Why effective communication is important for SMEs

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Communication is an important part of marketing – how you communicate your message in terms of what your business offers and your value add is crucial.

Is there consistency to your messaging, which helps in building a good solid brand; whether it is on your website, your sales brochure or when you speak directly to your clients, and is it clear and easy to understand?

Communication is important in building strong customer/client relationships and retention.  All SMEs want to keep their existing clients as well as grow their client base.

Your clients will be more forgiving if for example, you are late on a delivery but you communicate this beforehand rather than just not saying anything. Don’t cause your suppliers, customers and staff frustration by not communicating timeously. Your customers will lose trust in you and you will lose them to your competitors in no time.

It is also important to get your communication foundation right from when you are small, because otherwise when you grow as a business, your communication issues and challenges will grow with you.

Practical tips for small business owners to become better communicators

  1. Create a communication- friendly environment. If you as the owner, value good communication, you will set the tone and encourage others to follow you.
  2. Hold useful weekly meetings with staff (time is money, so get to the point and don’t waste time talking about irrelevant items)
  3. Listen (news flash: you may not have all the answers) and if you don’t understand something, then ask for clarity and seek to understand.
  4. Ask for feedback. Yes- I this might be very uncomfortable for some of you, but you have to do this. This opens communication with customers and staff and will build trust and loyalty in your business.
  5. In the event of a crisis or conflict – Respond quickly; acknowledge what is going on and that you are attending to the issue. Don’t ignore the feedback or be in denial.
  6. Read objectively through all of your marketing material and customer communication – is it concise, clear and consistent? If not, review and make changes. You may need some help with this.
  7. Stop assuming everyone knows what is going on in your head. As small business owners, you are often having to run around performing many of the roles in the business, so you may be too busy to notice that not everyone is up to speed with what you are busy with, important information or challenges you are facing. No one is a mind reader. 
  8. Combine a few communication methods or different channels to best suit your clients & prospective clients. Not everyone loves email newsletters, but perhaps your clients prefer short mobile communication.
  9. Be aware of your body language (this speaks to non-verbal communication).  Actions speak MUCH louder than words, so make sure you are aware of what your body language is communicating, as it might be negative. Be professional at all times.

I do believe that as a small business owner, you need to be very honest with yourself– do a communication check, and what I mean by this is, how do you rate yourself as a communicator and communication levels in YOUR business? How do staff rate you, what are your customers saying? What do you need to improve, to help your business grow?

The good news is that every small business owner can improve on this. And you will improve in your personal life too. After all – we all want to be better communicators at home, with our kids, our spouses, our partners, family and friends.

Remember, the way you communicate will either enhance or inhibit your success and growth as a business. Paul J Meyer said “COMMUNICATION- The human connection – is the key to personal and career success. We couldn’t agree more! Jessica Cilliers is head of Marketing and Communication for SAICA Enterprise Development. Our vision is to play an active role in economic transformation in South Africa through advancing the sustainable growth of entrepreneurial Black businesses

Corruption and the cost to business

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I am sure like everybody else, you have been reading about the massive corruption being unearthed by the various investigative bodies and journalists in our country.

Just this past week the Zondo Commission was in full cry, and Pieter-Louis Myburgh released his book on Ace Magashule. The numbers are astronomical. Depending on who you believe – South Africa has lost R30-R300 billion per year because of corrupt practises. Horrifying.

But for me the bigger loss is the loss of opportunity.

The past eight years have been described as the “forgotten years” or the “lost years”.

This phrase really hurts my heart because it is so true. R30 billion across eight years is R240 billion that could have solved so many of our country’s ills. Imagine that sort of investment in youth education, housing or the medical field.

But Chris, you are a media guy, what’s this got to do with anything. Well, everything I would postulate.

The impact on advertising investment: firstly, while the world markets are all ticking up, our markets continue to tick down.

Business confidence and performance has a direct link on ad spend. Net effect is a direct impact on advertising investment.

I have had numerous discussions with South Africa’s biggest media owners, all of whom without exception stating that this is the hardest economic climate they have ever traded in.

