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27 March 2021 marked one year since the introduction of the five-tiered Alert Level system and South Africa’s move to Alert Level 5. Like many people, we’re reflecting on the year that’s been.
One year later and many businesses are still feeling the effects of having to adapt and survive during a global pandemic. We’ve seen many businesses close their doors, some shift their focus and new businesses arise. All of this indicates that South African entrepreneurs are committed to strengthening the economy with the help of government subsidies and other alternative business funding resources.
In more recent months we have seen an undeniable surge in business activity due to the easing of lockdown restrictions. There has also been overwhelming support shown between businesses as well. “There is a rich abundance of knowledge, skills, and expertise in our SME sector – all of which has played an essential role in SMEs survival and ability to adapt during the pandemic. Part of this is that we have had to move away from a ‘business as usual’ approach and realise the need to learn from the lessons that the past year has taught us in order to plan and prepare for the future,” says Trevor Gosling, CEO, and co-founder of Lulalend.
Download our eCommerce Guide for more information on how to take your business online.
Related: 5 Digital Marketing Strategy Tips: COVID-19 SME Support
The most obvious and widespread impact of the pandemic and resulting lockdown on SMEs was on revenue.
The commencement of Level 5 lockdown impacted SMEs income streams, leading to cost-cutting and even layoffs. Some of the most affected industries include tourism, hospitality, non-essential retail. At the height of lockdown, a large percentage of Lulalend’s customer base told us that they only had 1 month of cash runway to make it through.
Source: McKinsey & Co “How SA SMEs can survive COVID-19” July 2020.
In an effort to adapt and diversify, many businesses turned their heads towards a more digital approach during the early days of lockdown. This encouraged online sales and boosted vulnerable retail sectors that would ordinarily function on a bricks-and-mortar basis. And here we saw the rise in new – and quirky – new business too. The rise of eCommerce brought about a new digital age like never before. “People have now gotten used to living in a digital world,” says Gosling.
Businesses that were able to take advantage of digital optimisation are those that had access to a line of credit in a time of need. Positive cash flow is essential for the survival of your business – especially during uncertain times. When you run into cash flow challenges, you are not able to pay your bills on time risking a decrease in its credit line or higher interest rates. That’s why having access to fast and efficient business funding or a revolving line of credit is essential for all small businesses.
Related: What Challenges Do Female SMEs Face in South Africa?
While the economic recovery from Covid-19 is well on its way, we have to understand that it’s far from over. Business owners need to take the necessary steps to plan and develop long-term strategies to survive and thrive in the ever-changing global economy. Taking the time optimise business operations will go a long way in determining the success of the organization in the long run.
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There has been a permanent change in the way that people shop and, in turn, the way that businesses need to operate. In the absence of brick-and-mortar stores being open during the lockdown, as well as a general fear of crowded malls when things were able to re-open, South Africa’s eCommerce sector exploded.
According to Trevor Gosling, Co-founder, and CEO of Lulalend – a financing partner to South Africa’s small- to medium enterprises (SMEs), he has seen phenomenal growth in eCommerce businesses who have connected with them for SME financing. Between the period of October 2020 and February 2021, we saw an 86% increase in loans made to eCommerce businesses and online retailers in comparison to the same period between 2019 and 2020.
“The loans were strongly linked to growth-related requirements, such as the purchasing of inventory or the expansion of marketing,” Gosling explains.
“The reality is that South Africans have now become familiar with and are used to the convenience that shopping online provides. For those who have seized this opportunity and taken the time to invest in developing their digital offering, they will continue to see rewards in the long-term,” he adds.
Related: Move your business online by following these essential steps
One of the fundamental differentiators around eCommerce in 2021 is that, while in the past this has been dominated by retailers, the adoption and familiarity that people now have of purchasing goods and services online has meant that nearly all sectors can capitalise on this trend.
