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Desperately seeking assistance

Despite often being monetarily-challenged, business help does exist for SMEs, provided they know where to turn.

 

The high rate of SME failure is no simple issue to dissect, but there can be little doubt that often, it’s simply due to a lack of resources. After all, SMEs usually consist of the business founder, along with perhaps a few junior employees, meaning the owner is forced to do most of the administrative tasks alone. Seeking assistance with tasks such as crafting business plans, developing strategies, managing finances, looking after human resources or marketing issues is usually deemed too costly by owners.

Nonetheless, there are solutions available to SMEs, says Tallies Taljaard, managing director of The Business Angle Incubator. “The aim with this incubator is to provide access to low-cost accounting practices, as well as financial assistance, marketing and CRM systems, not to mention assessment tools for their business.

“Our goal is to get SMEs focused on these aspects of their business as early as possible, because too often, SMEs wait too long before they seek to implement such tools,” says Taljaard.

“This failure to act early is often caused by the fact that most SMEs are launched by entrepreneurs, who are generally ‘ideas people’. The trouble is that they may be creative, but they’re often not cut out for the more mundane, daily tasks of running a business. We assist them with interpreting the practical knowledge they need to keep their business afloat, as well as aligning them with additional market opportunities and assisting them to develop better strategies.”

According to Jacqui Gogele, anchor at Channel N, another organisation dedicated to providing assistance to this market segment, SMEs should look to align themselves with existing development programmes.

Gogele says that if an SME has an IT-related solution, the bigger vendors – including Microsoft, IBM and Oracle – often have programmes that they can join. For SMEs outside this sector, the dti sometimes runs similar programmes.

“The real challenge for most SMEs, however, lies in actually identifying what they require and then accessing resources that will work with them for the kind of money they have at their disposal. The most common challenge seems to be the need for marketing and sales assistance, in order to get their great idea out to market as quickly and cost-effectively as possible.”

Other ports of call

There remains hope for SMEs, though, as there are more options available than may appear at first glance.

Ravi Naidoo, executive director for economic development at the City of Johannesburg points out that the city is strongly focused on developing the SME sector. The municipality is developing small enterprise hubs to help with training and mentorship for entrepreneurs.

“The Business Place is one of our success stories. It provides business support services to the SME market, including referrals, training, workshops, networking and business opportunities. In particular, we see a lot of potential for ICT SMEs and we’re encouraging applications development and an increasing focus on environmentally-friendly technologies, as these fit in well with the city’s own long-term strategy.”

Taljaard says SMEs simply need to do some research beforehand, and they’ll be able to find solutions that meet their needs.

“From the Business Centre, which provides furnished offices, reception services and servers and internet connectivity, to individual solutions like FinFind that helps with preparing business plans, BluWave CRM or SMEasy, which is packaged as a total incubation solution for small business, the assistance needed is out there.”

“There’s also Microsoft’s 4Afrika initiative, which has aggregated a range of best practice services, thereby making them more affordable. In addition to this, the Student-to-Business programme brings together graduates seeking work experience with SMEs seeking cost-effective skills. This is critical, as too often, those seeking to help small businesses confuse help with money. For most SMEs, access to specialised skills is even more vital than access to additional capital,” Taljaard concludes.

Side box:

Looking for an outsource partner?

• Choose specialist partners in each key area (finance and accounting, marketing, HR).

• These partners should have references in the SME market specifically.

• Where possible, use other SMEs as partners, as they will better understand the challenges and concerns faced by your business.

• SMEs should seek outsource partners that can work within a shoestring budget.

• word-of-mouth referrals work best, so ask your network who has helped them.

• Finally, get to know them personally, so you know they will be accessible, solve your problems as quickly as possible and always have your business interests at heart.

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