Common Errors on Small Business Websites

Your website is a portal for customers, new and old alike, to interact with your business. It’s easy to underestimate just how powerful an impact a well-designed website can have, and conversely, how easily people can be turned away from a poorly functioning or amateurish website. Keep customers’ attention, and check if your site isn’t committing these common, easily missed mistakes.

 

 

No call-to-actions

 

A call-to-action is text that tells a visitor what to do on that page – so, for instance “Book Now”, “Buy Now”, “Add to Cart”, “Contact Us”. These should stand out from the rest of the page, making it easy and intuitive for visitors to purchase the goods or services that your company offers. Ensure that each page has a strong, relevant call-to-action – and critically, these call-to-actions should work.

 

Aesthetically unappealing

 

An ugly website is an immediate turn-off. We’re compelled to trust things that match our expectations – think of the difference that you feel when approached by an untidy salesperson, compared to a well-dressed one. The aesthetics can be purely superficial, but they can also signal to a customer that since you have taken care of the details, you can take care of the substantive part.

 

Doesn’t use responsive design

 

Responsive design means that your website will work equally well for mobile visitors as desktop visitors. Failure to cater for mobile visitors is self-sabotage – you’ll miss out on a huge number of customers.

 

Slow-loading site

 

People are impatient. If your site doesn’t load within 3 seconds, people will tend to leave the page at a rate that increases as load time increases. There are a few things that you can do to ensure that your site doesn’t load slowly – make sure that your images are not excessively large for their use (using a 1mb image in a box where a 40kb image will do), enable caching if your site has been built with WordPress, or move to a better web-hosting company.

 

No clear benefits to visitors

 

Your website should provide an immediate sense of purpose to visitors – state clearly and explicitly using a headline why your site exists, and why someone visiting your site will find a benefit by visiting the site. It’s easy to assume that people can intuitively grasp your purpose – your nearness to your business can blind you.

 

Provide no reason to opt-in to newsletters

 

Email newsletter sign-ups are incredibly valuable – it a very effective way to keep your business’s presence in the minds of people who have previously expressed an interest in your goods or services. You can use emails to draw people into the proverbial sales funnel, and this process begins by securing an email sign-up.

 

A poor ‘About’ page

 

‘About’ pages are easily over-looked, but tend to be among the most visited pages on a website, especially by those who have already been attracted by whatever is on display. People use the ‘About’ page as a means to evaluate the trustworthiness of your company. Vagueness is bad – be clear about your story, and people will be drawn to you.

South African Economic Outlook for Small Business, November 2016

The IMF’s Economic Outlook for September reported that South Africa had lost its place as the largest economy on the African continent to Nigeria, after a brief period in which it regained the top spot. The IMF forecasts more miserable news for the South African economy – stagnant growth rates of 0.1%. South Africa’s economic prospects have been almost totally held hostage to events in domestic politics.

The IMF’s Economic Outlook for September reported that South Africa had lost its place as the largest economy on the African continent to Nigeria, after a brief period in which it regained the top spot. The IMF forecasts more miserable news for the South African economy – stagnant growth rates of 0.1%. South Africa’s economic prospects have been almost totally held hostage to events in domestic politics.

 

Political problems

 

The major cause for the low growth forecasts is the state of political turmoil that has characterised South African government action in recent months. The market is recoiling at the policy uncertainty that has stemmed from large-scale in-fighting in the ruling ANC, with South African president Jacob Zuma jostling for power with Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan. On October 11 2016, the National Prosecuting Authority issued summons to Gordhan regarding fraud charges, a move that caused the rand to depreciate by about 3% against the dollar. The move was condemned by high-level ANC officials, with Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and other high-ranking MPs issuing their support for Gordhan.

Investor hopes for a return to a more open and stable policy environment have been dashed, as the divisions within the ANC have come vividly into public sight.

On Sunday 23 October, ANC Chief Whip Jackson Mthembu publicly excoriated Jacob Zuma, calling for the entire national executive committee (including himself) to resign. This comes as the nation waits the release of the Public Protector’s report into allegations of so-called state capture – a term coined to describe the relationship between Zuma and the Gupta family, who are alleged to have had illegal influence over government operations.

