Anybody, anywhere in South Africa, can contact BUSINESS/PARTNERS’ Entrepreneurs Growth Centre with any question about business – How do I register for VAT? How do I fire a disruptive employee without running into trouble at the CCMA? Is my pricing right? How do I get into exporting? What does the Consumer Protection Act say about offering guarantees to customers? Am I paying too much for my credit card merchant service? Should I buy this building, or go on renting it? Is my business plan any good?
The chances are good that one of the front line staff of the Entrepreneurs Growth Centre can answer the question within seconds by sending the relevant fact sheet from SME Toolkit, a knowledge base of business information franchised to BUSINESS/PARTNERS by the International Finance Corporation with the IBM as a partner.
And if the question is too specific to be answered by one of the fact sheets, chances are even better that one of the four highly experienced business experts employed by the centre will know the answer. Not only do they have vast business experience themselves, but they also have access to BUSINESS/PARTNERS’ formidable internal resource centre.
Of course many of the questions require in-depth steps of the kind undertaken by professional consultants or trainers. These are beyond the scope of the Entrepreneurs Growth Centre, but the experts will at the very least guide the entrepreneur to make sure that they are asking the right question, advise on what steps they need to take to start solving the problem, and if necessary where to find a suitable service provider.
All this is done free of charge through quick and efficient telephone conversations and email interactions. The share call number 0861 763346 (SMEFIN) ensures that the Johannesburg based centre is never more than a local phone call away for any entrepreneur in South Africa.
Since its launch in October, the centre has fielded more than 700 telephone, email and Facebook queries per month, and the numbers are growing, says Christo Botes, executive director of BUSINESS/PARTNERS.
In its short existence so far, the centre has already notched up some substantial results.
In one case, an entrepreneur asked one of the experts whether the franchise he was about to buy was a good deal. The expert made a few calculations and concluded that the entrepreneur was about to overpay substantially for the franchise. Armed with this advice, the entrepreneur felt confident to return to the franchisor to negotiate a lower price.
The fact that the Centre is integrated into BUSINESS/PARTNERS’ operations means that all sorts of expertise linked to the company can be tapped to help with queries. For example, an entrepreneur who wanted to know what kind of professional team he should put together for the property that he wanted to develop was referred to a quantity surveyor.
Entrepreneurs who fit the BUSINESS/PARTNERS profile can be referred to the organisation’s long-standing database of business mentors if their queries require more than a quick answer. These mentors are technical experts who are past business owners, consultants and experts who are willing to consult to entrepreneurs at reduced rates.
Although the Centre is weaved into BUSINESS/PARTNERS’ operations, there are no qualms about referring callers to any other service, even to other financiers. Botes mentions the example of an entrepreneur who contacted the centre with a badly put together business plan. After advice on how to improve the plan he managed to raise finance from a bank.
Botes says the Entrepreneur Growth Centre is part of BUSINESS/PARTNERS’ commitment to the overall development of the community of South African entrepreneurs through its Square Peg movement. As such, the centre has already compiled a database of nearly every business financier operating in South Africa in order to refer entrepreneurs to the best service provider to suit their needs.
Entrepreneurs who are helped by the centre can of course also be referred to BUSINESS/PARTNERS for financing if they fit the profile of a typical BUSINESS/PARTNERS client. But just because they have been helped by the centre, it doesn’t mean that they are guaranteed finance by BUSINESS/PARTNERS. They will be evaluated afresh by a committee who will purely look at the viability of the business case, not the fact that the business was referred to it by the Entrepreneurs Growth Centre, says Botes.
BUSINESS/PARTNERS is committed to the Entrepreneurs Growth Centre in the long term, and Botes says it will soon be expanded in various ways, one of which is to draw in ever more top-quality service providers from inside and outside of BUSINESS/PARTNERS, so that the Entrepreneurs Growth Centre becomes the first stop for all entrepreneurs who have a question about how to grow their businesses, and thereby the prosperity of South Africa.
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