Growing small business in an economic downturn

While South Africa has pinned its hopes on small business development to address unemployment, an increasingly gloomy economic outlook may seem set to undermine these hopes.

“There’s an economic malaise coming,” says Tshepo Phakathi, Group CEO of Phakathi Holdings. “We can expect more pressure on emerging markets, exacerbated by a spike in food prices as a result of the sub-Saharan African drought.” However, tough times ahead do not necessarily mean bad news for small businesses, he says. With the right strategies and innovation, entrepreneurs can take advantage of a changing market to build their businesses and thrive, he says.

Learn to meet next gen customer demands

Phakathi, whose KAELLO initiative promotes entrepreneurship and mentors thousands of aspiring entrepreneurs, and who serves as an advisor and ambassador for the expo, says small business owners who change their business strategies now stand to benefit in an uncertain market.

“In the five or more years that I have been involved in the expo, we have seen significant changes in the market,” he says. “In addition to slowing economic growth, a key change has been the advent of high speed internet access and social media, which has completely changed customer expectations.” Customisation and instant gratification are the keys to meeting customer demands today, he notes. However, local small businesses have been slow to change accordingly. Phakathi says: “Consumers have become more discerning. It’s a consumer market now, and people expect more of what they want, where and when they want it.”

To survive and thrive in this new environment, Phakathi says: “We need to batten down the hatches, tighten our belts, and take care not to be over consumptive as a business. Businesses also need to be more innovative and more deliberate about customer satisfaction, and they need to ‘stick to their knitting’. This is not the time to dabble and over-diversify: the more competitive a market becomes, the more niche it becomes,” he says.

Phakathi, who will speak at the #Buy-A-Business Expo & Small Business Expo on strategies for thriving in the current economic environment, believes small businesses need support in changing their strategies and understanding how to harness IT to meet new customer expectations.

Embrace structure and order

Brian Walsh, CEO of the Real Success Network and member of the Small Business Expo advisory board, says structure and order are key components of business success. “For small businesses to thrive, they need to learn to create systems that run the businesses,” says Walsh. “A new business is always chaotic at first, but the chaos is supposed to abate after a few years. With the help of the right service providers, businesses can get organized faster.”

Walsh believes having access to a network of service providers goes a long way toward supporting small business growth. “The problem is that many new and small business owners need assistance with marketing, web site development and accounting, for example, but they are often uninformed about the support and opportunities open to them, and frequently spend too much time trying to source service providers or carry out functions that are not core to their business.”

Walsh says these challenges informed the Small Business Expo’s stepped up focus on service providers. “The expos will include seminars on business management and structure, but will also showcase service providers and interventions that will help business owners take their businesses to the next level,” he says.

Exposure and networking

On the back of decades of hosting South Africa’s top expos in South Africa, Small Business Expo organisers Thebe Reed Exhibitions believes that networking and exposure are crucial for small business growth. “Opportunities for small businesses to meet a broad range of investors, partners and service providers are important, but rare,” says Carol Weaving, MD of Thebe Reed Exhibitions.

“In our years of experience in supporting small business development, our research has found that networking opportunities are invaluable for business growth. Therefore, the Small Business Expo delivers optimal opportunities for small business owners, service providers, funder and partners to engage, learn and expand business relationships.”

Among the highlights of the Small Business Expo will be:

  • Business Speed Dating sessions;
  • An all-new Investors club for high profile investors and business partners;
  • Networking Circles;
  • Development Den workshops on business trends and strategy, management, financial and digital;
  • Online Business Matchmaking;
  • Business Bootcamp workshops for early stage start-ups;
  • Techpreneur Pavilion for tech-based small business and entrepreneurs;
  • The fast-growing international Get In The Ring entrepreneurship challenge;
  • Wealth Masterclasses; and
  • The Chat Room networking lounge and internet café.

The Small Business Expo and #BuyaBusiness Expo will take place concurrently at the TicketPro dome from 8 – 10 September 2016.

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