 

Uncertain international standing

 

Further fuelling uncertainty is South Africa’s decision to pull out of participation in the Rome Statute, which legislates the International Criminal Court (ICC). This move has been widely condemned by civil society, and is perceived to be a slight to the ideals of universal human rights that are enshrined in the South African constitution. Some commentators, however, see South Africa’s decision as one that could lead to closer economic ties with other African countries – the ICC is (incorrectly) perceived as being anti-African, and rejecting it may lead to closer economic ties with African countries. If this possibility becomes reality, it may open up new avenues for small businesses looking to export to the African continent.

 

Tax increases?

 

Trouble in government has meant that there have been few positive signs of policy intervention that could successfully provide relief for small businesses in South Africa. Some analysts predict that Gordhan’s mini-budget – a mid-year update – may contain tax increases, especially for those in a high income bracket. This comes as revenue received by SARS has come in under expectations, with government expenditure exceeding tax income. SARS reports 4.1m tax submissions, as the tax season comes to a close. Income from VAT has been especially poor, a signal that consumers have been pushed by inflationary pressures, and are hesitant about spending.

 

Property markets flat

 

South Africa’s property market growth is largely stagnant, according to ooba, a property tracker. Prices have increased by 6% year-on-year, but compared to the second quarter of 2016, have dropped by 3.3%.

How to choose the right business for you

When it comes to business, most people would rather start their own instead of working for someone else. If you are one such person, you will know just how tricky it can be to choose the right business for you. There are plenty of things to consider, as you will be laying a lot on the line, not to even mention the fact that others (investors, employees) will likely be relying on the success of your business to get by.

 

When it comes to business, most people would rather start their own instead of working for someone else. If you are one such person, you will know just how tricky it can be to choose the right business for you. There are plenty of things to consider, as you will be laying a lot on the line, not to even mention the fact that others (investors, employees) will likely be relying on the success of your business to get by. Before you jump in the deep-end and start making difficult decisions, consider the following factors to help you choose a business that will work well for you.

 

What do you have to offer?

 

Think about your strengths and weaknesses, and let those guide you. For example, if you are a people’s person, you could probably do well in an industry that involves a lot of client interaction, such as the service industry. If you’d prefer not to have to interact with too many people on a daily basis, perhaps opening an online store is a better option for you. Either way, you need to establish where your strengths and weaknesses lie, as this will guide you in the right direction.

 

What does your skill-set allow for?

 

Nothing is more important than feeling fulfilled in your job. We spend so much of our time working, so it’s important to make sure that we enjoy as much of that time as possible. Most people are trained in what they enjoy most – either through formal education, or through gaining experience in that field. Look at where your skillset will point you, and consider starting up a business in that field. However, try and make sure that you can also offer something that sets you apart from your competitors.

 

What does your experience tell you?

 

Over the years, you are sure to have seen business models that work and those that don’t. Look back on the experience you have, whether it be in a professional or personal capacity, and pick up on areas that you think are lacking. Think about what frustrated you when you were a client at another business, as well as what you knew was frustrating your clients when you worked for someone else. Perhaps try to fill a gap in the market with your new business and look at what you can do to make clients’ experiences more enjoyable.

 

Where do you want the business to go?

 

Before you decide on what kind of business to start, think about where you want to be in five years’ time. Do you think you may want to sell the business, or would you rather take a hands-on approach and stay with it every step of the way? If the former sounds more like you, then consider an industry that allows for it, and do the same for the latter if that applies to you.

 

Starting a business can be challenging enough as it is. However, smart business choices can help lead you to a place where you know exactly what kind of business it is that you need to start. No matter what kind of business you end up starting, Sage One offers Business Start-Up Bundles, so that once you’re up and running, you can stay on top of all your business management needs.

 

 

Featured image: http://www.isvmag.com

Working wherever – how to master the remote office life

The office – a place where distractions are disappeared, and work is done. To some, there must be a space that is the unchanging embodiment of this frame of mind. They think that they must be one among many with their heads buried in their laptops. Others are able to work in every space they inhabit; some, cannot escape the mind that pushes their productive efforts forward.

