Kudzai M. Mubaiwa
This Monday, a new Cabinet was sworn in and we already have some high level indication of where the economy is desired to go, if the appointments alone are anything to go buy.
Big business has already, through two of the largest representative bodies, endorsed the Cabinet and affirmed their readiness to collaboration and support Government towards sustainable economic recovery.
This is without a doubt something everyone wants.
We are yet to see if any new things will come up closer home under the ministry that covers SMEs and in light of that it is necessary to point small business owners back to the basics for their success notwithstanding the presiding policy.
One small business expert, Marcus Lemonis, suggests that for every kind of business to succeed they must ensure fundamentals are in place, and these are people, process and product — summarised as the three P’s.
People are of course the most important, because they are the ones who build processes and create products. Every type of business requires a certain type or profile of people, and this is best appreciated where one has unfortunately selected the wrong ones.
Most of us will have had experiences in a place like a restaurant for example, that may have impeccable processes — a sophisticated menu, with an equally sophisticated system of booking and seating clients, food made from the best quality of ingredients; but the catch is getting the right people to serve clients and complete the experience, as well as the right people to cook the popular dishes.
There is just no substitute for the right people to both create and deliver a product or service and ultimately give the customers “an experience” they are happy to pay for.
Sadly, this is often the most undermined part of many businesses; staff is ill-treated, ill-trained, overworked, underpaid and generally harassed. Successful business needs to invest in its’ people.
Unfortunately cost cutting tends to first target the budget line for training, resulting in workers who have poor or no soft skills when engaging with clients, and some who are even technically incompetent.
It is important to audit one’s enterprise and ensure you have the right people in place for each section, with the right skills and abilities, ensuring they are paid the right amount for the level of effort.
If people are important it is necessary to pay a fair wage, and pay it on time. Increasingly there are options for non-monetary rewards, these could be an extra day off, at no loss to the worker, and simple recognition by way of a free meal for the performer and a certificate or small trophy to remember whatever the individual would have been recognised for.
At the very least ensuring that the workplace is comfortable, clean and safe makes a difference. The quality of people you hire and retain will link directly to the quality of delivery of your business, and ultimately its’ success. Do yourself a favour and do the needful.
Processes matter. To produce a quality product or good, assuming you have the right persons on board you must get correct systems in place. Only business owners who are deliberate will ensure that every day to day activity is guided by some kind of procedure manual. A business after all is best defined as setting up a system and having people working for you.
Depending on the kind of business you have, you will need to reflect on every aspect of it and ask yourself if the way you do it is the easiest and most cost effective way.
Still using a restaurant business as an example, you would need to check your buying system for foodstuffs, particularly for fresh produce.
You will need to be sure you have the best suppliers at the best, affordable price and a delivery system that works like clockwork.
This is complemented by a solid in house payments system that is dictated by a robust finance policy ensuring the company attains value for money.
A sound system will feature pricing comparisons, limited authority for approving payments, a counter signature system for authorising release of funds and system for easy reconciliation of amounts spent.
Businesses that succeeded do so because they track movements of funds and consistently review to ensure they are getting better and more profitable, the bottom line matters in business.
Staff must be hired, changed, disciplined and let go in line with a pre-known human resources policy to minimise labour issues that can easily cripple or close a business if rules are not adhered to internally and externally at law.
Another angle of processes speaks to actual production, where we encourage companies to consistently, at least annually, review their machinery and equipment and the attendant methods of using them to ensure they are utilised optimally.
Many a business is due for retooling rather than clinging on to archaic ways of production. Technology is moving fast each day and so any business, even with great people, can be disrupted if process if not often revised.
Product is the last fundamental. Great people are hired to create it and the best processes are leveraged to make it. No one wants to pay money for an irrelevant or inadequate product — whether tangible or intangible in the form of a service. Users or customers talk — a lot to each other and quite importantly to you.
Feedback must never be ignored, both the positive type that affirms what you are giving the market — or the negative, which tends to be specific and extremely useful for listening companies.
In fact new products and services have been born through companies that actively listen to customer requirements.
If a product is doing well maintain it and do not seek to change it yourself without extensive customer research.
The recent outcry over the quality and taste of a popular national cordial is instructive and gives the lesson that, “if it is not broken do not fix it”. With social media it is now easy to reach many users at very low cost and gauge sentiment before making changes to any product.
There are always competitors ready to capitalise on your mistakes, so make sure that you produce a product of consistent and superior quality.
Customers in Zimbabwe are also now much more discerning and have the opportunity of finding alternatives fairly easily to get bang for buck, and where possible stretch the evasive dollar.
A combination of the three is optimal, therefore, for a small business that will compete. Stick to the basics: invest in the right people, refine your processes and maintain a quality product.
You will succeed in spite of whatever change may come in this new season and build a name for yourself. There is plenty of room in Zimbabwe right now for emerging enterprises that respond to the many wants and needs of the people.
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