SMEs must leverage digital to succeed, post the pandemic

Success today requires the agility and drive to constantly rethink, reinvigorate, react and reinvent – Bill Gates

By Raymond Siva, CMO at MDEC

Time and again, the traits of agility and innovation resurface in expert discussions, forcing SMEs to ask how best to survive the recent upheaval as the world tries to settle into the demands of the new reality.

In a recent webinar by Marketing Magazine titled The Survival Guide for SMEs Post MCO-Lockdown (Focus: Agencies), Dato William Ng, Group Founder of Business Media International who is also President of Enterprise Asia and I, addressed a virtual audience of SME business owners and entrepreneurs.

We approached the topic from our respective areas of expertise; sharing strategies, anecdotes and tips.

Looking Past The Pandemic

Dato Ng’s most salient points on SMEs surviving the pandemic included the need to for SMEs to conserve cash; clear inventory as “RM1 in hand is more valuable than RM2 in an invoice”; pivot within markets and/or products that are within the reach for the business; digitalise; access subsidies; retain relationship with past customers; make tough decisions early and; be defensive, i.e. do not focus on a line of products or a market, which is seasonal, to the exclusion of the rest of your business. “SME employers must show compassion for employees in these trying times”, he said, emphasising the need to understand their plight as wage earners. He also urged SMEs to never discount the possibility of collaborating with competitors to survive.

Alluding to Dato Ng’s point on digitalising, I encouraged MSMEs and SMEs to digitise and digitalise, as small businesses are the heart and soul of our economy. There are approximately 930,000 SMEs and they make up the bulk of employers. So, it is important to stabilise the SME sector and then recover.

There are 6Rs from the government’s strategic approach, to deal with COVID-19 and move towards economic recovery and growth. I had thus mentioned in this session, that if SMEs need more support past Prihatin, that the government would look into it.

Penjana, introduced after Prihatin, brought special focus to the digital sector. Penjana incentivises SMEs and mid-tier companies to digitalise their operations and trade channels while continuing to provide grants and loans under the RM100 million SME Digitalisation Matching Grant, RM500 million SME Technology Transformation Fund (application to open next month) and RM100 million Smart Automation Grant initiatives.

MDEC hopes that the opportunities offered via the latter’s initiatives and programmes will help SMEs gain more tailwind. eUsahawan for instance, has to-date, trained more than 350,000  youth and micro entrepreneurs on digital marketing, payment systems, branding and more. Also to date, MDEC’s SME digitalisation initiatives have on-boarded a total of 230 Technology Solution Providers (TSP) with 595 digital and technology solutions to support over 200 SMEs. Meanwhile, under the MDEC’s 100 Go Digital programme, MDEC has engaged more than 100,000 SMEs nationwide with the support of 12 industry partners.

Pushing the Restart Button on SMEs

In summary, we both agreed that small businesses, noted for being more agile and faster to pivot than larger ones, should be assisted to manoeuvre and organise resources to respond to the changing landscape.

I therefore opine there must not only be deeper thinking, but faster action around how to leverage digital platforms, urgently. The least businesses must have is an online presence; website, social networking channels and social media. Going digital allows an increase in awareness, acceptance and market access.

Responding to a question on what the best way would be to expand into a new market, I suggested having data-driven plans, understanding the key stakeholders for the business and experimenting with the view of failing fast and pivoting correspondingly; It is rare in history, that businesses and nations get to push a restart button, deciding how to re-chart the course for a new socio-economic normal.

Overall in fact, RM700 million in total is allocated for the digitalisation of SMEs and MSMEs; At the end of the session, I urged SMEs and MSMEs to think about what portion of their business will create the most amount of impact, with digitalisation, so that they can leverage the digital economy as it rapidly expands.

Rethink and reframe where digital will be important post this pandemic and embrace the new normal for your business survival.  As a first step, I urge SMEs and MSMEs to visit for info how they can accelerate their digital journey.



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