By: Amy Musgrave
While there is no doubt that South Africa’s smaller businesses are dealing with a multitude of concerns, this year’s Standard Bank SME Summit discussed how owners should change their mindsets to help ensure enterprise growth and sustainability. The theme for the conference on Wednesday was “Taking Back Your Power”, with keynote speaker Zanele Njapha, who is the CEO of the UNLearners which helps organisations unlearn outdated methods, telling delegates that by debunking myths around co-creation, businesses could upscale.
She said the future of SMEs lies in adopting a culture of ongoing learning and co-creation through the gig economy and corporate relationships. Gig workers include independent contractors and freelancers who enter into formal agreements with on-demand companies to provide their services. Njapha said co-creation was important because it helped a business start sharing its risks, multiplied its impact, amplified its reach, and ensured higher productivity.
She cited an example of when Siemens decided to build hearing aids for children. Instead of coming up with its own plan aimed at children, it partnered with Disney to understand how children consumed products, and could, therefore, extend its reach. “Entrepreneurs often think we have to do everything ourselves… but we don’t have the resources to do it all…,” Njapha said.
One way for an SME to be more productive and save costs spent on permanent staff such as medical aid and pensions, was to find “knowledge workers” online through platforms like Fiverr and Upwork. Another upside was that these workers wanted flexibility, were passionate about what they did, and it was a personal choice for them to be involved in projects.
On corporate partnerships, she said SMEs were often intimidated by big business and did not realise how open they were to partnerships with smaller companies. One such example was Unilever, which aimed to help five million SMEs across the globe, including South Africa, grow their businesses through access to skills, finance and technology by 2025.
However, Njapha said when approaching partnerships, SMEs had to consider three essential points to ensure that they stood out from competitors. These were why corporates should listen to them, including what value they created or offered, who they should speak to ensure deals materialised, and what they needed in place to ensure their services could be delivered, such as logistics. Staying with the theme of the summit, another keynote speaker, Arye Kellman who is a creative entrepreneur and co-founder of content creator TILT, listed a number of pointers that SME owners should use as a guide to empower themselves.
- Your mood – the best decisions are made when you are in a calm and neutral space because your actions are critical for effective leadership.
- Evolving job descriptions – scaling means you cannot do all the jobs in your business. Initially, most entrepreneurs do everything, but growth is going from being responsible for the work to being responsible for the people who are responsible for the work.
- Perpetual transformation – an owner must recognise that change is a continuous state in a business, with no beginning or end. This means empowering employees around changes and being conscious of what is in your control and what to give your energy to.
- Culture is magnetic – how do you attract the best talent through a positive working environment?
- Pillars of success – it is important every week to list your successes whether at work or personally. This helps ensure that for example if you have had a bad week at work, it does not override other successes such as reaching your exercise goals.
- Lead from the back – an owner needs to have a bird’s-eye view of the business so that they understand all its moving parts, avoid micromanaging, and can help support their employees if they fail.