The boom in demand also allowed businesses across a variety of categories to adopt a new way of delivering their products with innovative non-contact formats – whether contactless payments or automated fulfillment systems to help curb the spread of the virus.
“Gone are the days when buying online was simply a purchase of a book, clothing item, or food. Nowadays, having a business presence online that integrates eCommerce functionality will become a lot more common,” Gosling points out.
It takes more than just setting up an online site. Gosling says that new competition emerging out of this pandemic and advancing technologies will require SMEs to incorporate innovative ways of marketing, selling, and fulfilling customer orders if they are wanting to maintain and grow their bottom line.”
Related: Lessons learnt in the pandemic are key to SMEs’ survival
This is where SMEs will need to invest. From the increase in new loan applications from eCommerce businesses that we saw, Gosling says that one of the biggest learnings from them is the need to pressure test any new technology or systems that might be brought online. “It will be important to expand capacity limits as well as invest in systems that will allow for personal, timely and automated customer interactions and sales fulfillment.”
“A secondary, but equally important, the benefit is that it’s not just about an increase in revenue. Doing so means that they are able to reconnect with their existing customer base all while expanding their brand presence to new and potentially untapped markets,” he adds.
Related: How to move your retail business online
Understanding the purchasing paths of these new online customers and ensuring that your platform provides a seamless and simple shopping experience across different devices will be critical. “For those with physical stores, it will also mean ensuring that they are experience-led and digitally connected to any eCommerce platform that could assist in generating sales after the customer has left the store,” Gosling points out.
To do this will require access to capital. “Taking on debt is often essential to business growth. Being able to invest in your business to ensure that it meets the changing needs of its customers is crucial for survival,” he adds.
“Now is the time to act. The world has changed and so have the ways that customers connect with brands. To ensure that they capture market share and emerge after the crisis as market leaders, business owners will need to start making these changes now,” says Gosling.
To help SMEs wanting to move their business online, we’ve created a practical guide that is available as a free download here.
Together with a number of industry leaders within the online retail sector in South Africa, Lulalend will be taking part in the inaugural Ecommerce Day, which will be celebrated on 10 March 2021.
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For several years ‘customer experience’ has been the driving force behind many business strategies that bring about product development, marketing, and all-around business culture. However, recently, there has been a shift in focus to what many are calling ‘the age of employee experience’.
Here’s what you’ll find out in this article:
- What is Employee Experience
- The importance of Employee Experience
- Why there has been a shift from culture to experience
What is Employee Experience
The rise of what we’ve come to know as ‘employee experience’ has set new demands for most businesses. An easy way to understand this fairly new concept is by saying, if customer experience relates to how we measure all communication a company has with its customers, then employee experience relates to everything the workers of a company experience – every interaction from the very first interview up until the moment they leave the company.
Related: All you need to know about a revolving loan
Employee experience goes beyond providing a great place to work. It forces companies to offer their employees a new level of support in their career and personal wellbeing, flexibility, and a plethora of opportunities.
Some key features of a good employee experience include, but are definitely not limited to;
- Protecting and encouraging a healthy work-life balance
- Encouraging a collaborative work environment
- Using technical advances to minimize ‘meaningless’ tasks
- Offering flexibility and support for individual schedules
- A designed professional development plan to suit each employee’s growth
- Encouraging employee autonomy and self-direction
- Promoting an environment of purpose and meaning beyond making money
Related: What is a business credit facility?
The importance of Employee Experience
So the question on everyone’s mind is, why is it so important? According to a Forbes article, in 2019, employee experience became a ‘preeminent corporate priority’. The reason for this is partly due to the evolution of the employee-employer relationship, as well as the fact that job-hopping is more frequent than ever. All in all, there is an imminent need for companies to raise the bar when it comes to retaining employees and providing a thriving work environment for their people.
Why there has been a shift from culture to experience
There’s no doubt that the rising importance of “customer experience”, with its focus on empowering individuality, influenced it. Where most companies previously focused on employee engagement and company culture, recently it’s more about overall employee experience.
