MANAGING SUCCESSFUL SMALL AND MEDIUM ENTERPRISES (SMEs)
Like David Richards says, it is not an easy time to be a “small or medium sized enterprise (SME)” owner since the cost of living is high, people are spending cautiously and investors are becoming increasingly conservative. Being an entrepreneur requires worrying about cash flow management among other things to compete effectively.
SME is a business segment term used differently in different countries, sometimes differently in different industries in the same country. In the US, any firm from a small-office home - office (SOHO) to a large corporation may be called a SME.
The European definition of SME follows: "The category of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) is made up of enterprises which employ fewer than 250 persons and which have an annual turnover not exceeding 50 million euro, and/or an annual balance sheet total not exceeding 43 million euro."
In 2008, the Uganda Investment Authority (UIA) introduced the first Small and Medium Enterprises Business Guide. This guide provides information and contacts on business licensing, access to finance, entrepreneurship skills training, business development services, and taxation/incentives.
Challenges of running SMEs
Sometimes in most employees life one gets frustrated at the hustle and bustle and mind-numbing regularity of paid employment. You just want to take initiatives and responsibilities that would bring about a successful enterprise – “your enterprise”. The dream is to be your own boss. But then, it’s one thing to dream, and another to see such dreams materialize to reality.
One of the biggest challenges is the fear of failing. It’s important to appreciate the regularity of salaries/wages and consider scenarios if “your enterprise” doesn’t make it quick or in the intended direction.
Truth be told, being a business owner comes with challenges unique to the size and function of the business. The small business owner, for example, has to handle all the challenges of selling, delivering, financing, managing and growing the business with little or no staff, while trying to make it a success at the same time. This can often prove to be intimidating but not altogether unachievable. No one ever said it would be easy running a successful small business. But then, when you get it right, the rewards can be hugely amazing and remarkable. It should interest you to know that most big, successful and legendary businesses today started off as small businesses.
It is important to retain the interest of all stakeholders like customers, partners, vendors, your best staff and team to build momentum in a short span of time. This takes vision. It also takes courage and belief – belief in your ability to steer your ship to success.
Here are some of the secrets to run a small business that can make these challenges easier to handle and make a successful business venture.
Secrets for SME Success
Secret1: Have a clear vision of what you intend to do and the business you wish to run.
Vision is a key hallmark of success principles in business and other aspect of life. Vision gives you a vivid picture of what you want to accomplish. It makes you see the end from the beginning. This picture will illuminate and motivate your mind throughout the course of your business journey. By having a clear vision for your business, the mission takes shape and business objectives and goals emerge.
Secret2: Define clearly what you sell and also to whom you sell or render service
Defining what your business does from the word GO, as you set out into the business world, is always one of (if not) the most important step to running a successful business. This makes it a whole lot easier to manage your company going forward. In addition, this enables you to explain your business clearly, without ambiguity, to investors or partners when the need arises.
Secret3: Source for funds security and sustainability
Running a small business requires financial backbone, prudence and efficiency. Explore all available financial options open to you, such as family, friends, business associates, investors, banks, etc. However, the choice of the right financial option for your business' financial plan and support is vital. Also, bank with the right financial institution that will give you the best deals, helps you stretch every shilling and provide for financial prudence in management of the business.
Secret 4: Get business information and technical guidance/advice from Small Business Development Consultant(s)
Today, a number of businesses and professionals give expert business advice and services at a token fee for individuals and groups wanting to go into new businesses or diversify their existing businesses into new areas or line of products and/or services. These professionals provide help and sound business support and solutions services during all stages of the business life cycle.
These include legal advice and consultation, business development and strategies, recruitment and management of staff from business psychologists, and so on. Their business support and development services help business to mature by making the right business calls that won’t only serve in the immediate and short term, but would strategically assist in positioning the business for long term success.
Secret 5: Create a workable business and marketing plan for your SME
One of the keys to running a small business enterprise is having a detailed and workable business plan that outlines the objectives, goals, target market and projected growth. In addition to having a concrete business plan, ensure that you work out a detailed business marketing plan to go with it. Without this, it’s necessary to rethink why you are in business in the first place.
Secret 6: Go ahead and start a business
Once you have established the vision and mission of the company, defined clearly what type of products and services your business wants to offer, contacted your financial sources for funding and secured your business funds, consulted business professionals for necessary legal and business strategy building aspects such as registration, documentation, business structure processes building, then finally built a creative and detailed business and business marketing plan, to drive and carry the business, it is now the time to start! Don’t waste another moment idling and wishing. Just start!
