As a business owner, you may feel that you lack the support and resources necessary to help your business succeed. Accessing this isn’t always easy, which is why the  National Small Business Chamber (NSBC) runs an annual event called the NSBC Summit– to provide just that. The event aims to bring small business owners and entrepreneurs together for a few days of talks, training and networking opportunities.

As a member of the NSBC, which hosts over 25 000 visitors and 250 exhibitors and sponsors, Lulalend was one of the exhibitors. Our team that attended shared some insight into their experiences and what they thought of the event this year.

According to Lulalend’s Digital Marketing Manager, Odette Bester, “There was a lot of atmosphere and excitement. People were eager to learn more about how to get their business off the ground, see what resources are out there to help them, get some training and connect with other like-minded people. It was well attended this year and very well organised.”

We asked the team to share what stood out for them most and almost all agreed that it was the overwhelming need that small businesses continue to have in terms of support, mentorship, financing and the practical tools to help run and manage their business. Many new businesses struggle to get access to the resources they need to achieve entrepreneurial success. These are just some of the areas where support would go a long way in helping SMEs grow:

Financial planning

Naturally, one of the first steps in starting or growing your business is working capital. The event included valuable tips on the importance of financial planning and how to find funding. Business lenders, like Lulalend were there to advise entrepreneurs on how to apply for business funds quickly and easily. But getting funding isn’t the only challenge. Managing budgets and cash flow in and out of the business can be intimidating and not all business owners have the knowledge and experience when it comes to this. This is where services like BN Business Solutions comes in. They were at the event chatting with attendees about how their specialised accounting services can help.

Keeping track of the business finances, knowing how to budget, making sure it aligns with your business plan, forecasting etc. – these are all things financial specialists, experienced business owners, and mentors, or business software can help with. Remember that knowledge is key when it comes to financial planning so find out what would help you track, plan or automate financial processes.

Human Resources (HR)

Are you going to take on this venture alone, or are you going to entrust others to help you along the way? At some point, you’re going to need to hire and manage people and processes. American business consultant, Jim Collins puts it like this, “You are a bus driver. The bus, your company, is at a standstill, and it’s your job to get it going. You have to decide where you’re going, how you’re going to get there, and who’s going with you.” Can you drive the business alone or do you need passengers? At the NSBC event there were plenty of helpful tips regarding employment practices, like talks by Byron Moorgas, Strategic Account Manager at Tom Tom, on mobilising the workforce.

Human resources might not be the top of your priority list but many business owners neglect this as their business grows and it can get messy later down the line. Evaluate whether you need to employ staff to better manage your business operations. Decide whether you have the budget to do this and what other options are available if you don’t.  If you do decide to hire, be sure to access their skills, experience and whether they would suit your company culture. As far as managing your staff is concerned, make sure that you and they know exactly what their duties and expectations are. Happy staff will increase productivity, which in turn means your business will prosper.

Marketing

This plays a crucial role in lead generation and building a strong brand identity. Will you market through traditional platforms like radio and television, or will you go the digital route? How much budget are you willing to set aside for marketing functions? As far as social media marketing is concerned, Leanne Rhodes,  thanHead of Creative & Social Media at the NSBC, gave some useful tips on how to leverage social media to generate leads and in turn fast-track your business.

Leanne suggests starting with just a few channels; Facebook being one of them. She says more networks means more work. It’s also important to take your customers’ needs into account when using social platforms. For example, if your customers are millennials then it’s most likely that they will be on Instagram. You have to test and monitor what works for your business. Post more when it’s leading up to big events or holidays, but be careful not to hard sell. Social media shouldn’t just be sales related, but also include quality content – this will help drive engagement and build a strong brand identity. Managing social media can be very time consuming, which is why she suggests using tools like Hootesuite to schedule posts in advance.

Mentorship and guidance

It is valuable to have business mentors that will guide you through the tough terrain of the business world. Odette believes that the NSBC Summit “creates a unique opportunity to meet and connect with other business owners and entrepreneurs to develop relationships and build strategic partnerships that you wouldn’t be afforded the chance to elsewhere.”

When looking for a mentor, there are a few things you need to keep in mind. First, the person needs to have the expertise and a high level of experience in business. You want to pick someone that will challenge you by sharing their own experiences and help uncover new opportunities. A good mentor shouldn’t tell you exactly what to do, but rather guide you to make the right decisions.

Secondly, it is best to approach someone in your own network rather than a complete stranger. People you know personally are more likely to invest time in your business. After finding the ideal mentor, reach out with a short email explaining what your business is doing and the reason for needing input and advice. A bit of research on the person will help you to personalize your message.

Do you really need a mentor? Well, even Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, had mentors that helped him navigate through the business world. He speaks about the positive impact this had on his career and how they helped get him to where he is today in an article called: The importance of having a mentor in business.

The obvious benefit of this type of mentor-mentee relationship is that you can draw on their knowledge and experience and use it to your advantage. They can also evaluate your ideas and thoughts on decisions and give practical advice. You may find yourself wasting time on concepts that your mentor has already tried. This way they can give provide feedback in that area – especially if they know it’s not something that is going to help your business grow. You can also gain something from the personal success of your mentor, keeping in mind that your goal is to develop professionally and personally.

Some final thoughts

Whether it’s finance, mentorship, marketing or HR best practices, every business needs to identify whether help in these areas would serve their business and help it grow.

How do you determine this? You need to be honest about where your area of expertise lie. You might be a brilliant entrepreneur but have little to no knowledge on how to set up the right business processes or get on the cash flow positive. It’s okay to not be able to do everything – stick with what you’re good at and get expert advice and help on the rest. Maybe you’re needing to make some big decisions about the business and you need an objective, experienced business-minded person to help you decide what to do. Whatever it is, start by identifying those areas and then reach out to your immediate network, spend some time searching online or get recommendations of companies and products that can help you. We also have the internet readily available to us – make use of it. There are plenty of LinkedIn groups, online platforms, and forums as well as websites or blogs that are a rich resource to answer your questions or provide you with the tools you need.

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Image source: http://bit.ly/2lZjRU0

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