 

To work wherever is a possibility that has become reality for many people only recently. In the times before the internet filled communicative pauses, this remote work lifestyle was reserved for novelists, foreign correspondents, secret agents, private detectives, and those with enough clout to command people towards them. If most of your hours are spent in front of a computer, then you too may be a candidate for a remote office life.

 

How to work remotely?

 

If you’re considering moving towards a remote work lifestyle, you should begin by acknowledging that you will not master this ability immediately – nor should you think that your first pass at a work routine is the best that you can muster. The essential lesson of this post is to emphasise that you must test out different styles of work to discover a way that gets the most out of your working hours.

 

The key to this is experimenting with your processes, and cementing that which works through habituation.

 

Working remotely as a personal experiment

 

Self-supervision is the crucial element to this process – you must consistently spend a small portion of your day detached from your client-centric work, and critically evaluate your performance. Gather the objective facts – when you began work; how much time you spent working; how much time was spent distracted, at leisure, or on a break; which tasks you did; how much you managed to get done; where you were when working – as well as the subjective facts – how comfortable were you with the amount done; what level of concentration you achieved; how successfully you managed to solve problems; whether the day was good or bad.

 

Review and re-view yourself

 

This sort of data is best gathered in a spreadsheet. On Friday, conduct a brief review of the week, and at the month’s end, evaluate your performance more thoroughly. Documenting in this fashion can illuminate aspects of your working day that you might otherwise overlook – perhaps you’ll find that some tasks are better tackled in the morning, or that you work better when starting the day at noon.

 

The self-supervision process will give you a sense of yourself in the third-person, and will help you to identify which aspects of your work process to tweak in order to be more productive by breaking past your hidden subjective biases.

 

Habituation

 

The review process can be halted once you feel that you have settled on a way of working that brings out the best in you. You may discover, however, that the process is an intrinsically useful one. In your quest to find the best version of your working habits, you will have habituated yourself into a work habit that does something good for you. You may discover that you are a more dynamic creature than a fixed life routine can handle, and that keeping the work-tracking process as your key fixed feature works better than always beginning work at sunrise or following two cups of coffee ever could.

What SMEs need to know before going into business with corporates

Understanding the whale

Marc Andreessen, founder of Netscape and top venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, writes that corporates must be understood as entities that are, to a large degree, beyond understanding. He compares the small business owner to Herman Melville’s Captain Ahab, with the prospective corporate partner filling the role of the great white whale, Moby Dick.

 

Mr Andreessen writes that something strange happens when groups of people are drawn together in a commercial entity of many divisions and leaders – usual measures of predictability go out the window.

 

So, when you are presented with the opportunity to collaborate in business with a much larger partner, here are things to keep in mind to get the most out of the opportunity, as well as to know when you should back out too.

 

Decisions, decisions

 

In your business, it is likely that the decision-making burden rests on you alone, as the owner, or among a small group of people, depending on the decision-making infrastructure at play. One of the great advantages of running a small business – being able to adjust to new circumstances with flexibility – stems from having to consider only a small number of people when contemplating larger decisions.

 

A corporate yields far greater power than you, but that clout is contained by internal processes and layers of decision-makers that will, unfortunately, remain opaque to you.

 

The first lesson of dealing with corporates lies in internalising the slow pace at which they are compelled to move. You may have very positive talks with heads of a particular department, but getting to the point at which signatures are exchanged will bring in people with whom you will never interact – branches of legal, other departments that may be affected by your prospective deal no matter how tangentially. If an objection is raised – from any quarter – your deal could quite possibly be tabled.

 

Politics, cubicled

 

Even if the deal is as sound, and mutually beneficial as any ever made, factors outside of basic economic rationality may come into play. Corporates, you may be reminded, are not strictly commercial entities. From sheer force of human numbers, corporates become political entities – if you’ve worked at a larger organisation, you may have experienced this – it may be why you’re working in a small business. Personal vendettas, power plays, can leave you out in the cold in your business deal. In some unfortunate cases, it may seem as if your business idea and operation is taken in by the corporate, only to emerge as an internal division that now competes with your own operation.

 

This is not to say that a small business should avoid dealings with corporates. Such dealings can be the making of a small firm, and drive operations to new heights. The extended infrastructure connections that are gained in corporate deals can inspire new branches of your own business – a big leap towards empire.

