Lourita Stofberg: If it’s not important, then it’s not worth my time

Lourita Stofberg is the founder and managing director of AdminAssist, South Africa’s largest and most trusted group of part-time assistants. Lourita together with Marcia has grown the business to a team of 47 assistants and more than 300 clients in just 5 years. They help individuals and businesses to be more organised by providing them with professional and experienced admin assistants. 
AdminAssist has been finalists in the Sage One 702 Small Business Awards, the 2017 Fairlady Women of the Future Awards and has been selected as one of SA's Top 20 Small Businesses by the National Small Business Chamber! In this interview, she shares lessons she's learned in business.

Tell us a bit about your company, Admin Assist and why should anyone use your services?

AdminAssist is South Africa's largest and most trusted group of part-time and virtual assistants. We love the jobs you hate! And we’re really good at it too, so we help individuals and businesses be more organised by providing them with professional, experienced admin and operational assistants.

Our clients:
  • Feel more in control and more mindful
  • Focus more on their strengths and have maximum impact in their industry
  • Can stop doing something they don't like
  • Serve others better with their talents
  • Have more free time
  • Are more productive
  • Increase their income
  • Utilise permanent staff more effectively
What was your career path to this role?

Previous careers included professional dancer, manager at a health club in London, bookkeeper, art teacher and property agent. It is varied! But that is because I am naturally curious and have a wide field of interest – I don’t know everything about one thing, but I know a little about a lot of things :) And I carry skill and knowledge from one field over to the next field. In this interview, she shares business lessons with us.

How do you strike your own work/life balance?

While I am building the business I am also raising three young children 8, 4 and 2 years of age. The way I manage to overcome daily challenges is by having clear guiding principles:

1. I distinguish between busyness and business:  If you’re not careful you can spend a lot of time on things that keep you busy, but take you nowhere. So when I sit down to work, I look through my list of tasks to complete and I start with the ones that are most important - that either adds value or income to the business. The rest can wait.

2. The goal must be clear, but the route not so much...: I set yearly, quarterly and daily goals to help me stay on track. If something isn’t moving me towards my end goal, it’s not important and if it’s not important, then it’s not worth my time. This is at its most basic form what AdminAssist is all about - outsourcing something you’re not good at to instead focus on something you are good at. Having said that, it's not always necessary to have everything planned out before you take action. If your goal is clear, you will find the route to it.

3. I treat others the way I want to be treated: I believe that what goes around comes around, so I try to treat people the way I want to be treated - kindly, fairly and respected. Due to the confidential information we work with and the virtual environment we work in, integrity and solid communication are cornerstones of AdminAssist, and people who do not possess these traits, whether client or assistant, don’t last long in this business.

How did you raise your startup money?

That was one of the best things about my business – I didn’t need much start-up money and I made a profit from day one. This is mainly because we have no overheads. The assistants work from their own home-office or from the client's office, so we didn't have to spend a lot get started. We could start helping people right away.

Did you write a business plan? Was it an effective tool for you?

I did write an outline, but not a very detailed business plan. Two things that are very effective though are annual plans and business coaching. I contracted the services of two business coaches – one right at the beginning and one when we hit that part where things were growing faster than anticipated – and I can tell you now that they were excellent investments. I would do it again. Then, as mentioned before, I draft annual, quarterly.

Who did you hire to help you with your business - bookkeeper, an accountant, lawyer …? Would you suggest others do the same?

As mentioned, I contracted business coaches. I also hired someone to help with marketing & sales, because I noticed that while I was working on the ops, the marketing would stop and that should never be the case. After that I hired a coordinator, sort of like an executive assistant, to help follow-up on placements and some other general admin.

Have you outsourced any portion of your business? And has that worked for your business?

Yes, we have outsourced our digital marketing – social media, design, SEO, blog writing etc. It has worked for us because it ensures the marketing continues even when we’re busy with something else. Also, it would have taken very long for us to learn all the necessary skills to be able to do it ourselves, time that is better spent on our own strength, which is managing the business.

What have you done that has been very effective in helping to grow the business?

Contracting specialists to advise on growth outsourcing activities we’re not good with (like IT, legal and designing) putting marketing on auto-pilot. Staying true to our values.

How do you effectively manage the finances of your company?

With accounting software, being strict about signing agreements, timeous delivery of invoices, regular follow-up of outstanding invoices, absolute transparency (and subsequent accountability) with the partners in the business, drawing monthly reports and measuring the results with the projected annual outcomes. It’s a mouthful, but it is practically a full-time job on its own!

Do you have rainy-day savings for your business?

Absolutely. We put 20% of our profits into a savings account each month. Half of that we give away to charity each year and the other half is used for rainy-day or reinvestment.

What's a financial mistake you made as a business owner in the beginning? And how did you bounce from it?

We under-priced ourselves. We were the first in South Africa in this industry, so we had no-one else to measure ourselves against and no history to go by. We also didn’t have the confidence in our service that we have now. After consultation with a business coach we adjusted our pricing and began marketing more confidently.

We also stopped giving discounts as a means of closing the deal. We have a policy we call ‘No Free Cakes Here.’ If you’re a baker, you can give away as much as you want of the money that you make from selling the cakes, but don’t give the cakes away.

With the current economic slump, what cost-saving tips would you share with new entrepreneurs?

Make sure each hour you work is the best way to spend that hour. If you’re a personal trainer asking R350/hour, then you are costing yourself money for every hour you spend on admin or IT issues or graphic design or anything someone can do for you for less than R350. You shouldn’t do all the work in your business just because you can or enjoy it. It seems counter-intuitive in the beginning, but completing the work you’re meant to be doing (the work bringing in the money, for e.g. training clients, lawyering, plumbing, treating patients) and outsourcing the rest, not only ensures steady growth, but also quality work.

What advice can you offer female business owners on making sure they're being compensated fairly for their work?

Check in with male business coaches experienced in your industry. They will have a good idea of other business owners in your industry are earning and will be good at encouraging you to ask for more.

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