6 things SMEs are doing to boost their efficiency

South Africa is holding its collective breath as it emerges from the third COVID-19 wave, hoping for a relaxation of lockdown restrictions to level 1.

With a semblance of stability returning to markets, small and medium-sized business owners are optimistic about the future. This is according to research conducted by Sage, which interviewed 1,947 South African small businesses, a majority of which offer accounting and bookkeeping services.

Our research found that small business owners and accountants are building resilience, readiness, and confidence for whatever’s coming next, and it’s become apparent that resilience is at the core of business success in today’s uncertain climate.

Here are six things SMEs are doing to boost their efficiency:

New technology adoption

Banks have transitioned to remote sales and services and have launched digital outreach programmes to allow customers to make flexible loan payment arrangements. Grocery stores have shifted to online ordering and delivery as their primary business model.

At a time when social distancing is the norm, with people urged to work remotely as much as possible, it may come as no surprise that adopting new technologies is the most crucial step to building a more efficient and resilient business.

A remote-first setup, according to McKinsey, allows companies to mobilise global expertise instantly, organise a project review with 20 or 200 people immediately, and respond to customer inquiries more rapidly by providing everything from product information to sales and after-sales support digitally.

According to our research, 61% of respondents have used this opportunity to adopt new technologies to enable efficient work from home practices. Some have implemented a hybrid model in which some employees work on-premises while others work from home on an alternating calendar.

These strategies help minimise the spread of the virus and help acquaint your business with future operational models.

Team motivation

There is nothing more demotivating than the feeling of things falling apart despite one’s best efforts. Yet this is precisely how most people have felt since the start of the pandemic.

It makes sense then that keeping people motivated is the second most crucial step to making your business more efficient. According to the research, this is one of the most common actions companies are taking, as cited by 47% of respondents.

To improve engagement and keep employees motivated, businesses should create a sense of belonging, enable teamwork and collaboration, and recognise and reward good work.

Employees should also be encouraged to work on their self-motivation. Jasper Basson, CEO of tax and accounting services firm Dryk Holdings, says building business resilience is a long-term game, and it begins in the mind, heart, and soul of the entrepreneur.

“You will never see better results on the outside – in your personal life or your business – than the growth that you’ve done on the inside,” he says, encouraging people to journal, meditate, exercise, read, and learn among other things.

Better serving existing customers

Our research found that the most common action businesses are taking to build resilience is by building stronger relationships with customers (56%).

A business is nothing without its customers, which is why it’s so important to retain your existing customer base through improved customer service.

An overwhelming majority (80%) of accounting firms reported that clients want more value for less while also cutting back services, putting accountants under greater pressure.

Businesses are encouraged to be innovative in this regard and think of ways to express care and kindness. Now more than ever, people need extra information, guidance, and support to navigate a novel set of challenges.

The first step in caring is to reach out, not in marketing or overt attempts to gain a competitive edge, but to offer genuine support.

Attracting new customers

Small businesses are using creative ways to attract new customers, with 42% investing in new sales, marketing, and advertising programs, 42% selling in new markets, and 40% accessing better or cheaper short- and long-term finance.

Many are using digital platforms in innovative ways to attract new customers and are marketing their products or services in ways that make them stand out from the competition.

Finding new talent

According to our research, 37% of businesses are actively seeking new talent. This might sound strange considering the state of the economy and shrinking budgets, but the nature of work is evolving, and businesses need individuals with relevant and practical skills.

It’s important to consider what skills your business needs to gain an edge in the market and advance your business goals. This may not necessarily involve making permanent hires but rather outsourcing services to freelancers and contractors.

More professional marketing

Many small business owners try to do most things themselves, including marketing. Although this may help cut costs, it may not help achieve the desired purpose, which is to turn ads into actual customers. This is why many businesses are turning to professional marketers to get the job done right.

Marketers are constantly discovering new ways to engage with audiences. This requires constant communication and working in teams to develop and nurture creative ideas for campaigns. It’s a lot of work, and you’ll get better results if you outsource to a professional who has the tools, knowledge, and experience to help you reach more customers.

Want more insights from the Sage small business research?

White paper: Small businesses and accountants are ready to try again

We surveyed 1,947 South African small businesses – the majority of which offer accounting and bookkeeping services – to find out how they’re coping in the new world of work. We were curious to know what they’re doing to strengthen their defences against the next disruption and how optimistic they are about the future – and we were pleasantly surprised.

Download the white paper