Secret 7: Build a strong brand identity that will stand the test of time
Actually, branding the business should start the very moment you articulate and conceptualize the business idea. This involves creatively building a business identity that would appeal to the target market in a continuous manner. It includes but is not limited to the choice of business name, type of business engaged in; and the personality you want the business to have. Be very creative and innovative with graphic designs, business colours, taglines, business logos and other communications. Everything must be organized and attractive to the targeted customer to bring about more sales and continued business patronage.
Secret 8: Prioritize on making profit
It’s amazing how many times people start up business enterprises and then forget how to make profit. It is a known rule in economics that the chief aim in business is to make profit. When that is no longer the case, it becomes difficult to sustain or grow business. Therefore, the moment a business is set out to be successful, it’s important to understand the golden rule of money - “make sure more comes in than goes out”. Once this is achieved, there will be enough to re-invest in the business and to make you feel it is all worth it going into business.
In addition, prioritizing profit making also involves optimising cost management to minimise waste, maximise productivity and profitability. Where you can’t seem to get it right yourself, hire or consult an accounting professional to help you keep your books in order, manage your finances properly and professionally to ensure your business remains profitable!
Secret 9: Network and connect with other businesses and business minded individuals as much as possible
To grow business for a wider reach and approachability, ensure you network with other local small businesses and small business owners on overall business vision, shared business strategies and opportunities. Attend regular business events; they present great opportunities and avenues for small businesses to come together, rub minds, share business ideas and experiences. Also, join small business associations and participate in local events to raise awareness, promote your business and its brand.
Secret 10: Never leave a single customer dissatisfied
It may be very difficult to keep every one of your customers happy. That is a business fact. But you must try to keep every one of your customers satisfied. That should be your business reality. Having a pro-customer orientation – whether you run a small business alone or have employees working for you – is as vital a decision as the decision to go into running a business in the first place. There can be no business without customers. The more customers patronize your business, the more the chances of making a profit, and actually building something successful and wonderful. Therefore, businesses must emphasise customer satisfaction through effective customer service and relation. Make use of positive and negative feedback from customers to improve the quality and desirability of your products and/or services.
Secret 11: Be Passionate about your business and commit to continuous improvement
Never settle for less. Always go for more. Renounce average. Beware of comfort. Avoid complacency. Live by belief. Every day you should desire your business to be in a better position than it was yesterday. This mindset should permeate through you to your staff. Even when hiring, ensure focus on those who can do more, bring more, create more, live more, give more, sacrifice more, believe more, support more, relate more and accomplish more. Emphasis should be on more, more and more - constant improvement, no room for stagnation and redundancy. Remember, most of the iconic businesses you see today like Coca Cola, Apple, etc. didn’t start big. In fact, most of the Fortune 500 companies started small. But they made it to the top because they keep going and keep improving and wanting to be better. They still do today, and some of them are over a century old. You too can do it, if you try and believe you can!
Secret 12: Feel the winds of change in the air
To be a successful business, you need to be able to change and adapt your products and services as situations dictate. What was successful last year may not work for you this year.
Be ready to try new ideas, expand your business and bring in new people. In order to fuel such radical changes, you may well need to consider exploring new avenues of funding in order to enable your growth. A measured risk often pays off in business growth.
Secret 13: Taste the exotic fruit of unexplored markets
If you are looking to grow and expand your business, you may not find enough clients with money to spare in the existing markets.
This could be the year in which you reach out to new markets, bringing in eager new clients and taking your goods and services into territories you’d never considered before. Consider expanding geographically as well as into new niche areas of business.
Remember, running a successful small business may be tasking and at times just plain frustrating, but the eventual rewards of running a business successfully are too numerous to mention. The benefits you reap ultimately will be boundless. And the financial rewards? Well, you may just turn out to be the next Aliko Dangote or Bill Gates!
BUSINESS PROCESS IMPROVEMENT: EMPHASIS ON CYCLE TIME:
Cycle time refers to the period required to complete one cycle of an operation; or to complete a function, job, or task from start to finish. Cycle time is used in differentiating total duration of a process from its run time.
It is the average time between successive deliveries. In other words:
Cycle Time = Operating Hours per day / Quantity per day
For example, assume that the plant operates for 10 hours per day and need to produce 60 computers each day. The Cycle Time is 10 / 60 = 1/6th of an hour,which is 10 minutes. In other words, on average every 10 minutes a computer rolls off the assembly line.
“Quantity per day” is the same as Throughput for a day, in the example 60 computers per day.