 

You may land your white whale; but if you feel like your pursuance is driving you to the ends of your sanity, then be assured that it is not you who is irrational – a certain kind of craziness is contained within the nature of big C beast.

Breaking the pyramid – alternatives to the hierarchical business structure

When working out how your business is going to organise itself, thinking of a structure that is not hierarchical is incredibly difficult.

Hierarchy describes a way of organising people. Hierarchy comes from the Ancient Greek hierarkhēs, meaning Sacred Ruler. If you are a business owner, you sit at the top of the hierarchy, with your employees at various levels ‘below’ you on the organisational pyramid. Information, privilege, prestige trickle downwards, from CEO to manager to worker.

 

Is top-down top?

 

The idea that runs through this is that in a hierarchical organisation, people are not equal. Directives come from the top, with little to no feedback mechanism at play from lower levels to upper levels.

 

The reason that hierarchies are the standard organisational structure is because this is a natural way that an organism (social or otherwise) can organise itself in order to achieve a goal.

 

However, hierarchical organisation is not the only way to achieve goals in a group. There are alternative ways of structuring an organisation that may allow better results, given certain preconditions.

 

Introduction to an alternative business structure

 

Heterarchy describes a system of organisation that can best be understood as democratic. Democracy is the most prominent example of a heterarchical system in human society – individuals in a group have an equal say in determining the path that the group should take.

 

In a heterarchical organisation, the parts of the organisation are distinct, and perform distinctive roles, but all parts feed information back in order to inform the direction of the organisation. Until very recently, people thought that the human brain was hierarchically organised, with some areas strictly dominating others so as to achieve common goals. In the 1950s, this understanding was overturned, and a heterarchical model became the replacement model. Just as hierarchy exists in nature, so too does heterarchy.

 

Heterarchical insights

 

Heterarchy can inform your business organisation in a number of ways. The current trend towards shared ownership in enterprises reflects an anti-hierarchical sentiment – if those working for a company have a greater personal stake in the well-being of the company, they are less likely to work to its detriment. Another modern business trend – the flat organisational structure – reflects heterarchical models of organisation. In flat organisations, equality between colleagues is emphasised; the benefits reported in such structures include increased personal accountability, a greater sense of value in work, and more commitment to the common cause of the company.

 

Similarly, increased decision-making stakes and improved bottom-up communications, which are amplified with the modern ability to share relevant information more easily, can result in better business decisions, when there is an effective way of aggregating the information inputs.

 

It is unlikely that, as a small business owner, you will be willing to wholly cede control over your enterprise. However, reflecting on the way that your business organises itself, and questioning whether you can adjust that structure so as to harness your employees better, may result in your taking advantage of some of the organisational insights of heterarchy.

Getting into exporting

Our globalised world requires giving thought with global scope to our business. Where appropriate, you may come to believe that your product has a market beyond the confines of your immediate surroundings. You may be right, and here’s how to begin to evaluate whether the grass is greener (and the profit margins wider).

 

Barriers to entry

 

You may have a product that can compete with foreign products of a similar calibre, all things being equal. But it’s rarely so simple – depending on your product and your prospective market, the target country may look to exclude foreign companies from competing with domestic producers. If you’re a South African producer, there are a number of beneficial trade agreements of which you may take advantage – AGOA, with the USA opens up a large market to your goods. Check which tariffs you may be subject to using the WTO website.

 

Linked to tariffs are what are known as Non-Tariff Barriers-to-entry, or NTBs. These are standards that importing countries place on certain goods in order to protect domestic consumers. Sanitary regulations might be in play – the EU, for instance, insists on strict (some say excessive) quality controls for certain agricultural stock. Your product may get turned back if it doesn’t accord to the importing country’s standards

 

Market Research

 

You know a lot about your product. You’ve developed it, discovered the costs, and, following your importing research, you’ll know where you can sell it profitably. But you need to know which of those countries has a market that might want to buy your products.

 

There are a number of ways that you can go about discovering what sort of interest people in foreign markets may have in what you’re producing. As a small business, you’re unlikely to have the funds to hire a market research firm in your target country, but you can get a semblance of that knowledge via other means.

