Starting a business is one thing. Scaling up a successful start-up is a whole different ball game, writes Viresh Harduth, vice-president: new customer acquisition (SMEs) for Africa & Middle East.

Business owners need new skills and focus areas to generate sustainable growth over an extended period, while managing risk.

Here are a few smart, simple places to start:


Stand out. Develop a clear, unique message for your offering by focusing on your strengths. The best way to differentiate your business is through efficient and friendly customer service.

Tip: You might be one of many retailers selling children’s clothes but perhaps your material is ethically sourced or you commission unemployed mothers to make the clothes. These are great selling points.


Go digital. Consumers research products online before buying them, which means if you’re not online, you might as well not exist. Develop a mobile-friendly, visually appealing and easy to navigate website and build your presence on social media where you can engage with your customers.

Tip: As an agricultural business owner, you might think you don’t need a website because you have regular customers but it’s the best place to let those customers know that you’re expanding your product line, for example.


Delight your customers. Consumers have higher expectations and more choice than ever before. Understand what your customers want and how you can help.

Tip: A good experience means happy customers and happy customers are loyal customers.


Find new markets. Expanding into new markets is one of the fastest ways to scale up. But with each new market comes new competitors, different customer needs and unknown threats. Do your research and identify markets with strong demand and weak supply.

Tip: You may need to modify your product or service to meet the nuances of different markets. A manufacturing solution that works well in South Africa might not work as well in Kenya, which has different laws and different skillsets.


Attract the right people. Today, everything is fuelled by technology, which makes people your real competitive advantage. Investing in passionate, trustworthy and customer-focused people can build the foundation for a successful business.

Tip: Hire the best people you can afford or develop young, talented individuals. Services industries are the ideal training grounds for getting customer service right.


Plan for success. A business plan forces you to think about the future. But plans should not be rigid or overly complicated. They should be living documents that can adapt to the changing needs of your customers, the environment you operate in and regulatory requirements.

Tip: The mining sector, for example, is a high-risk, heavily regulated industry. It cannot be bound to a rigid business plan as it might need to adapt to conditions that change in an instant.


Formalising processes. Formalising the company’s structure and processes gives management better visibility and control of the organisation’s finances, speeds up paperwork, and helps align everyone in the company behind its values and strategy. It can be good for employee morale because people will feel confident about their purpose and responsibilities.

Tip: To survive, you’ll need to have suitable software systems in place, start documenting policies and formalising other aspects of the business to ensure compliance and productivity and reduce the risk of reputational damage.


Manage your cashflow. Scaling up will require investment in research, people and marketing – make sure your business can cover this without going insolvent and that you have more cash coming into your business than going out.

Businesses ultimately operate in a trust economy. If you can build trust among your customers through excellent service, while leveraging the experience of a skilled team, you’re well on your way to growth.