In years gone by the adage “flat is the new up” was jokingly bandied about. Now it is cried out in desperation and frustration.

Lost revenue means less investment in content, less investment in production, less investment in acquisition, and less investment in developing the new, smart, and amazing.

Only the strong, nimble, agile and intelligent will survive. The end is nowhere in sight. Buckle up boys and girls, this ain’t getting better any time soon.

Electricity supply and your TV ratings: Britta Reid recently wrote an excellent article on the impact of load shedding on TV ratings.

The numbers are scary. In heavy load shedding weeks, up to 35% of audiences are lost. As with the overall corruption problem, that is also a lost opportunity.

An opportunity that businesses would have had to sell more products, make more money, and invest in our country. TV stations have for the most part dug in their heels when it comes to compensation (rightly or wrongly). But lower ratings will no doubt impact them down the line as rate setting and projecting will become even more of a gamble.

Are your magazines reaching their readers? Many magazines use the South African Post Office to deliver to their most loyal readers, their subscribers. Advertisers gladly pay for their ads assuming that it lands in every hand promised at the right time.

Well, considering the challenges at SAPO that is no longer a straight guarantee. Some magazines probably arrive months later due to the inefficiencies. Opportunity lost once again…

The challenge with corruption is that it permeates and impacts every fibre of our business. Whether it’s ratings on TV, magazines (or lack thereof) in the hands of consumers, illegal billboards, fake news stories being broadcast, or real news stories not being broadcast – there is no getting around it. Corruption has a deep impact on what we do every day.

President Ramaphosa has a massive task ahead of him. He will need time, backing, investment, and a brave soul to turn this country around. Most importantly, this is not a problem solely solved by government. Government simply can’t. Private enterprise and big business needs to jump in. It affects all of us.

One has to believe that it is not all doom and gloom going forward. As an industry we are a collective of creative genius! We are diverse, and inspired.

This year should be the year where we launch new agencies (like Meta Media), where we inspire our staff, where we lift up the youth in our industry. Where media owners need to help build our nation through education and inspiration.

We have access to the whole country through our platforms. So let’s get our hands dirty. Bring on May 8. Thuma Mina.

Chris Botha is Group Managing Director of Park Advertising

Is your SME credit worth?

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At some point, every small business will require some form of credit which will be instrumental in enabling it to grow to the next level.

Valentine Jingura, Head of Pricing at FNB Business, said that without knowing and understanding the different forms of loans or funding mechanisms available, SMEs won’t be able to fully leverage credit to scale-up their businesses.

“Certain loans are suited for specific uses depending on the nature of the business and its requirements,” said Jingura, as he unpacks different forms of loans:

Alternate funding options 

Entrepreneurs often mistakenly assume that credit from banks is suitable for all their needs. In some instances your own equity, loans from private investors, family and friends, government funding and grants from Corporate Enterprise and Supplier Development Programmes (ESD) may be more suitable for early stage funding. 

Secured 

Businesses are required to provide some form of collateral which financial institutions can use as security for the loan amount being provided. Security can be physical assets like property or financial instruments such as a savings account or share portfolio. 

Unsecured 

This form of loan requires no collateral. The loan is granted based on the business’ financial standing and ability to repay the loan in the future. For example, short-term credit for an emergency or unforeseen event.  

Credit facility 

Allows the business the flexibility to withdraw, repay and re-use credit at its convenience. i.e. a business credit card or overdraft.

Commercial property finance 

This type of loan is used to finance the building or premises where the business will operate. i.e. a small office or large warehouse.

Asset finance

Is used to finance business equipment, vehicles and machinery.

When applying for credit it is essential for entrepreneurs to understand what lenders lookout for when reviewing a credit application. 

This can be practically achieved by answering these four questions:

1. How much money is needed and what for?

2. Does the business have a good credit standing or collateral if required?

3. Does the business understand its current vs future cashflow – and has the affordability of the loan instalments been stress tested?

4. How quickly will the loan be paid back?

“Before deciding on the type of loan you need to do your research and speak to your banker or expert to ensure you are utilising the best form of credit for your business,” concluded Jingura.