 

One effective way to discover whether people are interested in you products is to run online ads across a demographic on certain key words. Using Google’s keyword planner tool can give you an indication as to whether there exists a natural interest in products of your kind, and using targeted PPC ads will drive potential customers toward your product. You don’t necessarily need to have you product available in your target country at this stage – your interest is in the interest of other people.

 

Contacting foreign agents

 

Once you’ve discovered a market that will import your products, with a consumer base that can make doing so profitable, you can either rely simply on the internet to handle your purchase orders, or, get in contact with an agent in that country to take larger stock orders. For many, using an agent means a greater level of stability – bigger orders, stable supply, local exposure and know-how at the cost of a reduced margin.

 

Completing these steps can provide you with enough evidence to be confident that your product can compete outside of your home territory. The rest will be up to you.

How to achieve the perfect product/market fit

Small businesses form attempting to take advantage of a need. A team is assembled, and a product is developed and honed to meet the expectations of a demand.

 

Successfully meeting a product to a market is an event that entrepreneurs dream about – Marc Andreessen characterises this as the moment in which production of the product is matched by sales. At this point, it becomes nigh impossible to make changes to your product since the day-to-day running of the business is taken up by managing the sales. Forcing you to hire sales and customer support staff.

 

This moment can happen rapidly, and dealing with the expansion will stretch new parts of your business skill set. But getting there is another world entirely.

 

Focus on the market

 

Michael Siebel, partner in Y Combinator, has a bit of experience in working with start-ups going through the product/market fit process – graduates from the Y Combinator program include Reddit, Dropbox, Twitch.tv, and Airbnb, some of the most innovative companies in the tech sector today.

 

He believes that the key to finding a successful meeting of product and market will happen through focus on the market.

 

The argument is that too great a focus on the team and the product removes the real intention behind entering a market in the first place.

 

A product isn’t finished until the point of fit. The process of refinement must involve playing close attention to the way that customers respond to your offering.

 

Two approaches to you crafting your product

 

There are two approaches to getting to the product/market fit – one, the Steve Jobs approach, emphasises pushing the product as the solution to the problem that your customers didn’t know they needed. The other is following customers’ needs closely and matching their demands – this is Mr Siebel’s preference.

 

The truth lies somewhere in between – a product, to succeed, needs to offer customers something out of the ordinary, and that sparks a desire to buy the product. But too far, and you’ll get visionary points, but too few people afraid to commit. Similarly, covering customer demands is a great way to turn customers into loyal purchasers of your products – too far in this regard will mean that your products can become stretched thin through over-compensation.

 

The Minimum Viable Product

 

At the Y Combinator incubator, start-up founders are pushed to develop a Minimum Viable Product (MVP). This is a product that represents the most basic expression of the idea that got the founders into business. An MVP is something that consumers can interact with, and find value in.

 

With an MVP in place, your business becomes testing how people enjoy your product – whether they find use in it, whether it does what you want it to. You only reach your product/market fit by using the feedback loop of customer interaction and product adjustment.

 

Following this test and design adjustment process cannot guarantee success, but failing by not using this process is guaranteed.

South Africa economic environment for SMEs, October 2016

There hasn’t been much to celebrate about the South African economy in 2016. While the Gross Domestic Product grew 3.3%, annualised, in the second quarter of 2016, this followed a contraction in GDP in the first quarter.

 

This is in keeping with generally poor rates of economic growth posted over the last 5 years: 3.2% in 2011; 2.2% in 2012 and 2013; 1.6% in 2014; and 1.3% in 2016. The South African Reserve Bank’s Monetary Policy Committee does not expect the growth seen in the second quarter of 2016 to continue into the third quarter of this year.

 

Real salaries are in decline

 

Real take-home salaries declined by -0.4% in the first 8 months of 2016 – this is an inflation adjusted measure. Inflation-adjusted measures of disposable incomes – a measure of particular interest to businesses that operate outside of the essential goods and services sectors – declined even further thanks to inflationary pressures, with the annualised decrease being -2.5%, according to BankservAfrica’s Disposable Salary Index.

