South African SMEs have faced unprecedented challenges over the past three years. They faced significant financial pressures on the back of the pandemic and consequent global economic fallout. To add to the difficulties, they have had to adapt their business models to ensure they meet the expectations of rapidly evolving marketplaces and consumers; all while dealing with the immense difficulties of operating in an environment where consistent electricity supply is never a given.

Fortunately, SMEs are typically highly flexible, and their smaller size and relatively uncomplicated business structures allow them to quickly adapt to this constantly changing business environment. And the large-scale digitization of consumer and business environments gives SMEs a further advantage in the form of an array of business-enabling technology tools, services and platforms that, if leveraged correctly, can turn challenges into competitive advantage. 

A recent Business Day SME Matters webinar, delivered in partnership with Nedbank, examined the various ways SMEs can, and should, be harnessing technology to help them achieve their business goals.

Speaking at the event, Matsi Modise, founder and CEO of Furaha Afrika Holdings, highlighted the imperative for SMEs to use whatever tools they have at their disposal to ensure their success, sustainability and growth. “SMEs are the lifeblood of the SA economy; paying taxes and creating jobs,” Modise emphasized, “and it’s essential that their business approach is innovative and efficient so that they can access new markets and secure their growth.

Modise pointed to the power of technology to enable such innovation and efficiency, and to allow small and medium businesses to function effectively from anywhere in the world. “Best of all, many of the digital tools SMEs can use to enhance their business success are free,” she explained, “and a business owner can build a thriving, tech-enabled business simply by leveraging services like Google, for their document management, Doodle, to stay on top of their schedules, Trello to seamlessly coordinate team tasks, and Evernote to keep track of business information.”

Modise also pointed to the importance of a strong social media presence as an effective tool for marketing small businesses on a budget, and recommended that SMEs maximise the potential of social to grow their entities by ensuring that their messages are appropriate to their target markets

Terry Behan, Executive Head of Design and Group Technology at Nedbank agreed with Modise, emphasizing that the first stage of technology adoption is not difficult, and certainly doesn’t need to be expensive given the plethora of free management tech available.

“A digital presence is inexpensive, simple to obtain, and absolutely essential,” he said, “and he highlighted the importance of using this free technology to make sure your business is easy to find for potential customers. “Registering your business with Google My Business, for example, helps ensure that you are easy to find online,” he said, “while geotagging pinpoints your physical location and WhatsApp Business enables you to establish a verified business profile and ensure easy and effective communication with your customers.”

He advised SMEs to be curious and to spend time in, and on, their businesses – constantly thinking about how to leverage the power of technology to market, grow, and evolve them, and to find solutions to the challenges they face.

And Behan emphasized that all such communication needs to be authentic and personal to help grow your brand. “Just as Nedbank provides every business with a dedicated relationship banker that delivers personal service, so too should SMEs make sure that they offer their customers a personal touch,” he said,” and technology is a great way to do that when you have a growing customer base.”

Alan Shannon, Executive: Small Business Services and Private Clients at Nedbank agreed with Behan and highlighted the added power that technology offers to underpin the financial and operational sustainability of any SME. “Access to funding is a vital component of SME growth,” Shannon said, “and SMEs can vastly improve their chances of securing funding from banks if they are able to demonstrate healthy cash flow, profitability and financial efficiencies.”

He explained that technology makes it easier for SMEs to achieve these outcomes across all areas of the business. “A reliable point of sale device, like Nedbank PocketPOS, can massively enhance and optimize your payments ecosystem by allowing you to easily accept payments,” he explained, “while at the same time limiting the risk to your customers of having to carry cash.”

Shannon also pointed to the ability of platforms like MarketEdge to provide valuable insights into stock levels and customer purchasing patterns, which ensures greater operational efficiency. From a financial management perspective, he highlighted the value of digital accounting software, like Xero and QuickBooks, not only as a way of keeping track of the business finances, but also of ensuring it has all the required information on hand if it ever needs to approach a bank for finance.

Lastly, Shannon highlighted the importance of capitalizing on the digital marketplace opportunities available to any business today. “There are many of these marketplace platforms readily available to help you make sales and grow your customer base,” he said, “for example a small payment gives an SME access to more than 1.6 million customers registered on the Nedbank super app, Avo.”

“In an over-traded market, SMEs need to be asking themselves what they can do differently, and better, to make themselves stand out,” Shannon emphasised, “and then they need to actively investigate the plethora of digital tools available that can help them achieve that competitive advantage and underpin their sustainable success.”

To watch the full Business Day SME event, click here.

Image source: Pexels/Pixabay