While company culture is still important, it’s significance is limited. Your office can be as trendy as ever, filled with table tennis areas, Friday drinks, and casually dressed staff working flexible hours – but that will only get so far. These types of perks are fast becoming the norm and probably do promote collaboration and a shared vision, but if employees are not motivated and engaged with their work, these perks are futile. Employee experience relates to the daily norms of the workplace, the bonds between team members and managers, the sense of support between everyone in the company. These are the things of real value.
Related: Business Funding: An overview of how SMEs can access funding in SA
So why should SMEs care about investing in their company’s employee experience?
Those who make a sustained investment into employees are able to retain top talent within their industries, dominate the competition, and in turn, promote higher turnover because people are motivated to do their best at every turn. According to HBR, on average, companies that invested in the experience of their employees returned over four times the average profit – despite being around 25% smaller, implying greater levels of both efficiency and creativity.
The statistics certainly back up the hype: having a positive experience is not only crucial to attracting and keeping the best workforce, but staying relevant as a business, too.
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On Thursday, 17 September 2020, Governor Lesetja Kganyago read the latest Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) statement. We are happy to see that the South African Reserve Bank (SARB) held it’s key lending, or repo, rate at 3,5%. A low repo rate is good news for both consumer spending levels and for businesses looking to borrow money to invest in growth opportunities.
However, on a more cautionary note the SARB also revised its 2020 GDP forecast downwards, indicating a contraction of 8.2% for the year compared to its early prediction of a 7.3% decrease. This revised forecast is now more in line with other external organisations such the OECD. According to the Dailymaverick.co.za, “The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) forecasts an 11.5% contraction for the South African economy in 2020, the biggest among 19 countries surveyed in Africa. A GDP contraction indicates a potential decline in industrial production and retail sales, and could lead a drop in real personal income.
Related: Tips for the 2020/2021 tax season
The SARB also indicated that inflation is set to remain within it’s target range off 3% to 6%. The Monetary Policy Committee statement said, “The central bank’s headline consumer price inflation forecast averages 3.3% in 2020 and is lower than previously forecast at 4% in 2021 and at 4.4% in 2022.”
During the MPC meeting, it was also brought to light that the inflation rate “is expected to be well contained over the medium-term,” due to the slow recovery and economic contraction.
This suggests that the SARB has the ability to reduce rates even further but the statement was clear in the fact that the bank’s “Quarterly Projection Model (QPM) indicates no further repo rate cuts in the near term and two rate increases in the third and fourth quarters of 2021.”
Related: What We Learned At The Business Show South Africa
With the country moving to Level 1 in a few days, the hope is that the further increase in commercial activity will help grow the overall economy and put money back in consumers pockets.
With the record low repo rate set to remain at this level for the foreseeable future, and inflation also expected to remain steady, now is a good time for business owners to look at accessing additional capital to invest in the future of their business.
Lulalend’s funding options are flexible and personalized for your business needs. Find out more about our bridging finances and credit facility offers today.
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Guest blog by PayFast
There’s never been a more appropriate time to get your business online. The COVID-19 pandemic and the government’s response of enforcing different levels of lockdown regulations have affected the economy hard. As a business owner, you know this first hand. While restrictions are slowly being lifted to get our economy up and running again, one thing is clear: social distancing is here to stay for the foreseeable future. If your business is brick and mortar then it’s essential that you fast track your strategy of getting your business online, because even if you are allowed to open your doors again you will have far less foot traffic than what you were used to pre-COVID-19, and you will have to limit the number of customers in your store at any given time.
Whether you’ve been thinking about going online but haven’t gotten round to it yet, or if it’s a brand new concept to you, we want to help. We’ve put together the following three-point plan to help you successfully move your business online as quickly as possible.
