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Any business owner can master successful networking

Eloise du Plessis discusses the benefits of effective networking

Here is some good news for business owners who are more comfortable with machines and production processes than with people: successful networking with people is every bit as systematic as networking with computers.
You don’t have to be Miss Congeniality to network successfully with potential clients, suppliers and business associates.
All that is required is a strategy, some dedication, order and maintenance. In short, networking is a business process like any other that even the most unsociable techie can master.

This insight carries a message also for the sociable type of business owner for whom networking comes naturally. No matter with how much flair you are able to conduct your business relationships, you will do even better if you build a basic system around it.
Follow these pointers to help you as a female business owners think about networking, a much-neglected system in many businesses.
First, some general principles, followed by some tips on what to do when you are at a networking event.
Approach networking for what it is – a crucial business system like your accounting system, HR system, or production system. It means that you have to spend some time thinking about it, working on it and maintaining it. It’s a recipe and once you’ve worked out your recipe, networking becomes easy.
Define your target groups – if you don’t, you’ll end up chasing your own tail. How wide you should throw your net depends on your business. A tourism business may want to include entire country networks and sectors such as travel agents, while a niche tech business starts with a much narrower group of specialised suppliers, clients and business associates.
Networking only among your peers is not wide enough. It is inadequate for a printer, for example, to limit his networking only to the local printers’ association. Seek out clients and business opportunities upstream, downstream and adjacent to your sector.
Start with a list of people who are in your network already – your existing clients, suppliers and business associates, but be sure to add new people, or whole categories of people that you want to target. This is just the start – a healthy business network has new contacts coming in all the time, as well as having old ones removed as their relevance fades.
One of the key principles of effective networking is your ability to prioritise each contact, and that you spend most of your time cultivating those who are most important to your business. Think of a funnel – where a lot of contacts move in from the wide end, but only a few end up yielding results. Effective networking requires that that you constantly reprioritise your contacts as their importance to your business waxes and wanes.
You don’t need the latest customer relationship management software. They can be handy, but if money is tight you can effectively manage a large network with an ordinary spreadsheet using simple categorisation tools such as colour coding to prioritise contacts.
Make time to think, strategise and research each of your contacts, firstly to correctly prioritise each.
Then, think about how you need to cultivate each of your categories. For example, you could decide to contact your “Category A” contacts at least once a quarter, invite them to a special event or treat them to lunch every so often. The next category contacts could be treated similarly, but perhaps less regularly, while your least important category simply gets your regular email newsletter, for example.
Relationships take time to develop, and are built on genuine interest and mutual benefit. The key is regular contact, but it does not have to be monotonous. Interactions can vary from a call to say thank you, to introducing a useful contact, sending an interesting article or referring a client (and even asking for advice is a good way to make someone feel important). Don’t leave these things to spontaneity – plan and schedule them.
Clean up your contact list regularly, not only removing redundant entries, but reprioritising each contact so that you invest most of your time and energy in the most important ones.
Internet-based social networking is important as a medium of contact, and be sure to maintain your presence on sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Linked-In as you would your appearance – neat and fresh. But you don’t have to “hang around” there. True business networking happens face to face.
Think carefully about your business networking calendar so that you don’t waste your time attending events that yield little. But don’t be afraid to experiment to see which events work for you. Get out there.
So you’re staring at a room full of people over a platter of samoosas wishing you were back at the workshop. What should you do to get the most out of a networking event even though you’re not a natural networker?
First, relax. You don’t have to be the belle of the ball. You don’t have to pitch anything to anybody. Just the fact that you’ve managed to tear yourself away from your operation to be there is already a major step towards growing your networking skills.
Start by listening to conversations, even if you don’t participate at first. Sooner or later an opportunity will arise to ask a question and become part of the conversation. Carry your business cards for when you get a chance to introduce yourself, or have your smartphone ready if it is a digital kind of crowd – or both.
As soon as you get used to such events, you will find out how easy it is to approach someone, introduce yourself and start a conversation.
It is always better for networking to do more listening than talking.
Don’t try to speak to everyone at an event, but also don’t monopolise one person. If you know who is going to be there, it is sometimes good to plan with whom you want to make contact before you leave.
Networking actually begins when you leave the event. Now, you have to be diligent in filing the contacts that you have made into your system, prioritising them, and in doing so scheduling the kind of follow-up needed. If it’s late and you’re not going back to the office, scribbling a note or two on the back of the contact’s business card is a good way to remind yourself who the person is and why you thought they could be a useful in your network.

