Making SMMEs work

Young man talking on his mobile phone in office

To own your own business, it must be an attractive proposition if the business is to become successful, writes Anna-Marth Ott, CEO of the Middelburg Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

The importance of the role that SMMEs play in the growth of the South African economy is discussed and cited as the solution to grow our economy locally and nationally, but if it is not attractive to prospective business owners, this sector will not grow.

This is such a generic statement that nobody is held accountable for the slow growth in this sector of the economy.  The reality of owning and working in a SMME business is very different to corporate and the government environment. Several additional factors play a significant role in the sustainability and profitability of an SMME business.

Some of the influences effect all business such as global pricing on commodities, draught and labour actions, but there are also many internal issues that can affect SMME sustainability. Reliable and trust worthy personnel, knowledge of your markets, strong networks and quick and affordable access to information and training opportunities.

Owners and managers of SMMEs do not always have the capacity (time and know-how) on how to deal with specific problems within their business and do not necessarily want to pay for a consultant.  This is where the Middelburg Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MCCI) can support services to SMME’s.  

We structure our services around the needs of the SMME’s. If source documentation or tender documentation is a problem, the MCCI offers training and assistance to SMMEs.

Over the past few years we have trained more than 2 000 employees and SMME business owners.   The training offered is demand-driven or as identified by studies done. Instead of offering blanket training to anybody, the training is done within a structured project. We get commitment from SMMEs to complete the project; this ensure that we have an 80% successful completion rate by our project participants.

During an economic survey it was noted that computer literacy was a main shortcoming in our local economy.  The MCCI positively influenced this problem by offering several computer literacy and even advanced courses to SMMEs of the years, as well as a sponsored workstation in our offices for businesses that need quick access to a computer or the Internet.

Sometimes the SMME has an idea, but needs assistance in bringing all the required plans and measures together to implement this plan. Ichibi Letuba is the tool structured for SMMEs to pitch their idea to a panel that will interrogate the business plan and financials to mention but a few. The objective comments and valuable input from industry leaders on the panel give SMMEs an advantage against their competitors.

Supplier development is now the next buzz-word in the SMME environment. Corporate companies are now forced to do supplier development with their SMMEs.  This places an onerous burden on companies as the important focus is diverted from their core business. The MCCI has noted this and is offering a supplier development service to corporate members.  With the MCCI’s proven track record since 2009 and many corporate sponsors that participated, we ensure that our sponsors’ requirements are met, be it BBBEE points or annual audits.

Many SMME owners and managers are so focussed on survival that they sometimes forget a simple effective tool that will attract customers. This tool is the various networking events that are offered by Chambers of Commerce and other organisations. We often get asked what the MCCI did for my business. The short answer is, we do not get involved in the domestic issues of our members.

What I mean is we cannot get involved in the income generating part of our members’ businesses; however we create an environment where representatives of businesses can meet in an informal function and exchange contact details.

This is the reason why we offer the monthly Business Buzz events. MCCI staff is often told of the good business contacts that was made at the events.  Many of these contacts become preferred suppliers of services as both SMMEs benefit from this association.

In order to offer the required market driven services and support to SMMEs and corporate companies, the MCCI established an SMME support department: the Business Linkage Centre. The main purpose of this department is to offer support to SMMEs. We focus on linking SMMEs to training opportunities, exposure to business opportunities and linking SMMEs to networks and supplier search enquiries.

The MCCI believes that we need to raise the consciousness of the business and government environments on the practicalities of how to achieve the proposed SMME economic growth. This will not be achieved by the speeches of politicians or the establishment of an overabundance of governmental departments, but with the proof to the community that it is viable to own your own business. Obstacles and fear must be minimised within the SMME sector and the MCCI is committed to positively influence this service to SMMEs and the economy we operate in.

In countries with a strong SMME sector, a culture of independent businesses is the norm. Local citizens support local businesses and instead of looking for a corporate job, graduates and school levers are starting their own businesses.  The ideal is that we create the same culture in the Highveld Area of Mpumalanga in five to ten years time.

Anna-Marth Ott

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