Mentor 4 - Oupa Pilane


Photographer: Ludwig Sevenster

MBOMBELA - Getting a new business off the ground is hard work, and complicated. Aside from legal requirements and registrations, there are practical matters which must be planned. Mr Oupa Pilane, one of the mentors in the Lowveld Bring Change programme, has devised a model with which he addresses the little things many an entrepreneur overlooks, and which can make all the difference between ultimate success and failure. Pilane who has worked in government, is currently head of municipal business intelligence at the Guma Group of companies where he provides solutions for municipalities.

He recently shared his 10-step formula with Lowveld Bring Change mentee Ms Phephsile Maseko to help her ensure she avoids common pitfalls. Pilane says it is important to adapt to suit your customer, but not to compromise on core best practices. He shares the steps to doing even little things in a systematic way

1. Separate business from the personal
Never make your personal challenges the business’ problems. It is key to keep your finances separate from that of the business and never let them mix, not even in the short term. “Don’t take on a personal debt that doesn’t support the business, and then move the debt into the business,” he warns “Don’t take money from the business to help your family, no matter how tempting or difficult it is.”


2. Sell a solution, not a product
You are not selling a product, but a solution to a problem which exists. “Perhaps I don’t want insurance for insurance’s sake, I want financial planning and solutions to being under-insured and then to be presented with a range of products that might suit my needs from which to choose.” You also need to explain what is better. It is a simple question of value: why must I buy your product instead of the next guy’s?


3. Find your customer
You will struggle to generate money if you are not targeting the right clientele. “Doing business is finding a customer,” Pilane says. “Define who you want to sell to. Every sector of the population has its own needs and how you can reach them.”


4. Be flexible to suit your customer
You may be in love with your product, but nobody else is. Be concerned with how a customer reacts to your product - listen to them and adapt it to get through to the market. “Build your business around your product. It is always important to take your customer into consideration,” he says.


5. Be visible and accessible
These days, people first search for what they need on the internet. In this way your website becomes your store. “A customer shouldn’t struggle to find you. If you’re not on the web, you are in trouble,” Pilane explains. “The product can be there, but it needs to be delivered to the customer.


6. Interact with customers
Before launching a product, advertise it. “Build your reach and create publicity around your product so that it is implanted in people’s brains.” Afterwards, don’t forget about a customer once they’ve bought from you. Set up a data base with their details. Have your marketing ready, SMS or email them. Ask about their experience of your product, and maintain that relationship to ensure repeat business.


7. Identify key partners to help you
“Name them and don’t rely on promises because when the tyres his tar many of them are not going to be there,” Pilane says. “List them and their role, go see them and ask for help with what you need, be it marketing or something else. “Be clear and unambiguous about them and their roles.”


8. Identify what you need in terms of resources
Don’t get stuck needing something unplanned down the line. Worse, it may take time to acquire when you need it, holding up business, so plan ahead. Pilane shares how exited he was moving into his own place when he was young. Confidently he prepares his corn flakes for breakfast, only to discover he didn’t have s spoon… “You may find there are some things you didn’t factor in. List the people, raw materials, packaging you need. Don’t assume anything and don’t take short cuts.”


9. Plan key activities
Don’t’ just think about what needs to get done, list activities. “Everything has an activity you have to perform. Draw up an action plan listing the clear responsibilities and who is going to do it and when are they are going to do it.  “Whatever step you don’t take will be detrimental to your business.”


10. Love your time
Identify your revenue streams: where will your money come from? “In business we do projections, but we don’t assume things. Identify your revenue streams.” Then it is very, very important that you spend your time proportionally: Don’t spend 80 per cent of your time on an area generating only 20 per cent of your income, Pilane concluded.


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