By now, it is accepted widely by policymakers that SMEs are the engine that will drive growth and job creation. Both government and the private sector have multiple initiatives geared towards helping SMEs.
The need for help is real. The failure rate for SMEs is very high, a reflection of the real challenges they face. According to figures quoted by the Small Development Enterprise Agency (SEDA), 75 percent of new SMEs in South Africa fail, one of the highest rates in the world.
One of the reasons for this high failure rate is that most entrepreneurs do not have sufficient focus on the business aspect of their SME – typically, they have a great idea for a product or service. So cultivating an understanding of how business works is actually a vital first step for many entrepreneurs – and something that many of the SME assistance programmes will help with.
York Zucchi, one of the co-founders of the SME Movement, makes a valid point that what SMEs need more than anything else is clients. He strongly believes that SMEs should look to other SMEs for work – the big contracts with corporates that SMEs often pursue can take a start-up out of its depth. Also, corporates and, notoriously, government, are poor at paying quickly and SMEs are invariably dependent on cash flow.
So what should savvy entrepreneurs do to maximise their chances of success? Here are some top tips:
Time is money – learn to manage your time
Entrepreneurs are invariably spread very thin. They have to be not only the face of the new entity but also do sales, accounts and so on. Time-management basics include setting schedules and prioritising tasks, constantly working to streamline what you do to work smarter and to turn good behaviours into habits.
Use technology wisely
This is a massive topic, but it can be summarised by saying that technology really can allow a small enterprise to punch way above its weight. There are several aspects to using technology to your advantage:
- Use the cloud to reduce costs (you do not have to buy software) and access best-practice solutions for accounting, billing, marketing, HR, stock management and so on.
- Technology can also allow an SME to access specialist expertise as and when needed. If you need somebody to run a social media campaign or put together a presentation, they can be found on the web.
- Technology also provides platforms like the SME Movement, which aims to help SMEs find clients, mentors, help and everything else they may need.
- Learn to communicate virtually, whether it is person-to-person or via blogging or other means. Technology can allow a small business to have a larger reach if it is used correctly.
People are your biggest asset – learn how to keep your staff motivated and productive
An SME by definition will have relatively small numbers of staff, so each one has a correspondingly important role to play. Entrepreneurs need to concentrate on their people skills to get the most out of his or their people, especially as the salary bill is likely to be the biggest monthly expense.
Build an ecosystem
Consciously develop linkages with other companies that could be interested in working with you, or to which you could offer services. Repeat business is the ideal for any business. In addition, working with other SMEs can enable your business to offer better services. Using shared workspace is a trend that is taking off and aside from cost benefits, it can be a way for entrepreneurs to build links with others.
Understand your risk and manage it from the outset
Like any organisation, an SME faces certain risks aside from all its other battles. These will include natural disasters, theft, fraud, civil disturbances, illness and so on. It is worth spending some time understanding what the most important risks are – that is, those that are most likely to materialise – and then putting mitigation steps in place. At the most fundamental level, plant and equipment need to be insured. Insurers like MiWay will have specialised business insurance – find out how you can get the right cover for your business.
The challenges of setting up and running an SME are daunting, but the rewards can be substantial. At the same time, you will be doing your bit for getting our declining economy back into growth mode, and that is a real reason to get up and get going.
Source: Entrepreneur Magazine