A year in review for SA entrepreneurs

Kobus Engelbrecht
Key elements of a business to review in preparation for the New Year

2017 has, to say the least, been a volatile year for the small business community. But as the year draws to a close and many businesses start to wind down, entrepreneurs should be encouraged to review the year that was and analyse how the business performed as this can be the driving force behind any new developments or goals that should be set for 2018.

Kobus Engelbrecht, spokesperson for the 2017 Entrepreneur of the Year® competition sponsored by Sanlam and BUSINESS/PARTNERS, says that many entrepreneurs have had to battle against a number of economic headwinds this year which could have either brought challenges or opportunities for their business.

“The economy slipped in and out of a technical recession, South Africa experienced multiple downgrades amid political turmoil, consumer confidence declined and disposable income among business’ customer bases likely experienced strain as a result. In this challenging setting, late payments from debtors – who were likely experiencing the same effects of an ailing economy – became another issue many businesses had to face in their operations.

“With such a backdrop, many small business owners have likely had a bumpy ride, and this time of year is the ideal time to reflect on this journey – where the business soared and where it stumbled, and why.”

He adds that as part of this review, entrepreneurs should also be looking at what trends emerged in the last year and whether the business has fully capitalised on these to improve business performance.

Engelbrecht expands on a few key business areas that entrepreneurs should be reviewing this time of the year:

Review the business against the business plan: Is your plan still relevant?
Apart from reviewing what the business has tackled this year and how it has dealt with unexpected challenges, as part of this exercise, entrepreneurs should also be reviewing the goals they set for their business for 2017 and to what extent they were met or achieved. By reflecting on these, entrepreneurs can set new, attainable goals.

A good way to assess whether the business achieved its goals over the past year is to sit down with a copy of the business plan and the goals laid out within. Some of the key elements to review would include: Sales, profitability and cash flow forecasts – analysing whether these figures are within expectations and achievable given the current economic climate. Customer and staff retention – has the business’ staff turnover suffered any significant changes, and likewise, has the business lost or gained any clients that have resulted in significant challenges or wins. Marketing campaigns – were the marketing plans effective and did they deliver a satisfactory return on investment.

While there are a number of other aspects to consider when reviewing a business, following the business plan is a good start and guideline to ensure all aspects are adequately covered.

Check in with and thank staff and suppliers:
Staff and clients are two of a business’ most valuable assets and it is important to thank them for their contribution to the business’ success over the last year. Taking the time to check in with staff and suppliers is a good way to receive feedback and insight as they may have identified a trend, strength, or weakness that the business owner may have overlooked.

Set measurable goals for the new year:
Write down achievable, realistic and measurable goals for the business in the coming year. By putting these to paper, these goals can be assessed this time next year. These also don’t have to be purely performance based, but perhaps something the entrepreneur has been struggling to get to or putting off, such as taking a regular lunch break or attending regular networking events.

Analyse new trends on the market and if the business can adopt these:
The digital evolution has resulted in the way we do business and has unlocked many opportunities for entrepreneurs. For instance, a Future of Business Survey – a joint survey of SMEs by Facebook, OECE and World Bank – revealed that of those SMEs with a digital presence, sole entrepreneur business owners (with no employees) are capitalising on digital tools and engaging in exports as a major activity of their business. The internet and the likes of social media platforms has also made it easier than ever to promote and conduct business. Entrepreneurs should be exploring the various digital tools available to them and how they can improve their business processes or reach.

Engelbrecht concludes by adding that entrepreneurs too often spend so much time working on the business that they forget to work on themselves. “At this time of year, and most especially with today’s fast paced lifestyle, it is crucial that entrepreneurs – who often work 24/7 roles – grant themselves a little down time to regain balance and direction within their business so that they are ready and prepared for the year ahead.”