Staff training builds skills, loyalty and profits in small businesses

Ethel Nyembe
In many small businesses, training is regarded as a luxury; something that cannot fit into the average day. Although the focus of any small enterprise should be meeting customer expectations, it is training that can improve customer experience and boost profits, asserts Ethel Nyembe, Head of Small Enterprise at Standard Bank

“When it comes to training, many people think of a boardroom, expensive technology and high-priced presenters,” says Ms Nyembe. “This does not have to be the case; training that is effective is targeted, but that does not mean costly. The beauty of training is that it does not necessarily mean major costs and time off work for people who are needed to drive sales.”

Some economical training options that should be considered are:

  • Product training. This can be provided on the job with an expert - possibly the business owner - providing insights on a regular basis to employees on the shop floor. This can be conducted an hour before doors open for business on a day that is traditionally quiet.
  • Providing ‘knowledge packs’ at each session. These can be compiled cheaply and should have pictures of products and their selling points. Products from competing companies, as well as their features should be included for reference. A column which lists the advantages of your product over competitors’ is a vital addition. 
  • On-the-job training. This is effective with new employees, if an experienced staff member is appointed to act as a mentor to the new recruit. The advantage is that training takes place at the pace of the new employee and there is no time limit involved.
  • Role-playing. Employees can play different roles - one the part of a customer, and the other the salesperson. If this process is viewed by an experienced employee, mistakes and methods of approaching customers can be taught.
  • Subscribing to publications about sales, entrepreneurship and small business. These often supply tips that can be adapted and passed on to staff at weekly sessions. The internet is also a valuable source of material.
  • Supplier training days. Suppliers are often willing to run product workshops for their customers. 
“For more formal training, there are also several options available,” says Ms Nyembe. “These range in price and time commitment, but could be necessary if more specialised skills are required.”

Some of the formal training options are:

  • Industry-specific training by approved Sector Education and Training Authority (SETA) - accredited training colleges and specialists. These often qualify for SETA subsidies and can be cost-effective.
  • Training in financial management, marketing, computer skills and public relations by colleges that are registered as Further Education and Training (FET) institutions. These colleges often offer courses after hours or on Saturday mornings.
  • Business schools at universities that offer short courses of various durations. The most popular of these are the ‘finance for non-financial managers’ courses that offer workshops on business financial planning and skills.

“The major benefit of training is one that is forgotten by small businesses; it tells people that they are valued by their employer. Training not only increases skills, it also creates employee loyalty - something that is vital in making a small business successful.

“Developing employees also means that a business owner can select those with ability and build their skills for the future. This means as the business grows, trained people can be moved into new roles easily and with little disruption to the business.

“Training is therefore a ‘win-win’ for everybody concerned, and should be regarded as an investment rather than a cost,” concludes Ms Nyembe.