Scale up and Survival for African Business: SMEs Supporting SMEs during the Covid-19 Pandemic – Ruddy Kwakye


I was recently asked to be a panellist on a webinar organised by ScaleUpAfrica, whose theme ‘SURVIVAL: SMEs Supporting SMEs In Crisis’. Participants posed many questions, but one of the recurring theme from fellow entrepreneurs and business owners was the following:

As a small business owner, what do you invest in more to grow your company; profits, people or processes or these?”

I am guessing “Profit” here means Product, Service or sales. My summary is “Which one of those 3 should absorb the biggest chunk of your resources to grow and meet your objectives……Right?​​​​

In any business’ lifecycle greatness or successes are all built at the Altar of these 3 P’s, there can never be customer delight unless these 3 interact and mix artfully, rightfully and timely! The trick (insight) is knowing which of these you need have more focus on at what stage of your enterprise. To game this; you need to know your business well, keep a sharp eye on daily changes and intuitively choose what your energies need to take you to the next growth milestone. 

THE PROFIT (PRODUCT)

Fresh out of the door your enterprise is probably driven by an idea you got from observing a gap in the market. That may sound great in your head but the lord in his infinite wisdom has other equally hungry if not hungrier competitors chasing the same market corner which mean immediately you need a Proof-of-concept (POC) or then Proof-of-Product (POP) or the what I call Proof-of-Viability (POV) made that ish up but I think it sounds cooler! *wink* The best way is to get someone to give you their money so you can.

This means you must be manic about getting the product out, Sell Sell Sell! I had a service business of which there were competing and equally good options already on the market. So, in the beginning we pushed hard to get in-front of as many clients because we believed we had a unique thinking in delivering the same service at a slightly higher price and it worked. We got enough chances to demonstrate this edge we bring, which helped us to build our reputation. At that stage indeed I had a team yes, but I functioned at every role possible CMO (Chief Marketing Officer), EP (Executive Producer), MC (Master ofCeremony), PM (Production Manager), CD (Creative Director) all rolled in one. It was more about entrenching our reputation, building credentials and getting a body of work in place! 

So, at this stage my focal ratio recommendation will be 1. Product ​– 65%2. People ​– 25% 3. Process ​– 10% 

THE PEOPLE

Your next milestone after initial take off achieving growth milestone (sales, executions, product line etc) and bigger payday. At that stage it stops being a single person or product play. You will be spending a lot more time acquiring and managing customers, business demands and shorter periods in-between deliveries. Big questions that should be on you mind is 1. Where are my weaknesses? 2. What am I willing…scratch that, what should I be delegating in order to improve my productivity?3. Where do I need to fortify to maintain or increase my momentum?

Nothing sucks a leader’s time like undertaking mundane, small task that others can deliver for you better. This is where you increase time and investment into people. But ensure its people you absolutely need for things you should not be doing. 

Your clients are always happy to see you personally involved in their deliverables but if you start getting swarmed, they will move on faster when tardiness sets in. No truly successful business is built on an algorithm, even that had to created by people. The focus was doing the work so much that the people growth wasn’t really done right. It led to when you are there clients feel queasy. You send a team to a presentation and clients says why didn’t you come yourself?

People build rapport, make connections, garner reputations.

People when assembled right, motivated fully, trained sharply, inspired and driven can overcome so many challenges.

I mean coming out of the door we had a staff of 6 with almost zero to middle level corporate engagement experience. All our clients were corporates requiring a certain nuanced communication and engagement rules. We started to teach one on one what is required in that engagement. We went to meetings’ pitches etc together all this was to create a way for future full engagement that’s never an easy nor a finite task. To get the people part right I recommend these • Have your vision clear and unambiguously spelt out(Remember why you are doing this)• Establish and enforce the clear rules of engagement (This you have already in employment letter and Job description you signed with the person)Don’t hire for passion, hire on competence and INSPIRE that passion! (They must be able do one specific thing exemplary for the business)• When investing in people be DELIBERATE, it’s for your business not their ambitions. (Your investment must yield you fruits first)

My focal ratio recommendation at this stage are 1. Product ​– 50%2. People ​– 25% 3. Process ​– 25% 

THE PROCESS

There will be a brief period in your business journey that the team are great, product is fire, executions are good and generally all is well. It’s a false sense of security because it doesn’t last. When you reach that saliency, it is time to start doubling down on process and establish it to guide you towards the next wave, because when you have no process YOU WILL STAGNATE. Organisations are living breathing organisms prone to all mistakes we make in our lives; what fixes a person towards a goal is discipline, which births routine that leads to efficiency. All comes from process. How do you treat new clients, what is your management format with your team. What are the steps towards payments? Do you have a hiring routine? When it comes to external contractors what is the protocol? 

This phase requires you, the vision bearer, to spend loads of time reading, consulting and enquiring. At that stage look for and find the process to champion and EMPOWER them to do their work. Here is why: When I arrived at that place I engaged external people to build me an HR process and system, researched to find technology to help me track and dish out work, measure productivity and weed out laggards. I failed in one critical place: I did not appoint and anoint a PROCESS CHAMPION!

Yes, every process must have a promoter, leader and champion; since I was in the driver’s seat, I thought it’s a simple deliverable so I will add to mine. That wasn’t wrong, but it also meant something needed to go off my table to create space for that deliverable. You see process is fundamentally a cultural change requiring steering and guidance; without leadership it gets lost. I bought the ERP access, on-boarded team started using it but didn’t make it someone’s responsibility which ultimately led to loosing continuity, focus and enforcement.

Process builds you operational muscle, filters people, productivity and exposes weaknesses, it’s what you need to go world class with your product and people. Look closely around, all big businesses continuously invest in process. The ones with exceptional growth in the same sector probably have excellent process powering their growth.

To conclude here are my personal recommendations according to my own journey…..1. Push hard at product you will get needed lifeline in revenue to keep going which means prepare to all that is needed yourself to succeed.

2. Trained, inspired and motivated staff will take you farther. Hire experience but be prepared to build that experience in someone. You will fail at that many times and that’s fine, keep trying!

3. Lay the blueprint for sustainability with process. Start it small, borrow and test a lot but ultimately you have to trust one and completely succumb to it until a better one comes along. Be firm with your process but be fluid to recognize variations that deliver better results

This op-ed has been written by Ruddy Kwakye, CEO and Founder of the Rave Group and Muse, an entrepreneur and media doyen, whose influence, and longstanding expertise of EMEA markets have made him one of the most sought after business expert. 

To watch the full webinar please click on this link https://youtu.be/Rql2_beYYl8d

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