By Ina Opperman, Business Journalist - 9 October 2022
Small businesses need more support as they are responsible for job creation in the country and can help the economy grow.
Small business in South Africa has unlimited potential for job creation and growth, as well as social upliftment and development as small and medium enterprises (SMEs) provide an estimated 60% of all employment opportunities in the country.
As policy makers, businesspeople and civil society must put measures in place to work towards economic recovery and small business entrepreneurship should be at the centre of public discourse as one of the key opportunities to solve South Africa’s most pressing economic and social challenges, says David Morobe, executive general manager for impact investing at Business Partners Limited.
He says after seeing small business confidence decrease steadily as SMEs struggled to navigate the challenges of the pandemic years, a recent Business Partners Limited SME Confidence Index found that this is changing.
“We are encouraged by the fact that small businesses have confidence levels of 77% that the current economic conditions are conducive to business growth and this is the highest it has been in a decade. This is a positive sign that the sector is finding its feet again after two years of instability and it is of particular relevance now with job creation, given the country’s ongoing unemployment crisis.”
Financiers must continue to support SMEs for job creation
A report by Finfind in partnership with the South African SME Fund puts the total number of SMEs in the country at around 3 million, including the informal and formal sectors. According to the report, the average number of employees per SME varies between 12 and 27, with most full-time positions offered by medium-size enterprises with an average annual turnover of R10 million.
For Morobe, creating the number of jobs required to make a dent in the unemployment rate is an ambitious task, but one that can be realised by unwavering collaboration between the public and private sectors, as well as other stakeholders who provide support for South Africa’s entrepreneurs.
“Fortunately, industry trends locally and abroad are expanding the landscape of opportunity and providing entrepreneurs with a chance to explore uncharted business territories. As financiers, we must continue to provide the necessary support to SMEs to facilitate their growth and sustainability.”
Cloud technology can revolutionise small business sector
The increasing development and application of technology, such as cloud computing, has the potential to revolutionise the sector. According to the 2022 State of South Africa Small Business Report by accounting technology firm, Xero, half of businesses now use cloud technology, with 30% claiming that it has enabled them to expand their customer base and 28% saying that cloud technology has made a direct impact on the efficiency of their business operations.
Cloud technology presents SMEs with reach and enormous growth potential, Morobe says. “SMEs will continue to grow as new and emerging entrepreneurs adopt the remote working trend and digital nomad approach to work. Cloud technology dramatically reduces the cost of doing business, which could free up capital for human resources, innovation and other business avenues.”
The rise of social entrepreneurship, job creation
The worlds of business and social activism are merging on a global scale to form the basis of an entirely new class of entrepreneurship, the kind that values profitability in the same way as it prioritises aspects such as community development, social justice and charitable objectives.
“Social entrepreneurship is growing rapidly in South Africa and we have seen some exemplary organisations developed around issues such as education, access to public services, environmental conservation and climate change.”
The rise of social entrepreneurship also presents a range of opportunities, Morobe says. “On a conceptual level, entrepreneurship can be summarised as problem solving and in South Africa, with its fair share of unique socio-economic challenges, these problems are opportunities in disguise for entrepreneurial individuals.”
Emerging trends in customer experience
Another trend driving innovation in the sector is the evolution of customer experience (CX). Given the fierce rate of competition in the market, SMEs are increasingly using optimised customer service experience as a point of differentiation and the basis of their value proposition.
“Some of the most prominent developments in customer experience are the use of chatbots, personalisation, omni-channel customer engagement, data management and security. As the customer experience evolves in South Africa, more job opportunities will arise for CX professionals at every level, from call centres and customer service agents to community managers and product support executives.”
Morobe says as the main driver of these trends, technology will continue to provide opportunities for entrepreneurs that they require to grow successful ventures in new and unchartered industries, as well as innovate ways to succeed in existing and challenging ones.
“Coupled with government’s drive to increase infrastructure development, attract foreign investment and promote training programmes, the SME sector can contribute to job creation for millions of South Africans.”
‘Disclaimer - The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the BEE CHAMBER’