Ways to make your small business competitive


The unfortunate reality is that most small businesses fail in their first year, and only 10%, on average, survive for 5 years or longer. Turning a start-up into a successful business takes time, planning, patience, hard work and – considering the varied list of economic shocks we’ve survived over the past few years – a bit of luck. Here are some tips to consider if you’re a small business owner, or you’re planning your own start-up.


Finding your niche: The key to small business success


When choosing a sector in which to start a business, consider 2 factors: what will be profitable, and what are you passionate about? Consult accounting, financial and legal advisers to help you set up your business, so that you can complete the paperwork and other legal requirements properly.

Part of your planning should be answering these key questions:

  • Do you bring added value, or is what you offer already catered for?
    What is your unique selling point? What makes your product better than that of your competitors?

  • What are your goals, and where do you see your business in the next few years?
    Formulate a timeline over the next 1 to 3 years and factor in all the opportunities and risks you will encounter.

  • Is your team on board with your vision?
    Remember that the team running your operation should have a shared vision for the business.

  • Do you have a day-to-day plan of action, and are you organised?
    Implement a detailed plan for smooth daily operations, managing your finances, keeping overhead costs low and actively improving productivity.

  • Are you investing in yourself and your community?
    Don’t see your business just as a side hustle. Think of it as an investment in your team and your community. Buy courses to better understand the ins and outs of running a business, be responsible with reinvesting profits into equipment and newer product lines, nurture your company’s growth, and build a sustainable brand. Give back through relevant initiatives that uplift the community that supports you.


Overcoming challenges: Small business vs established stores


As a small business, you don’t have the advantage that retail chains enjoy, of being able to offer lower prices by buying bulk quantities at low cost. However, you can provide a unique selection of products tailored to your customers’ needs or tastes. Personal attention catering to individual preferences that a large retail chain simply can’t match is a major advantage that small-business owners should exploit.

Smaller businesses can also adapt quickly to trends and offer once-off product lines that are sought after. You can also jump on the latest trends faster than large retailers with centralised inventory planning.



Realistically, it may take years to see a sustainable return on your investment


Streamlining your operations may pose a challenge if, like many entrepreneurs, you’re a first-time business owner. It’s imperative to start your business with an operational plan in place, and to optimise your business through continuous learning.


Targeting local markets: Strategies for small businesses


  • Craft a targeted marketing strategy, create a social media presence using the best platforms for you, and get to know what your competitors are up to. Put together a content calendar and upload regular, meaningful content that your audience can engage with.

  • Think about your target audience and tell them exactly how you will solve a problem for them. Get involved in your community, meet people, and introduce them to your business through local markets and speciality expos. If funds are available, sponsor community drives or local events to get your business noticed.

  • Create a simple website to showcase your products and plug them into online stores to gain a wider reach for sales. Make sure your business has a presence on Google, local community boards and review sites, and use your customer recommendations to market your business.


Realism and patience: Navigating the first year of business


  • A common reason many small businesses fail is the owner not understanding what it takes to operate a business, from sponsorships and start-up capital to managing daily costs.

  • It’s also a mistake to try to run your business alone, without a support team. No single person can be an expert in all areas of their business – it takes a team of many talents with a well-rounded set of skills between them.

  • Start-ups usually operate with smaller teams. It’s natural to feel that you need to put in long hours with no rest when you start a new business, but remember to prioritise your well-being and take time off to recuperate. You and your team need to keep your energy levels high to create a long-lasting business legacy.

  • Realistically, it may take years to see a sustainable return on your investment. Patience and perseverance are essential. Work on what your business offers consistently, pay attention to customer feedback and implement changes when needed.


Find out more in the Essential guide to small-business owners. Learn about sourcing sponsorships, find inspiration in success stories and dive into effective business operations with our comprehensive video series on SimplyBiz, a proud extension of Nedbank. You can also check out our podcast series Get into Gear (available in English, Afrikaans, isiZulu and Sesotho) for entrepreneurial advice that helps you turn new business ideas into robust business plans.