MBOMBELA – A business partnership is like a marriage: choose your counterpart very carefully, and for the right reasons.
Mr Riaan Loubser and Mr Gerald Danilowitz, co-owners of Unigrad College, say they have found business partners in each other.
Maybe they are lucky, but like a good marriage has the potential to sour after a happy union, so do business relations, and there is much you can do to prevent this.
Good partnerships recently comprised the core of their mentoring session with Bring Change Lowveld winner Ms Phephsile Maseko.
The programme was founded by Mr Etienne Pretorius and his wife Erichia. It aims to empower not only Maseko, but also other entrepreneurs to learn from the mistakes successful Lowvelders have made, and also gain from their hard-earned wisdom.
This week Loubser and Danilowitz share the 10 most important aspects of making a partnership work with Lowvelder readers.
1. A partnership can be a sinking ship
They do not always work, and if they do they may stop being beneficial after a while.
“Often they don’t work out, especially once you start fighting when things go wrong,” said Danilowitz. “It doesn’t work for everyone.”
He and Loubser met 11 years ago, and were good friends before embarking on Unigrad together.
They are equally committed to their goal of providing top tertiary education, and complement one another’s skills and personalities.
2. So, choose wisely
Don’t choose a partner for their capital investment. Money can be obtained from a bank.
Choose a partner for your shared passion. In their case, it is a shared passion for people and education.
“Choose someone you know. It is best if you come from the same industry and can complement one another.
“Don’t look only for a financier – find a companion who can grow the business with you.”
Loubser and Danilowitz are both at work all the time and are both equally involved in all aspects of the school, from lecturing to administration and managing money and overall doing whatever needs doing.
Working together, and working alongside staff without micromanaging creates mutual respect. “You hired them for their skills and qualifications – now let them run with it.”
3. Keep communicating
Like in a good marriage, things can start to disintegrate. Communication is key. “Don’t have meeting after meeting, but talk all the time, speak to each other,” Loubser said.
Danilowitz added, “Friendship is important, you have to like each other. We are very fortunate to complement each other.”
4. Trust is paramount in decision making
These partners have absolute trust in each other. “If I’m not here, I know he carries on for both our interests.”
Trust is important when making decisions. Between them Danilowitz makes most of the financial decisions: it is his forte and Loubser knows he has his interests at heart too. “A manager is not enough – some managers are not so great and nobody will look after a business like an owner,” he said.
A partner is also someone to share your highs and lows. Without it your missions can be lonely.
5. Customer service comes first
Unidgrad’s focus in not so much on the number of students enrolled, but on the quality of education it provides, the value students get.
“Customer service is number one. Once you have that, administration falls into place. You can do it at night. Your first priority should be customer service,” Danilowitz said.
Customer service ensures you get repeat business and if people come back they generate business through word of mouth too.
6. Service your brand
“We sometimes see ourselves as employees of the business,” said Loubser, who has a strong personal brand and visibility in the community.
“You can build brands around a person,” Danilowitz said. “Riaan is in the public eye and somehow the brand is linked to him: he is not only Riaan, but Riaan from Unigrad.”
Loubser said the decision they had taken the longest to make, was changing the look and feel.
They researched the psychology behind the colours and positioning of a logo extensively, because it is what people associate Unigrad with.
He adds that he uses the company name in correspondence as many times as possible as it subconsciously entrenches the name in the reader’s mind.
7. Target your market
Identify your target market. It gives you direction. “A good product offers many benefits to a large number of people, but you need to know the demographic.
“Keep in mind that you need specific messages to target segments of the market. Ask users why they use the product. Find out who they are at the moment.
“Each company has a unique brand. Ask yourself what your brand has to offer your market. Focus on your unique way of doing business.”
8. Cash is king
An entrepreneur’s management of his cash can be the difference between success and failure.
“Be careful with your money,” said Loubser. “There are many case studies where a business owner, once he has achieved some success, acquired a flashier lifestyle.
“All businesses have bad months or years, and when you hit a dip you can’t support a lifestyle. Rather, plough money back into the business.”
Danilowitz added that, once you receive cash, put it safely in an investment bank account with good interest rates.
9. Continue learning, even while you teach
“If we do make a mistake, we admit it, apologise profusely and fix it.”
10. Find a balance – if you want to
Loubser says a weakness he and Danilowitz share is that they do not have the best work/life balance.
“For us at the moment the business has to be successful, it has to survive because, aside from us, there are many employees and their families who rely on the business. That responsibility outweighs the desire for private lives,” Loubser said
“However, I think that to survive in the long run you need a more developed private and social life. For now our lives continue as is. And we also really enjoy being here (at work).”
- Read what other mentors in the Bring Change Lowveld programme have to share: