By Viresh Harduth, Vice President, Small Business, Sage Africa & Middle East
Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) have not had an easy time over the past 18 months. For now, however, there are glimpses of light with the shift to a less restrictive Level 1 lockdown, the formal end of the third COVID-19 wave, and a vaccination programme that is proceeding at a steady pace.
For your small business, this is a time to rebuild. Longer trading hours, fewer restrictions on movement, and the return of international tourists all spell new business opportunities.
What’s more, we also need to keep an eye on macroeconomic factors. With oil prices rising and worldwide inflation climbing, we can’t discount the possibility of an interest rate hike, for example. Given that many businesses had to borrow to survive hard lockdowns, the question is whether they are ready for higher interest rates.
Maximising opportunity and preparing for future risks will take ingenuity. The good news is that World Saving’s Day on 31 October is a stark reminder to small businesses to consider multiple ways to save money, offer great customer experiences, and prepare for difficult times by using technology to drive efficiency and innovation.
- Get e-commerce enabled
As we discovered during the pandemic, most products and services can be sold online. As such, SMEs that do not yet have an e-commerce offering should consider adding one to futureproof the business for the next pandemic or social disruption and address the growing market of consumers who prefer to shop and get service online. Getting started is simpler than many SMEs imagine.
Depending on what you sell, you may be able to use a platform like Takealot, Mr D Food, or Uber Eats to sell online. Building your own e-commerce store is also not as complex as it once was. You can host with a provider like Shopify or Netcash Shop, which provide quick and easy tools to build your website. Or you can create a website using tools like the WordPress content management system and WooCommerce e-commerce solution.
- Zoom into cost savings
Now that we’re under a less restrictive Level 1 lockdown, many South Africans are eager to get out and meet others in person again. While face-to-face meetings can be a great way to bond with customers and suppliers, too many of them can be inefficient. What’s more, the pandemic isn’t behind us.
As such, it’s prudent to be selective about which internal and external meetings warrant direct facetime and stick to voice and video for the rest. Using alternatives like Skype, Zoom, or Microsoft Teams can save plenty of time and money for your business over the longer term. Even WhatsApp calls can save your business thousands per year in phone bills.
- Cut back the paper chase
Automation and digitalisation can be a significant cost saver for your business. An affordable, cloud-based accounting solution will allow you to send professional electronic invoices to your customers each month, generate VAT returns and keep accurate records of your expenses – no more fussing with invoices in filing cabinets at the end of the month or tax year!
You can cut back on admin if you have employees by using payroll software for payroll calculations and PAYE returns. Furthermore, a tool like Zapier can help you automate many tasks on the tech tools you use each day, like Slack, Gmail and OneDrive. You can use it for simple automations like turning emails into to-dos or saving attachments from email to Dropbox.
- Master digital marketing
A strong presence on Google and social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and, for B2B companies, LinkedIn can be a powerful way to generate leads and build customer relationships. Compared to traditional advertising and direct marketing, the costs are low, and the results are measurable.
Claiming and refining your business listing on Google My Business (GMB) is a good start; so is establishing accounts on the social platforms your customers use. Also, don’t underestimate email – a POPIA-compliant database of customers who have opted in to receive emails from you is a marketing goldmine.
Managing your digital presence and creating good content can be time-consuming; again, automation helps. Many affordable and even free solutions can help you streamline tasks like scheduling social media posts, formatting emails, and tracking and managing incoming leads.
Constant innovation means staying ahead of the curve and using the most convenient and effective means of production to save costs. What’s the point of having technology if not to make life easier? Businesses that rebuild on the right technologies will position themselves better to thrive and survive, whatever the future holds.