Focusing on your customers’ needs as well as the quality of your product is vital.
MELITTA NGALONKULU: Welcome to the Small Business Conversations podcast. I am your host, Melitta Ngalonkulu. It will be years before we understand the full economic impact of the coronavirus. But one thing is painfully clear right now, and that is small businesses across the country are facing an existential threat.
In this week’s podcast, we are joined by Nicholas Haralambous. Nic is a global speaker and author who can be found at nharry.com, who tells it like it is. He is here to give us a few tips on how businesses can be run profitably and keep their doors open, as we are now in lockdown alert Level 1. Thank you, Nic, for availing yourself. These are trying times indeed, so how do you even begin to keep your business open after a few months of a setback?
NIC HARALAMBOUS: Thanks so much for having me, and I’m excited to answer these questions. I think that what most entrepreneurs need to realise about their businesses is that the basics are going to get you through. So, to keep your business afloat and to recover, you need to get back to the basics. For me, those are really simple.
You need to focus on your customer, figure out what your customer wants and give it to them. You need to focus on your product, or your service and make sure it’s the best that it can be. And you need to focus on sales.
Most entrepreneurs don’t realise that they don’t need more funding, they need more sales.
And then the final thing is you need to review your expenses as brutally as you can. You can’t cut a little bit here and there. Now is the time to cut quickly and cut deeply, and make sure you only have to cut things once. Then you can start growing again.
MELITTA NGALONKULU: Nic, you’ve been an entrepreneur for a very long time. So are there any life experiences in your journey that you could reflect on, where you could say that you had no hope of survival, but you still made it against the odds?
NIC HARALAMBOUS: Yes. Just about every business that I’ve ever started since the age of 16 – and it’s 20 years of businesses up until this point – has had those moments. I would say that anyone who says that they’ve never had a moment like that is lying. So yes, there have been moments in previous companies where I haven’t paid myself a salary for six to 12 months where my investors wanted to pull the plug. And getting through is really just a matter of gritting your teeth, being resilient, maintaining a level of adaptability and agility. The thing that I’m realising, the older I get, is that getting rid of my ego helps me to make the best decisions. So most of the time you want to be focused on the things that make you feel good, what they call ‘vanity metrics’ in your business. Those don’t actually pay the bills. And so how many new customers signed up is not as relevant as how many customers are paying you.
So yes, I’d say that there isn’t a moment that I haven’t had that feeling, and I think it’s standard. It comes in the startup space.
It’s called the trough of disillusionment: the moment where you think you should turn around and walk away is actually the moment where you should push through and survive, and destroy all your competitors by being the last one standing
MELITTA NGALONKULU: Nic, I know that many businesses are struggling to pay their employees. What advice would you give to them?
NIC HARALAMBOUS: This one I’m very firm on. I think you need to be open and transparent. The bosses out there who are lying and telling people that it’s going to be fine when it isn’t, or who are making people work five days, but only paying them for three days – I think all of that has to stop. You need to take ownership of your businesses.
It’s often in the short term harder to make the cuts that you need to, to keep the business alive. But I think it’s the fairest thing to do for your business. And, if you’ve got 10 staff and you realise you need to cut seven of them, cut seven of them, maybe cut eight, and give yourself a little bit more runway so that your business can survive and grow to hire those people back in the future.
So I would say be transparent, be honest, be upfront and trust that your staff is aware of the things that you’re feeling, even if you’re not talking about them.
And that’s my advice for what you should do if you are struggling to pay your employees.
MELITTA NGALONKULU: I take it that networking can be very tricky currently, with the lockdown still in place. So how can entrepreneurs work around this?
NIC HARALAMBOUS: It’s interesting. I don’t actually think networking has become more difficult. For me it has actually become simpler and faster. I’ve found that, with video conferencing becoming more acceptable, I can have short meetings with anyone, anywhere in the world and it’s become acceptable for me to just go: “I’ve got 15 minutes for you in the next 20 minutes. Let’s talk.” And then they hop on the call and it’s done. But the rules for networking remain the same. I think those are evergreen.