 

Inflation pressures South African consumers

 

Inflationary pressures have plagued South African consumers in the last year. With salaries not keeping pace with inflation, and inflation being particularly noticeable in basic foodstuffs (thanks, in part, to low yields due to drought), South African’s are having to resort to further belt-tightening, hoping that their belts have enough notches left. Inflation in 2016 averages 5.9%, up from 4.6% in 2015; increases in real personal income tax and medical insurance in this period were above inflation, and add further pressures on South Africans.

 

This pressured economic environment is troubling for South African small businesses. Not only does it mean that they will have to work harder and smarter at attracting local clients towards their businesses, but it also means that inflationary increases to their own costs-of-living will add external pressures to their operations.

 

Credit growth slows

 

Peter Montalto, economist at Nemura, reports that credit growth is slowing down. This is especially so in corporate lending, a traditionally strong area of financial services in South Africa. He anticipates a slow-down in domestic private investment growth, and stagnation in labour market growth. This does not augur well for small businesses hoping to pivot or pursue expansion.

 

Business owners still feel optimistic

 

There is some good news, however. The Civil Confidence Index, compiled by First National Bank and the University of Stellenbosch’s Bureau of Economic Research, reports from their sample that there was an increased confidence in the business environment. This is largely driven by continued growth and activity in the construction sector, despite the real value growth in this sector slowing to 0.2% in the second quarter of 2016 (annualised), a drop from 4.6% growth in the first quarter of this year. Despite reports of increased confidence, businesses are reporting strain from lower demand for new work, indicating that this boost in business environment confidence may not last.

 

Political instability causes uncertainty

 

Continued turmoil between branches of government, in particular between the Executive Branch and Treasury, has done little to boost investor confidence in the health of South Africa’s economy. It is too early to tell whether the results of the municipal elections earlier in 2016, which did not favour the ruling ANC, will produce a governance wake-up call to the party. If the government can respond positively to robust political challenge, South Africa’s economy may well post signs of recovery and sustained growth – if it cannot do so, and continues to govern erratically, then the economy will suffer. And where the economy suffers, small business suffers too.

Five mistakes every new manager can make and how to avoid them

“The manager treats ends as given, as outside his scope; his concern is with technique, with effectiveness in transforming raw materials into final products, unskilled labour into skilled labour, investment into profits.” Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue

 

To assume a managerial role is to assume a position that is assumed to confer a degree of power over a group of people, and a responsibility to some end – the well-being of the business, essentially. The ends are always assumed to be fixed, and effectiveness is the quality which you, as a manager, must promote, above all others.

 

In order to achieve that which your role demands of you, you must deploy a variety of means to get those who fall within your purview to do as you expect. You must use your power both coercively and non-coercively, in order that you can fulfil the mandate demanded by your managerial role.

 

Managing people is not, despite the claims of some, a science. There are no general laws that, if followed, will result in guaranteed success. Instead, you must rely on your capacity for understanding, and your ability to act according to the unique demands of every situation. To help you navigate these uncertain waters, here are six fundamental mistakes, and how to avoid them:

 

1. Not taking responsibility for errors

 

Those in positions of power cannot be precious about assuming the burden of blame if things go wrong. If a mistake was your own, own it. If it was another’s, correct it and show them where they went wrong.

 

2. Letting bias sway your decisions

 

It is expected of a manager that they position themselves in a morally neutral manner – they are arbiters between those under their watch. But humans cannot avoid attachment, nor the pull towards favoured others. When making a choice, say between two paths offered by two employees, draw yourself away from your personal feeling, and towards whatever is the most effective choice.

 

3. Not respecting the individual’s work

Battered by pressures from above, and frustrated by a slow, or error prone worker, you may be compelled to stand over their shoulder and take charge. Micro-managing, however, is an ineffective use of your time, and being overbearing may cause the effected worker’s problems to compound. Ensuring that they know what to do is one thing – watching every time they do it is quite another.

 

4. Not talking often enough

 

In seeking to maintain the emotional distance required by the managerial role, you can easily mistake professionalism for coldness. It is important to know whether there are any issues impacting or distracting employees in the office, and it is important to have clear and open lines of communication.

 

5. Not controlling the atmosphere

 

It is easy to mistake being liked for being respected, and it is also easy to over-emphasise a convivial environment for one that allows people to get stuck into their work and produce as best they can. The art of management is in balancing good feeling in the office with a serious commitment to working.