In tough economic times and a changing world, South Africa’s small businesses need to take a new approach to getting ahead.
That’s the word from experts who spoke at the Small Business Expo networking event in Melrose Arch last week. The traditional approaches to business – find a business likely to make money and work hard – simply aren’t good enough anymore, they said. In the new business order, successful entrepreneurs must find an edge in a field they are passionate about, and stand out boldly from the crowd.
The key new rules for business success, they say, are:

Find your passion
“Passion sells and runs your business,” says entrepreneur and MD of Reed Exhibitions Carol Weaving. “We’ve seen this time and again among the thousands of businesses that have participated in the Small Business Expo over the years.”
Nicholas Goliath, co-founder of the Goliath Comedy Club, which is now expanding to a second venue, says the secret of the Goliath success was making your passion your job. “You have to stay in your lane and stick to your thing. If you start your business for the right reason – because you’re passionate about it – you’re bound for success.”

Take a stand against bland
Branding guru Sylvester Chauke, chief architect at DNA Brand Architects, says business today is up against stiff competition, which means offering phenomenal products and services and investing in clever branding. “Mediocrity is a real issue: you need to stand against bland. If you want people to notice you, you have to do things differently, take what you’re selling and package it in a magnificent way.”
Rather than cutting back on advertising and marketing when times are tough, small businesses should become even more aggressive and innovative in marketing themselves, the speakers say.
Chris Bornman, project manager: marketing and communication at the Eskom Foundation, says exposure is crucial for small businesses. “For example, the finalists of the Eskom Business Investment Competition are given exhibition space at the Small Business Expo.
“Because of their exposure there, some of our finalists have met procurement executives and big brand buyers who went on to place significant orders from these small businesses. One of the BIC finalists, who produces atchar, now has large orders from significant retailers. Another, who services pit latrines, now has large public sector contracts.”

“The hustle is real. We’re in the middle of a revolution for small businesses right now, and if you do it right, you can punch above your weight and succeed,” says Chauke. “The trick is to build a small business that is sustainable and world class. You have to run your small business like it’s a big business, and remember – better brands do better.”
Nedbank economist Busiswe Radebe agrees: “We may be in a slow economic growth phase, but this doesn’t mean it’s a bad time to invest in a small business. In fact, with the recent interest rate cut and more expected, now is a good time to get financing to grow a business. If your business differentiates itself from the others through great advertising, marketing and brilliant service, the growth will come.”
Networking and information sharing also become critical in the new business order, the speakers say.
At the upcoming Small Business Expo, which is co-located with the #BuyaBusiness Expo at the Ticketpro Dome in Northriding from 31 August to 2 September, up to 10 000 entrepreneurs will network and learn from business experts in 90 presentations over three days.