The main rule that I have for anyone trying to grow their network is to just be authentic. Don’t meet someone for the first time and hit them up for R500 000. That’s just not how it works. Networks and business networks are grown over decades, not months.
So it’s important to be as authentic as you can. And again, be as transparent as you can with what you can do for them and what they can do for you.
MELITTA NGALONKULU: Does it not feel different then, from networking virtually with the people rather than actually getting to meet them and interact with them on a personal basis?
NIC HARALAMBOUS: There are ways and means to kind of bring back that in-person feeling. But, personally, I’m kind of looking to grow a network globally, so this new shift has helped me significantly. I have a podcast of my own – and the access that I’ve been given to people like the founder of Starbucks and Electronic Arts, because we’re in the middle of Covid, helps because they’re open to these things. So yes, there is, in my opinion, no replacement for an in-person high five, or going out with someone and sharing a meal. But, in lieu of that being something we are going to get very soon, I think reach out to people, have conversations and engage with them.
MELITTA NGALONKULU: Innovation in and rebranding your business are said to be crucial. So, during this time, would you say that this is something small business owners should prioritise?
NIC HARALAMBOUS: Absolutely not. We have been giving SMEs advice for the last six months to pivot, to be agile, to adapt. I’m going to go in the other direction and I’m going to say that, right now, it’s crucial to stick to your knitting and do what you’re good at.
Maybe pivot 10 degrees to the left, but don’t do a full 180 degrees on your business and your brand, and the things you’ve been for the past 10 years. It’s unlikely that we’re going to be in lockdown forever.
So if you’re a restaurant [owner], being innovative and shifting to online and closing your store is a temporary fix for a problem that is going to be over very soon – whether it’s a year or two years. People are going to go back to malls, they’re going to go back to restaurants and have drinks.
The whole world hasn’t changed. What has happened is we’ve accelerated towards a future that was inevitable, anyway. Video conferencing was always going to replace in-person meetings. We’ve just done it quicker. So I would say you should be thinking about innovation. You should be thinking about your brand – but quickly doing a 180 and changing everything you’ve been doing for the past five years is probably not the sanest move for any small business owner right now,
MELITTA NGALONKULU: Nic, I’m sure you’d agree with me when I say that 2020 has proven to be quite a stressful year. Mental health and one’s sanity are of utmost importance. How do you keep sane during this time and still be productive as a small-business owner?
NIC HARALAMBOUS: It’s a good question, and it’s something that I’ve spent a lot of time this year focused on with my psychologist and on my own, trying to make sure that my mental health is my number one priority. I talk about this a lot. I call it the ‘sacrifice fallacy’ that small-business owners believe that they need to put themselves at the bottom of their priority lists and sacrifice their mental and physical health because they think that it’s the important thing that they do. Actually, it’s the other way around.
You should be putting yourself at the top of your priority list because the more healthy you are mentally and physically, the better you will work and then more people will want to work with you and around you.
So the thing that I do to keep my mental health up and focused for me, I have a psychologist that I see every month. If you can’t afford a psychologist, there are lots of helplines you can call. There is lots of support you can get for free. I urge anyone listening to make sure that you have someone you can use to bounce ideas off of and keep your mental health in check.
I meditate as often as I can. I try and make that at least once a day for 10 minutes. I exercise every single day for at least 40 minutes. I get up at 05:30. I go to bed and get at least eight hours of sleep. If you are one of those business owners who is working with three hours of sleep, let me tell you that science has proved that you are doing yourself a disservice.
The best pill for your mental health that you can take is eight hours of sleep every single night.
MELITTA NGALONKULU: Nic, thank you so much for joining us. Having your input has been an absolute pleasure.
NIC HARALAMBOUS: Thank you so much for having me. Your listeners can check me out at nicharry.com or find me on LinkedIn.
That was Nic Haralambous, the founder of nharry.com, providing us with insightful information on how we can keep our businesses open and with the pandemic and still take care of our wellbeing.
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