As the old saying goes that time is money, critical business processes are subject to the rule of thumb that time is money. Such processes are usually carried out through resources that often result as bottlenecks. Unfortunately, the products derived from these processes are usually the ones that matter most to customers; therefore, the products need to be delivered as fast as possible. This cuts across both to the internal and external clients, manufacturing and service industries.
Competitive Advantage:Business and service delivery has changed over recent years, and competitors threaten in almost every market. Reducing product cycle times increases the potential to develop and deliver innovative products and be first to market with them. This is especially true if you compete against multiple providers that offer similar products or close substitutes. Every day you reduce your cycle time is a day you gain in meeting or beating competitor product launch dates.
If company A cannot supply the desired product at the desired time, a competitor will.Inthisnew environment, cycle time reduction provides a key competitive advantage.
Customer satisfaction: Reduced cycle time can translate into increased customer satisfaction. Quick response companies can launch new products earlier, penetrate
New markets faster, meet changing demand, and can deliver rapidly and on time. They can also offer their customers lower costs because quick response companies have streamlined processes with low inventory and less obsolete stock. According to empirical studies, halving the cycle time (and doubling the work-in-process inventory tums can increase productivity20% to 70%. Moreover, quartering the time for one step typically reduces costs by 20.05%.
Improves quality: With reduced cycle times, quality improves too. Faster processes allow lower inventories which, in turn, expose weaknesses and increase the rate of improvement. After eliminating non-value added transactions (as opposed to value added transformations), there are fewer opportunities for defects. Fast cycle time organizations experience more rapid feedback throughout the supply chain as downstream customers receive goods closer and closer to the time they were manufactured.
Cost savings: Cycle time reduction saves costs.
Typically, optimizing efficiency in production processes helps you cut down on cycle time, which saves you money. This often results from thorough analysis of every step of the development and production process, refinement of inefficient steps and removal of steps unnecessary to the process. Each hour or day cut from the product cycle time saves money spent on labor, equipment and utilities used in production.
For example, if manufacturing cannot respond quickly and if a high service level isdesired, then the organization must either keep high inventory or lengthen the promisedlead time. Also consider a service industry: Suppose the central store spends less time on internal clients, they will save on deterioration, pilferage and insurance if some of the inventory is insured.
Distribution Channel Benefits
Within a traditional distribution channel, manufacturers produce and then sell products to distributors or retailers, which eventually sell goods to consumers. Maintaining close relationships in your distribution channel is important to manufacturers, and reducing product cycle times helps you meet the needs and requirements of distribution channel partners. This strengthens your position and makes you more attractive for other resellers looking for efficient producers.
Cycle time reduction results in simplified processes with fewer steps. In most cases, a process that has fewer steps will yield fewer mistakes. Simpler processes produce fewer errors.
Common methods to reduce cycle time
There are several efforts suitable for reducing cycle times. Streamlining multiple efforts, however, can yield a much more efficient process resulting in cost and time savings and customer satisfaction. When reducing process cycle time, consider a combination of the following ideas.
Perform activities in parallel. Most of the steps in a business process are often performed in sequence. A serial approach results in the cycle time for the entire process being the sum of the individual steps, not to mention transport and waiting time between steps. When using a parallel approach, the cycle time can be reduced by as much as 80% and produces a better result.
A classic example is product development, where the current trend is toward concurrent engineering. Instead of forming a concept, making drawings, creating a bill of materials, and mapping processes, all activities take place in parallel by integrated teams. In doing so, the development time is reduced dramatically, and the needs of all those involved are addressed during the development process.
Change the sequence of activities. Documents and products are often transported back and forth between machines, departments, buildings, and so forth. For instance, a document might be transferred between two offices a number of times for inspection and signing. If the sequence of some of these activities can be altered, it may be possible to perform much of the document's processing when it comes to a building the first time.
Reduce interruptions. Any issue that causes long delays and increases the cycle time for a critical business process is an interruption. The production of an important order can, for example, be stopped by an order from a far less valuable customer request--one that must be rushed because it has been delayed. Similarly, anyone working amidst a critical business process can be interrupted by a phone call that could have been handled by someone else. The main principle is that everything should be done to allow uninterrupted operation of the critical business processes and let others handle interruptions.
Improve timing. Many processes are performed with relatively large time intervals between each activity. For example, a purchasing order may only be issued every other day. Individuals using such reports should be aware of deadlines to avoid missing them, as improved timing in these processes can save many days of cycle time.
A case study in streamlining
Consider an electronics manufacturer receiving customer complaints about long order processing times--a cycle time of 29 days. An assessment of the order processing system revealed 12 instances where managers had to approve employees' work.