1. Do your Research
Before moving your business online it’s important to do extensive research to ensure you aren’t caught off guard and have a good understanding of the costs involved in running and maintaining an online store. This includes doing a bit of research into the price of your products, shipping options, and what ecommerce platform is best suited for your business.
Doing your research can be further broken down into the following main points:
Know your product(s)
This means knowing absolutely EVERYTHING about it, from who is manufacturing or supplying it, whether there will be import duties and if you can handle the demand for it. When you have these facts locked down you’ll be able to more effectively establish important things like branding, pricing, shipping, and marketing.
It’s also important to have a good understanding of who your intended customer base is so that you can cater to their online shopping needs and adequately market to them.
Know your competitors
The best way to learn about what works and doesn’t is by looking at what your competitors (both local and international) are doing on their online store. Pay special attention to their website layout, how user friendly it is to navigate, the image quality of their products, the different product categories, and subcategories, and of course pricing.
Work out pricing and shipping
This is one of the most important things that will determine the success of your online business. You must take into account the manufacturing or purchasing and import costs so that you sell your products for a fair price while making a profit. As mentioned in the previous point, seeing how much your competitors are selling their products for is a good indication of what customers are willing to pay.
For shipping, it’s important to choose a trusted shipping company so that the products get delivered in a timely manner. When it comes to covering shipping costs there are a number of options you can look into, such as including the shipping costs in the product’s pricing to offer free shipping, having a fixed shipping cost for all products, adjusting it for the number of items purchased or offering free shipping when the total reaches a certain amount, such as R500 or more.
2. Build your eCommerce store
For many online business owners, this is the most fun and exciting part – customising your online store and seeing it come to life. The main points you need to consider are as follows:
Choosing your shopping cart platform
There are tons of online shopping cart platforms to choose from that offer different tools and functionalities. The different platforms offer a variety of packages, ranging from monthly to yearly subscriptions, some also offer free plans or at least free trials. What’s important is to find the platform that works best for you. Some of the most popular options are Shopify, WooCommerce (a free WordPress plugin), Prestashop, Magento, and Ecwid. It’s worth taking a look at the 80+ cart list on PayFast’s website for more ideas.
If you have developing skills or want to hire a developer to create a custom online store, then that’s a valid option as well.
Once you’ve chosen your platform and designed it to represent your brand, then it’s time to add your products. We can’t stress the importance of having high-quality photos of your products to give shoppers a realistic idea of what they are buying. You should also add a detailed description of what each product is, colour and size options (if applicable), and how it can benefit the shopper. The more information you provide will help with your search engine optimisation (SEO) ranking and also encourage shoppers to buy the product.
Related: Small Business Marketing Strategies: Google vs Facebook
Integrating a payment gateway
Before your online store opens for business you need to integrate a secure payment gateway to receive online payments. It’s important to select a payment solution that facilitates a variety of payment methods, such as Visa and Mastercard credit and debit cards, Instant EFT, Masterpass, Mobicred, Zapper, etc. to give shoppers the option of paying with their preferred payment method.
One of the leading payment gateways in South Africa is PayFast; it’s trusted by over 70,000 businesses to facilitate their online payments. It’s free to sign up and there are no monthly fees, PayFast only charges a small percentage of every successful payment. PayFast is extremely easy to set up as it integrates with over 80 online platforms as well as custom integration.
3.Market your store online
Once everything is up and running it’s time to get your name out there to attract business. This involves making sure that every web page is SEO optimised with keywords to attract organic traffic, and that you put an effective and ongoing digital marketing strategy in place. You should monitor page views and conversions by using tools like Google Analytics, which will give you insights into what you can do to tweak copy, images, or navigation to improve the shopper’s experience and to attract new visitors to your eCommerce store.
You can also use paid services to attract traffic to your website such as Google Ads and paid ads on Facebook and Instagram. Just make sure you do research into who your customer base is so you use the right marketing platform to target the right demographics.
