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Skills investment is a tricky challenge and one not limited to training seminars and classrooms. Skills a business may need include everything from managing investors to understanding technology.

We asked business leaders from both top enterprises and fast-rising SMEs to give some advice on the right steps forward for any small business.

1. Get skills and training that count

Choose training that makes sense for your business, said Daryl Blundell, General Manager for Sage Pastel Accounting, and don’t readily fall for new trendy skills: 'We find the real skills gaps are not usually about anything as glamorous as digital disruption – they are often making sense of a complex legislative and regulatory environment, doing accurate budgets and forecasts, or finding a good salesperson to sell a complicated technical product.'

2. Investors aren’t just money people

SA Florist was a recent recipient of investment through the TV show Dragon’s Den, receiving around R3 million in funding. Yet while detailing the experience at a recent Tech4Africa talk, the online retailer’s co-founder Fraser Black revealed that investors are about more than boosting your bank account.

'It’s not just about the money, it’s also about the mentorship,' he explained.

They are great sources for guidance. Negotiations after the broadcast also taught him that investors will differ in opinions for many reasons and as a business owner you have to learn to navigate those differences.

3. Embrace the online world

'Today, by far, access to markets and customers is around technology and digital. A lot of smartphones are in the country and there are a lot of business transactions happening online,' said Vuyani Jarana, Chief Officer of Vodacom Business, while talking on Power FM.

He raised the example of bed and breakfast operations: hardly any such business results from customer walk-ins anymore. Instead bookings and booking agents reside online, because that is where the customer has gone.

'Being able to be online opens your business to a wider market. So technology creates opportunity to create access to markets.'

In addition, the use of technology allows SMEs to be more productive – particularly in terms of managing the business. As such you should be on the ball and educated about your technology options – not leave it all to a third party.

'SMEs who are not online will invariable struggle to make it in the market today.'

4. Follow your audience

As the co-founder of M4Jam, the micro-jobbing app, Andre Hugo has learned that your most valuable resource is your customers: 'To stay relevant you have to develop at the rate of the internet. We are constantly polling our base and getting insights on our users' behaviour to see what resonates and what doesn't.'

Though this advice is most poignant to anyone in the breakneck speed world of app development, the real message is that you can't afford to be complacent. Find ways to understand what your customers are thinking, then don't be afraid to consider making changes and taking chances to identify trends. Involving customers can also make them more receptive and loyal to your services:

'M4Jam’s biggest asset is our crowd. So if we can involve them in the product development, it gives us more insight and makes it more sticky.'

5. Don’t underestimate your staff

Don’t underestimate the technical abilities of your staff, said One Channel’s CEO, Bernard Ford. 'This is possibly the biggest misconception, especially in developing regions like South America and Africa where the opposite has proved to be true. The adoption rate of smartphones in South Africa alone is gaining momentum.'

Why is that important? Mobile apps, as one example, tend to be more intuitive, resulting in more cooperation from staff and shorter training periods. Other new trends include online collaboration and using new internal communication tools such as Slack. But if you believe your staff is not capable of grasping these ideas, you aren't only holding them back: you're probably wrong. If your staff already use banking or chat apps, they are open to other ideas as well.

About Vodacom Business 

Vodacom Business was established in 2008 as the enterprise arm of Vodacom Group. It delivers total communication solutions to meet the needs of the public sector, large, medium and small enterprises.

Vodacom Business offers solutions that extend from mobile to fixed line access, Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), Voice over IP (VoIP), hosted facilities, cloud computing-based hosted services, storage, back up, security and application solutions.

For more information on how Vodacom can help you become a Ready Business, go to the Vodacom Business website. A Ready Business has the right business tools to be agile and ready for the future, whatever it may bring. It’s scalable, responsive, efficient, and connected – ready to make the most of any opportunity.

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