It was determined that the first 10 approval instances did not yield detailed reviews because managers felt the activity was an interruption when there were other activities that needed to be addressed. Those initiating the orders, therefore, were given authority to approve their own work. This saved an average of seven to eight days in the order processing activity.
Many subsystems had interfered with the process--each performing the same or similar tasks. The logical step was to perform redundancy elimination, and a detailed flowchart of the process was created. At closer inspection, 16 steps proved very similar to one another. By changing the sequence of activities and creating one companywide order document, 13 of these steps were removed.
Over a period of four months, the order system was totally redesigned to allow information to be entered once and become available to the entire organization. Due to this adjustment, activities could be handled in a parallel manner. After a value-added analysis, the manufacturer was able to reduce cycle time from 29 days to 9 days, save cost and employee time per standard order, and increase customer satisfaction.
The good news is that almost every company is a good candidate for cycle time reduction.
CPA SSEMPIJJA WILBERFORCE
Small and Medium Practices (SMP) still a long way to the top of the class
The commercial banks will soon start publishing their abridged audited accounts for the year ended 31 December 2015; in the New Vision and Daily Monitor. What will be evident is that the external auditors will be one of the Top 5 firms (PwC, KPMG, EY, Deloitte and PKF). For purposes of this article, the author has restricted himself to just 2014 and 2015 but a more expensive research will be extended to 20 years back.
In December 2013, the Bank of Uganda (BOU) published a list of 56 auditing firms that had passed the test and were thus considered suitable to audit the financial statements of commercial banks, credit institutions and microfinance deposit taking institutions (Tier 1,2 and 3). The list was compiled by BOU after the auditing firms have submitted their pre-qualifications documents by the due date. The author had not yet established the total number of auditing firms that had submitted their pre-qualifications documents to BOU.
Suffice to know that those 56 firms were all duly authorised firms approved by the Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Uganda (ICPAU). By that time, the total number of auditing firms approved by ICPAU was close to 190, meaning that about one-third had been pre-qualified by BOU.
However, the number of Tier 1-2 financial institutions is limited and not all the firms will get an audit. The table below shows that out of 27 Tier 1-3 financial institutions, only five of the 56 firms got an audit for the year ended 31 December 2014. The top three of PwC, KPMG and EY had the lion’s share auditing 22 of those financial institutions which constituted 97% of the total assets of that population – which stood at UGX 18 trillion (US$ 5,300 million). Compare this to assets of about 90 members of the Association of Microfinance Institutions of Uganda (AMFIU) which added up to between US$300-400million.
Source: Author’s own compilation from published accounts in newspapers
The story of dominance by the top firms may not be very different come 2015.
Of particular interest are the following statistics:
• Out of the 56 auditing firms that were on the pre-qualification list in 2014, a total of 18 were unsuccessful in their bids for 2015. The author will attempt to find out why that was the case. It could be that the audit firm did not pass the BOU requirements or they did not meet the deadline or did not submit a bid altogether; these facts will be established;
• For the year 2015, BOU pre-qualified a total of 64 audit firms. Notably, a total of 26 new audit firms were added onto the list which was a welcome boost to those firms. The author will in due course engage the BOU to find out the criteria for inclusion or exclusion of an audit firm from the pre-qualification list; and
• Out of the 64 audit firms pre-qualified for 2015, a total of 22 of them were sole proprietorships. Originally, there was a view that only audit firms with at least two partners would be eligible for BOU pre-qualification, but that assertion has now been proven incorrect.
Is the situation in Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda any different?
Kenya has over 500 auditing firms registered with the Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Kenya, but with 56 commercial banks, mortgage financial institutions and microfinance banks. On the other hand, Tanzania has close to 150 auditing firms registered with the National Board for Accountants and Auditors of Tanzania, but with 44 commercial banks, finance leasing companies and other financial institutions. Last but not least, Rwanda has close to 35 auditing firms registered with the Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Rwanda, but with 17 commercial banks.
In Q2 2016, the author will have established whether the financial institutions in Tanzania, Kenya and Rwanda primarily also use appoint the top firms of PwC, KPMG, EY and Deloitte as their external auditors or is it a good mixture of the top firms and SMPs.
Do SMP have a chance on the Tier 1-3 cake?
The author thinks the SMPs have a good chance but one would need to dig deep into the critical success factors why the Tier 1-3 financial institutions continue to prefer PwC, KPMG, EY and Deloitte as their external auditors. In the meantime, the SMP have to be contented with auditing forex bureau which number over 200; non-deposit taking microfinance and SACCOs which could be approaching 2000 in number across Uganda. Should BOU consider regulating these Tier 4 institutions in the future, then the auditor’s pre-qualification list will end up being the same as the ICPAU list in its entirety.