If you haven’t done so already, register your online business on the relevant social media platforms so that you can promote your products and engage with your community. It’s also extremely beneficial to put together a database of all of your loyal customers (and potential new ones who are willing to sign up to your mailing list) so that you can send out marketing emails to them promoting new products or specials.
Related: Marketing tips for your business
While moving your business online may be challenging, with a lot of testing and experimentation it will be immensely rewarding. It’s never been more important to get your business online, so we wish you all the best on your online business ventures.
PayFast is a leading online payment processing solution for individuals, non-profit organisations (NPOs) and businesses of all sizes in South Africa. PayFast was founded in 2007 in Cape Town by Jonathan Smit with the vision of helping online merchants grow their business. Over a decade later, over 70,000 merchants from a variety of South African businesses, big and small, have registered with PayFast to process and manage online payments made by their customers. PayFast supports 7 popular payment methods (including credit and debit card, Instant EFT, Mobicred, Masterpass and SCode) and integrates with 80+ platforms (such as Shopify, WooCommerce and Xero) and custom integration.
PayFast offers a variety of features to help merchants get paid online, from platform integrations, ‘Pay Now’ buttons that can be integrated into a website, the Request a Payment feature where merchants can request payment via email and recurring billing options. Their newest feature is Split Payments, a first of its kind in South Africa that splits a portion of an online payment with a third party. This is the ideal solution for digital marketplaces, as Split Payments instantly splits out commission, membership, referral, affiliate or listing fees when a payment is made.
In July 2019 PayFast was acquired by the DPO Group, spurring the growth of Africa’s largest online payments provider.
For more information, visit www.payfast.co.za
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A Story of Resilience
Some of the greatest business legends have shared their stories of resilience, about never giving up and about how winning is just getting up one more time than you were knocked down.
Beautiful, thought-provoking quotes that can be much harder to live through and by.
Sheila’s story below reminds us of the grit and determination that is required to get up again and again. We felt privileged when she shared it with us, and we hope you do too.
Wolf Printing offers a whole host of products and services for the corporate sector as well as the man in the street. No order is too small or too big for Wolf Printing to handle.
Their aim is to offer each customer individual attention and build a strong and lasting relationship with them.
Their range of products for the corporate sector is extensive and their range of personalised items spans everything from custom printed wall decals to custom printed children’s aprons. Their range can be viewed on Facebook and we challenge you to take a look and not find something you want to order.
If you are looking for something in particular, they encourage customers to send them an email with their requirements.
“I have been in sales all my life and 8 years ago I decided to start my own business – corporate and personalised gifts and clothing. I have never been in this trade before and decided to give it a try. It has been an uphill battle as I did not have much capital – only enough to buy the basic machines. I am 62 and my partner is 57 and Sheila learned all her designing on google as we did not have funds to go for courses. 3 years ago our vehicle was stolen, which left us in a terrible situation as we could not get to suppliers or customers.
Related: Women in business part 2: Real women, real challenges, real engagement
Sheila got a small pension payout and we eventually bought a 2nd hand vehicle. Then last year we were held up in our home by 6 armed men and they stole our computers, cell phones, camera, and other items. As we were not insured, this set us back again. And as you know, this year the dreaded COVID-19 struck and we are now 3 months behind on rent with a landlord threatening eviction at the end of lockdown.
These last 5 years have been an absolute nightmare, but this is all we have, so will fight to the bitter end.”
Cheryl and Sheila demonstrate the beauty of resilience in their ability to pivot and view each change and challenge as an opportunity to grow and further build a business that serves their customers better.
Related: Women Powering SA: Ann Clark, Options in Training
“Timing, perseverance, and ten years of trying will eventually make you look like an overnight success.” – Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter.
Download the Wolf Printing catalogue here.
Contact Sheila at email@example.com
Windham Ave, Hillary, Durban, 4024
Phone: 031 – 463 3801
Cell: 071 006 3100