Friday, December 21, 2012

Business Tips: Starting a Family Business

The world of business can be very rewarding, being able to create and sell a product or service people need can give your life purpose.  Some people choose to go into business by themselves or with a friend, but family owned businesses are growing in popularity.  Family owned businesses were almost the only businesses in existence in the past, and even though their presence has declined over the years existing family business are still successful.  Seament, one of the largest international cement traders in the world, was founded by Alexander Bouri and is now run by his sons.  Big name companies like Walmart, Samsung, and Ford are family owned businesses.  If you want to include your family in your business ambitions, here's some advice on how to make your new business venture a success.

Identify the Need in Your Market

Some people go into business after spending years developing a service or product, and others have a passion for entrepreneurship but don't know what they want to sell.  If you want to provide a product or service you know people want, focus on potential customers in your area.  Think back to conversations you've had about your town with friends and neighbors.  Do you remember somebody saying that they wished there was a reliable dry cleaning service in town?  Did your next door neighbor mention that he misses the old pizza place that used to be around the corner?  Once you figure out the need, you'll be able to start your business.

Identify Your Family's Strengths

After doing some brainstorming you've decided on what product or service your business is going to provide customers.  Now that you know what you'll be selling, it's time to think about how your family members can help your business by identifying each member's strengths.  Does your son know how to use a cash register?  Is your spouse well-known enough in the community to attract people to your business?  Does your daughter know how to design websites and use SEO?  If you spend time truly evaluating your family's strengths and weaknesses you'll be able to find something useful every member can contribute. 

Identify Their Feelings

Even though it's your dream to have a family owned business other family members may not have similar feelings.  Nobody likes having to do something they have no interest in, especially if they feel like they're being pressured into doing it.  Don't spend time trying to recruit your family members, mention your idea to them and see if they have an interest in helping with your business.

Friday, December 14, 2012

European Group Hopes to Reform the African Cement/Concrete Industry

In the cement industry there's always new advancements that manage to amaze people.  Movers and shakers in the cement business like Alexander Bouri of Seament and Bernd Scheifele of HeidelbergCement are always looking for new ways to improve their products.  Cement is essential in today's world, our largest cities and smallest towns all depend on well-made cement to keep their buildings together.  As the world population continues to grow the demand for cement will rise substantially, and some groups are already thinking of ways to ensure that people have access to the building materials they need.

The Spearhead Network for Innovative, Clean and Safe Cement and Concrete Technologies (SPIN) is n project funded by the European Commission to address the need of establishing a solid cement and concrete industry in Africa.  The cement/concrete market in the eastern, central, and southern regions of Africa in its current state is inefficient.  Producers, suppliers, contractors, builders, unions, government workers, and even educational institutions all try to control the industry in their own ways.  The splintered market has caused a significant decrease in the quality of cement and concrete which has made buildings prone to damage.  Cement prices are much higher in Africa than they are in Europe and North America, but with Africa's wealth of cement making materials and cheap manpower it shouldn't be.

The SPIN organization is trying to stabilize the African cement/concrete industry by sharing efficient and environmentally friendly European cement/concrete manufacturing techniques.  They also hope to get leading industries, research institutions, and government workers from both continents working together so they can benefit from each other's work.   The group will be holding their first international conference in 2012 to discuss the future of cement/concrete and the role it plays in our society.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Charity Profile: Agape Foundation

Sometimes large companies can get an undeserved bad reputation.  Big businesses are generally looked at as selfish and opposed to charity, but the reality is very different.  Many large businesses like Microsoft, Seament, and Wal-Mart have owners who donate a significant amount of their money to charity.  There are a variety of charities and causes business owners can choose to support, but many donations go to charities that strive to better education around the world.  If you're interested in donating to an education based charity, you could donate to the profiled charity in this blog post.

Agape Foundation

Education is essential for success and change, that's why so many societies stress the importance of learning on their youngest members.  There's one group in South Africa that's working hard to improve the quality of education for all of the children in their country.  All children, regardless of their background or class status, suffer when they don't receive a good quality education.  But children in the poorest areas of South Africa suffer the most.  There is also still a significant problem with educational gender inequality in the country, male children are for more likely to receive and complete school than females.
These reasons are why the Agape Foundation was formed by a group of women many years ago.  They were aware of the educational problems in South Africa, so they formed Agape in order to inspire, educate, and encourage the youth of the nation.  They work with individuals who don't have the financial needs they require to receive a high quality education.  They believe that with proper education, encouragement, and attention that South Africa can become a better place for all of its citizens.
If you're interested in donating or learning more about the Agape Foundation, visit their website at:

Letting Employees Go the Right Way

If you ask a manager what they think the most difficult part of their job is the majority of them will say it's firing an employee.  Large multi-national businesses like Seament Holding and small mom and pop operations all have to deal with the unpleasantness of having to fire workers.  Despite what some disgruntled employees think, most managers dread having to hand out pink slips.  And to make matters worse, if they end up terminating an employee the wrong way their company could end up with a nasty lawsuit.  If you think you'll have to resort to employee termination soon, follow these tips to make that it goes as smoothly as possible.

Remember That Firing is A Last Resort

Is this the first time the employee has caused a problem, or have you addressed the issue several times before?  Firing an employee should only happen if you've tried every other tactic possible to change their behavior.  Unless if they've broken a very important company rule, try to see if there's anything else you can do to help them keep their job. 

Be 100% Certain About It

There era of zero-tolerance and lengthy employee contracts hasn't made making the decision of firing an employee any easier, if anything it's made the termination process more time consuming and difficult. Before you officially fill out the termination paper work it would be wise to carefully review company rules and the employee's individual contract to ensure that you're making the right choice. 

Don't Argue

Sometimes when people are told that they're being let go they stay silent, others may get angry or even openly weep.  When people get emotional when they're being fired they may try to bargain or argue with their bosses, and that's why it's important to remember to not join in on the disagreement.  If you see an argument looming on the horizon remind them that the time to talk is over, your word is final and there's nothing they can do to change it.

How to Successfully Solve Employee Disputes

When you're a manager only a small portion of your job is running the company and supervising employees, when you're overseeing workers you'll also have to spend time resolving disputes between them.  It doesn't matter if you’re the owner of a large company like Alex F Bouri or if you're running a small family business, if you have a position of power you'll eventually have to handle some sort of problem between workers.  If you find that you're constantly having to handle problems between employees you may feel more like a baby sitter than a boss, but there are ways to quickly resolve disputes and hopefully prevent others from happening.

Don't Ignore Problems

You may think the Rachel in accounting is complaining about a trivial matter when she tells you that someone in sales stealing her coffee creamer, but it doesn't seem that way to her.  If employees are coming to with you problems that you write off as small or unimportant, that will guarantee that employees will take it upon themselves to deal with the issue.  Take every employee problem seriously and them know that it's important to you, if not you could have problems when they try to solve it themselves the wrong way.

Mediate Immediately

As soon as you find out about the conflict between employees, you need to start taking proactive steps to solve this.  This doesn't mean that you have to confront the employees in question ASAP, but you should at least be thinking of ways to successfully solve the issue at hand.  This can be anything from reviewing company policies on employee disputes or asking people in upper management about the best way to solve the problem.

Follow Up

This is without a doubt the most important part of handling problems at the office.   While you were mediating a conflict the employees in question may have promised to change their behavior, but after they leave your private office the problems could start up again like nothing ever happened.  If you don't follow up with the employees  you don't know if any changes have been made.  Along with keeping an eye on their behavior, ask other employees or managers if they've noticed any positive changes as well.