About The Author

Sanlam 2018 Annual Results

7 March 2019

 

Sanlam’s 2018 annual results provides testimony to its resilience amid challenging operating conditions and negative investment markets

Sanlam today announced its operational results for the 12 months ended 31 December 2018. The Group made significant progress in strategic execution during 2018. This included the acquisition of the remaining 53% stake in SAHAM Finances, the largest transaction concluded in the Group’s 100-year history, and the approval by Sanlam shareholders of a package of Broad-based Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE) transactions that will position the Group well for accelerated growth in its South African home market.

Operational results for 2018 included 14% growth in the value of new life insurance business (VNB) on a consistent economic basis and more than R2 billion in positive experience variances, testimony to Sanlam’s resilience in difficult times.

The Group relies on its federal operating model and diversified profile in dealing with the challenging operating environment, negative investment markets and volatile currencies. Management continues to focus on growing existing operations and extracting value from recent corporate transactions to drive enhanced future growth.

The negative investment market returns and higher interest rates in a number of markets where the Group operates had a negative impact on growth in operating earnings and some other key performance indicators. This was aggravated by weak economic growth in South Africa and Namibia and internal currency devaluations in Angola, Nigeria and Zimbabwe.

Substantial growth in Santam’s operating earnings (net result from financial services) and satisfactory growth by Sanlam Emerging Markets (SEM) and Sanlam Corporate offset softer contributions from Sanlam Personal Finance (SPF) and Sanlam Investment Group (SIG).

Key features of the 2018 annual results include:

Net result from financial services increased by 4% compared to the same period in 2017;

Net value of new covered business up 8% to R2 billion (up 14% on a consistent economic basis);

Net fund inflows of R42 billion compared to R37 billion in 2017;

Adjusted Return on Group Equity Value per share of 19.4% exceeded the target of 13.0%; and

Dividend per share of 312 cents, up 8%.

Sanlam Group Chief Executive Officer, Mr Ian Kirk said: “We are satisfied with our performance in a challenging operating environment. We will continue to focus on managing operations prudently and diligently executing on our strategy to deliver sustainable value to all our stakeholders. The integration of SAHAM Finances is progressing well. In addition, Sanlam shareholders approved the package of B-BBEE transactions, including an equity raising, at the extraordinary general meeting held on 12 December 2018. Our plan to implement these transactions this year remains on track.”

Sanlam Personal Finance (SPF) net result from financial services declined by 5%, largely due to the impact of new growth initiatives and dampened market conditions. Excluding the new initiatives, SPF’s contribution was 1% down on 2017 due to the major impact that the weak equity market performance in South Africa had on fund-based fee income.

SPF’s new business sales increased by 4%, an overall satisfactory result under challenging conditions. Sanlam Sky’s new business increased by an exceptional 71%. Strong growth of 13% in the traditional individual life channel was augmented by the Capitec Bank credit life new business recognised in the first half of 2018, and strong demand for the new Capitec Bank funeral product. The Recurring premium and Strategic Business Development business units also achieved strong growth of 20%, supported by the acquisition of BrightRock in 2017. Glacier new business grew marginally by 1%. Primary sales onto the Linked Investment Service Provider (LISP) platform improved by 5%, an acceptable result given the pressure on investor confidence in the mass affluent market. This was however, offset by lower sales of wrap funds and traditional life products.

