to helping others, the team is empowered to censure that member. The result of this system is that positive reciprocation becomes commonplace, as people recognise that not doing the right thing will lead to bad results – your team polices itself.


4. Improve recognition abilities (and recognise ability)


Your team should know each other – and they should recognise what each does and why they do it. With the previous factors in play, your team should be able to cooperate successfully – recognising the roles of others underlies what comes to be known as trust among your team members. When the team has clear knowledge of each other’s functions, and are confident about what others have done, they can be confident too about what others are going to do.


Axelrod concludes his chapter on how to promote cooperation with this insight: “Promoting good outcomes is not just a matter of lecturing the players about the fact that there is more to be gained from mutual cooperation than mutual defection. It is also a matter of shaping the characteristics of the interaction so that over the long run there can be a stable evolution of cooperation.”

Nominate an amazing small business for the 702/Cape Talk Small Business Awards with Sage One

If you know of a small business that manages to rise above the rest, a provider of an outstanding service or wonderful product, now is the time to nominate them as a potential recipient of the 702/CapeTalk Small Business Awards with Sage One.


Now in their 8th year, the Small Business Awards are a celebration of Gauteng and Western Cape entrepreneurial excellence, and Sage One has a long and proud association with the awards.


Sage, as the largest supplier of accounting and payroll software worldwide to SMEs, is deeply committed to growing small business. Ivan Epstein, President for Sage International (AAMEA) and Chairman of the Sage Foundation emphasises the importance of celebrating the efforts of South African SMEs, “South Africa’s entrepreneurs in small and medium businesses trust us as they power the country’s economy. It is these entrepreneurs who are the drivers of prosperity and it’s our privilege to celebrate their achievements. We know that it takes hard work and human sacrifice to turn a dream business idea into a way of life. That’s why we sponsor these Awards every year – to make the voices of the entrepreneurs heard.”


Much like the businesses that are nominated, Sage South Africa began as a start-up. Originally known as Softline, the business was borne from a vision to simplify the lives of business owners. Founded by Ivan Epstein and Alan Osrin, and joined soon after by Steven Cohen in 1988, Softline was established during the formative years of the software industry with a mere R1, 500 loan. It was listed on the JSE Securities Exchange South Africa in February 1997, and delisted in 2003 to be acquired by The Sage Group plc. Softline changed its name to Sage in February 2013.


Today, Sage has over 13,000 employees across 23 countries and we work with millions of business people in all types of industries around the world. So when we talk about grit, passion and vision, it’s a voice of experience – one that we and many other South Africans share.


The 702/CapeTalk Small Business Awards with Sage One are an opportunity to give something back to small businesses that have a core of excellence, and give small business a big boost.


Prizes this year for winners include an advertising airtime package on 702/CapeTalk worth R250 000, a laptop, free access to Sage One’s accounting and payroll software and a year’s worth of software support, and a Sage training course of the winner’s choice. Runners-up come away with advertising airtime worth R125 000, free access to Sage One’s accounting and payroll software and a year’s worth of software support, and a Sage training course of their choice.


Past winners have seen marked improvements in their businesses. Roof Rats, a roof and ceiling cleaning company that won the Gauteng award in 2013 reported that their business quadrupled in the year following their victory, growing their staff complement from 11 to 44. 2014 winners, Book Express, likewise experienced a 20% increase in telephone enquiries and walk-ins thanks to the exposure that their prize provided.


Sage looks to support the growth of small businesses in South Africa with their payroll and accounting software, and also, through association with the 702/CapeTalk Small Business Awards. If a little company born from little more than a vision and small loan can become a world-beater, so too can South African small businesses.


If you know a small business that deserves recognition, nominate them for a 702/CapeTalk Small Business Award. Visit www.sba.702.co.za or www.sba.capetalk.co.za for more information.

5 things people wish they knew when they started their business

You’re setting out on your own, business plan honed, brimming with ideas, and ready to conquer the market. Starting a new business is one the greatest adventures you’ll have, but excitement can quickly turn to disappointment. Here’s some advice to keep in mind as you contemplate a new venture.


1. Things never become easy in business


There’s no finish line in business. Completing one task gives way to the next immediately. If you’re growing your business, you’re also changing it all the time. There will always be challenges. Making sure your business succeeds means maintaining a standard of work across time. But work smart; focus trumps freneticism – doing one thing at a time well will keep you from spreading yourself too thin.


2. Don’t get too attached to your business


The idea might be perfect, but the timing might be wrong – a business is not a friend or family, so don’t be afraid to let it go if it doesn’t manage to work out. Rather, be aware of serious problems early on – awareness will let you change direction if the mission of the company no longer resonates. Set your mind what would cause you to give up on this particular business right at the very beginning – so that if the worst does transpire, you won’t go down with a sinking ship. Most entrepreneurs fail – those who get up afterwards are those who succeed.


3. Higher hiring


Be very rigorous when hiring new people. Do your due diligence – call references, check qualifications. But go beyond the pieces of paper – you want people who are passionate about what they do, who will help you bring your business goals to fruition. Hiring the right people will give you the confidence to let go of the tasks that aren’t to your strengths, and let you focus on what you do best. Hiring right is the key to solid business growth.


4. Look beyond the day-to-day


When starting out, the temptation is to focus on daily operations – securing new clients and increasing revenue. The risk is that you might not notice when your employees aren’t happy with their work, and aren’t getting the motivation that they need. Too narrow a focus, and you might fial to recognise new opportunities – avert these risks by investing processes directed at creating sustainable long-term growth.


5. Ask for help


While this might be your first experience in starting and running a business, it isn’t the first time that a business has been started. If you’re feeling lost, don’t be too proud to turn to those who might have gone through the similar issues. Find a great mentor, and pick their brains for advice, or join a local business network, and take advantage of the accumulated knowledge that might be on offer.