16 February 2014

Zimbabwe: Improve Your Business Competence

column

You might have heard of the fable about hare and tortoise. Well, the tale goes that hare always bragged to tortoise about how fast he could run. One day tortoise got fed up and challenged hare to a race. The race started. When hare saw how painfully slow his rival was, he decided to take a nap.

"Take your time!" he said. "I'll have 40 winks and catch up with you in a minute."

The hare woke with a start from a fitful sleep and gazed round, looking for the tortoise. But the creature was only a short distance away, having barely covered a third of the course. Breathing a sigh of relief, the hare decided he might as well have breakfast too, and off he went to munch some cabbages he had noticed in a nearby field. But the heavy meal and the hot sun made his eyelids droop and he slept again.

The sun started to sink, below the horizon, and the tortoise, who had been plodding towards the winning post since morning, was scarcely a yard from the finish. At that very point, the hare woke up with a start. He could see the tortoise a speck in the distance and away he dashed. He leapt and bounded at a great rate, his tongue lolling, and gasping for breath. Just a little more and he'd be first at the finish. But the hare's last leap was just too late, for the tortoise had beaten him to the winning post.

When you are comfortable and over-confident, you can easily take some things for granted. Take your business for example, when did you last plan for growth? The rate at which Zimbabwean firms are shutting down clearly shows that many owners and executives failed to take growth planning seriously.

It is not true that planning was impossible during the past years of uncertainty, as some companies managed to do it and are thriving right now. Econet, Delta and OK Zimbabwe are only a few of such companies that are in the public domain. There are many others in the SME sector which I will not mention for privacy reasons. Those who snoozed are losing out.

In this initial part of a three part series, I am going to cover the first essential key to business growth, which is competence.

Is your business competent? You should be able to state your competitive advantage succinctly, both in your strategic plan and when talking to others about your business. If you have not yet defined your competitive advantages, here are some of the areas you need to look at.

Personnel

Competence starts with people. Do your people have the skills, knowledge and abilities to act effectively in their jobs to deliver better than the competition? Do you? Knowledge is acquired trough learning and practice. Do an analysis and look for skills and knowledge gaps that might be holding you back and plan how to fill those gaps.

It is a fact that many owners started their enterprises without learning any business skills or being mentored by experienced entrepreneurs. You might have to attend training workshops or short courses to learn those skills if you want to build a sustainable and growing business. An alternative is to hire people with the relevant skills or engage good consultants.

Processes

I read a blog last week where an expert was expressing his opinion on Olivine Industries. Management there were seeking US$20 million to refurbish their antiquated factories and machinery so as to be able to match the quality and pricing of South African manufacturers like Willowton.

This blogger wondered why Olivine should refurbish old equipment for US$20 million when with US$4 million one could build a modern high technology, efficient and high quality factory with much less people. Your business processes have to be cost-effective and efficient for your company to be competent in this high technology world. Take time to analyse your business and put in place systems that will make your business efficient.

Innovation

Successful companies are constantly looking for new ways of growing their business. They develop new products and services and are always looking for new customer offerings. Look at Econet. In just the few past months they have launched several new revenue generating services, Facebook package, Mobile Directory, Live Soccer Updates, just to name a few. What new products and services have you launched in the past year?

Competence takes thinking, effort and time. Your past success is no guarantee for winning now. Take action to improve your competence so that your business can grow.

The Harare Chamber of Commerce is taking some exciting initiatives to help growing business, including setting up a Business Centre offering affordable services and advisory for entrepreneurs who need help improving their competence. Visit their website for more details, www.znccharare.co.zw.

Phillip Chichoni is a business development consultant who works with SMEs and entrepreneurs. You may contact him by: email: chichonip@smebusinesslink.com visit: http://smebusinesslink.com

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