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The South African economy is likely to escape a recession and finish the year in positive territory. This may provide some respite for businesses but economists agree it isn’t enough, as the country needs very strong growth for an extended period to start chipping away at an official unemployment rate of 29%.

The National Development Plan, and many economic commentators, place small and medium-sized enterprises, and a spirit of entrepreneurship, at the centre of the country’s medium to long-term recovery. In order to do this, they need to be agile, profitable and digitally relevant.

Serial entrepreneur and renowned global speaker Vusi Thembekwayo believes there are simple but profoundly effective things a business owner can do to make his or her business competitive in the digital age.

Representing Intuit QuickBooks – the leading cloud accounting software – at the Cloud in Practice conference in September 2019, Thembekwayo unveiled four laws to transform businesses, and accounting practices to digital doyens.

  • Walk the aisles and find the truth

“Not a truth, not your truth, but the actual truth,” says Thembekwayo. He says all business areas have different versions of the truth. “When faced with a loss in market share, marketing will tell you the logo needs to be refreshed and IT will say this is due to the company being locked into legacy systems that aren’t performing at peak.

“Raymond Ackerman walked his aisles once a week, talking to customers, finding the truth,” says Thembekwayo, referring to the man who turned Pick n Pay into the giant retailer that every household knows. “Businesses must find a way to walk their aisles and talk to their customers because when they find the truth, their path to success clears.”

  • Keep moving

“Ask yourself what made Nokia great. It was the QWERTY keyboard,” he says. “With its single design philosophy, the ability for a human thumb to reach each key on the keyboard, Nokia, in effect, created the ‘thumb generation’. And then they stopped moving.”

“Blackberry came in with a QWERTY of its own, as well as a communications platform that let you speak to anyone on the platform for free. And then they stopped moving. Samsung soon followed, along with the iPhone, and today it is Huawei leading the innovation charge in mobile technology.”

Companies that stop innovating, he says, stop being the best and will be ousted by companies who are still creating and still thinking.

  • Treasure your vision

“We’ve become very good at measuring our businesses but in truth, staff and customers don’t care about numbers, they care about the vision of the organisation,” he says.

“Martin Luther King said he had a dream, not a spreadsheet, a standard set of operating procedures, financials, and a business model – he had a vision. Give your staff a dream.”

  • Listen to your staff

Staff give management very real feedback about their businesses every day during the course of their work, he says. “But if that person is a cashier or a car guard, for instance, the likelihood that you’ll actually hear what they have to say – the message – as opposed to focussing on who’s saying it – the messenger – is low. And these are the people who interact with your customers every day!”

Don’t pay attention to who’s delivering the message, listen to the business case, he says.

“There is sense and guidance and real change to be found in every person who touches your customers – you just have to listen.”

Head of emerging markets at Intuit QuickBooks Jolawn Victor says that in Intuit QuickBooks’ experience, the mind shift changes outlined in Thembekwayo’s four laws are crucial to taking a struggling business and turning it into an efficient competitor in the digital age. Once the mindset is right and the leaders are aligned, strategic partnerships are able to unleash immense potential.

Victor says that it has been proven time and again that leaders who are freed from the nitty gritty of daily operations, such a chasing up unpaid invoices, are able to lead with vision. Building a business that is disruptive rather one that is disrupted requires the management team to focus on the core business, says Victor. Solutions that run these tasks automatically literally untie the hands of the leaders.

However, innovative solutions and partnerships can do more than the daily slog work. They can have a measurable impact on a business’s competitiveness and agility, says Victor. “Cloud-based solutions can streamline actual processes by flagging anomalies such as higher-than-anticipated project costs and expenses earlier on to save the company serious losses down the line.”