The strong growth in new business volumes at Sanlam Sky had a major positive effect on SPF’s VNB growth, which increased by 7% (14% on a comparable basis).

Sanlam Emerging Markets (SEM) grew its net result from financial services by 14%. Excluding the impact of corporate activity, earnings were marginally up on 2017 (up 8% excluding the increased new business strain).

New business volumes at SEM increased by 20%. Namibia performed well, increasing new business volumes by 22% despite weak economic conditions. Both life and investment new business grew strongly. Botswana underperformed with the main detractor from new business growth being the investment line of business, which declined by 24%. This line of business is historically more volatile in nature.

The new business growth in the Rest of Africa portfolio was 68% largely due to corporate activity relating to SAHAM Finances, with the East Africa portfolio underperforming.

The Indian insurance businesses continued to perform well, achieving double-digit growth in both life and general insurance in local currency. The Malaysian businesses are finding some traction after a period of underperformance, increasing their overall new business contribution by 3%. New business production is not yet meeting expectations, but the mix of business improved at both businesses.

SEM’s VNB declined by 3% (up 6% on a consistent economic basis and excluding corporate activity). The relatively low growth on a comparable basis is largely attributable to the new business underperformance in East Africa.

Sanlam Investment Group’s (SIG) overall net result from financial services declined by 6%, attributable to lower performance fees at the third party asset manager in South Africa, administration costs incurred for system upgrades in the wealth management business and lower earnings from equity-backed financing transactions at Sanlam Specialised Finance. The other businesses did well to grow earnings, despite the pressure on funds under management due to lower investment markets.

New business volumes declined by 13% mainly due to market volatility and low investor confidence in South Africa. Institutional new inflows remained weak for the full year, while retail inflows also slowed down significantly after a more positive start to the year. The international businesses, UK, attracted strong new inflows (up 57%).

Sanlam Corporate’s net result from financial services increased by 4%, with the muted growth caused by a continuation of high group risk claims experience. Mortality and disability claims experience weakened further in the second half of the year, which is likely to require more rerating of premiums in 2019. The administration units turned profitable in 2018, a major achievement. The healthcare businesses reported satisfactory double-digit growth in earnings, while the Absa Consultants and Actuaries business made a pleasing contribution of R39 million.

New business volumes in life insurance more than doubled, reflecting an exceptional performance. Single premiums grew by 109%, while recurring premiums increased by a particularly satisfactory 56%.

The good growth in recurring and single premium business, combined with modelling improvements, supported a 64% (71% on a comparable economic basis) increase in the cluster’s VNB contribution.

Following a year of major catastrophe events in 2017, Santam experienced a relatively benign claims environment in 2018. Combined with acceptable growth in net earned premiums, it contributed to a 37% increase in gross result from financial services (41% after tax and non-controlling interest). The conventional insurance book achieved an underwriting margin of 9% in 2018 (6% in 2017).

As at 31 December 2018, discretionary capital amounted to a negative R3.7 billion before allowance for the planned B-BBEE share issuance. A number of capital management actions during 2018 affected the balance of available discretionary capital, including the US$1 billion (R13 billion) SAHAM Finances transaction. Cash proceeds from the B-BBEE share issuance will restore the discretionary capital portfolio to between R1 billion and R1.5 billion depending on the final issue price within the R74 to R86 price range approved by shareholders.

Looking forward, the Group said economic growth in South Africa would likely remain weak in the short to medium term future, and would continue to impact efforts to accelerate organic growth. The outlook for economic growth in other regions where the Group operates is more promising. Recent acquisitions such as the SAHAM transaction should also support operational performance going forward.

“We remain focused on executing our strategy. We are confident that we have the calibre of management and staff to prudently navigate the anticipated challenges going forward,” Mr Kirk concluded.

Details of the results for the 12 months ended 31 December 2018 are available at www.sanlam.com.