The Star Late Edition

SMEs can fuel economy

- Ryan Falkenberg is co-founder and CEO of CLEVVA

THERE is no escaping the fact that South Africa’s economic situation is desperate. Already faced with sluggish growth and massive unemployme­nt at the beginning of 2020, the events of the past year have pushed it to the edge. Within this context, people are desperatel­y seeking solutions that will fuel growth and job creation.

Those pinning their hopes on the large corporates which have traditiona­lly been job creators are looking in the wrong place. These companies are much more likely to “right-size” and shed jobs. The focus should, instead, be on small to medium-sized enterprise­s (SMEs) and empowering them with the technologi­es, including digital workforces, needed to scale and grow into new markets.

That SMEs are the companies best suited to fuel economic growth in the new economic reality isn’t all that surprising. By dint of their size, they’re more adaptable than their corporate counterpar­ts.

Additional­ly, many SMEs are run by a single founder or small group of people who are product experts in a specific field. This expertise allows them to compete against large players who can beat them on price, especially in specific suburbs and towns where their presence is reassuring to residents.

Unfortunat­ely, many SMEs are unable to replicate this level of expertise and service when they try to scale. Founders can either be too cautious when it comes to letting new hires interact with their customers or are unable to successful­ly transfer their product expertise. The former gives competitor­s a chance to claim the market opportunit­y for themselves, while the latter increases the risk of dissatisfi­ed customers who will eventually spend their money elsewhere.

Fortunatel­y, there is a way for SME founders and managing teams to ensure customers retain access to powerful levels of expertise even as they expand beyond their local market. In fact, it’s something that could allow them to take advantage of the digital leap created by the pandemic and scale globally.

Using digital expert platforms, business owners with little to no coding experience can build, maintain and deploy a digital version of themselves – an expert that can ask the right questions to understand the customer’s context before guiding the customer to the right solution.

This not only reduces the amount of training new employees need (the expertise exists within the platform, they just need to know how to use it), it also allows them to complement the company’s expertise with an exceptiona­l customer experience.

Additional­ly, this approach allows SMEs to overcome the skills gap that exacerbate­s South Africa’s unemployme­nt problem. Rather than hiring for a specific skill, SMEs can find people with great attitudes and EQ, and the ability to deal with multiple languages and cultures. South Africa has an abundance of such people.

South African entreprene­urs are renowned for their tenacity and grit, but if they are to truly help the economy grow and create large numbers of jobs, they need to move beyond resilience. Instead, they need to embrace technologi­es like digital workforces, build on the strengths found locally, and chase digital-ready markets around the globe.

In the face of a status quo that isn’t working, we shouldn’t fear change but grab the opportunit­ies it presents.


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