The South African government has implemented many policies and programmes to promote job creation and entrepreneurship, particularly amongst the alarmingly high numbers of unemployed youth. The focus of these policies and programmes has been on the creation of start-up businesses.
Despite the vast resources committed to these programmes, their success at reducing unemployment is almost negligible.
Given that South Africa is resource strapped, does this focus on start-up creation represent the most effective policy stance towards small business? And if not, what policy measures should the government be focusing on instead?
Job creation power
The importance of small businesses overall in terms of employment is unquestionable. The Adcorp Employment Index for March 2012 shows that, in South Africa, 68% of employees are employed by small businesses employing less than 50 people, with two-thirds working at businesses that have less than five employees.
South Africa’s start-up business rate of 5.2%, as per the GEM 2011 Report, is notably higher than its new business rate of 4.0%, indicating that start-up firms dominate the country’s total early-stage entrepreneurial activity.
The GEM 2005 Report found that less than 4% of start-up businesses (defined as functioning for less than three and a half years) take on any staff. Mike Herrington, executive director of the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the UCT Graduate School of Business, points out that this means that for every 100 new small businesses, only about 10 additional jobs will be created.
On the other hand, further evidence from GEM shows that established small businesses, those that have survived for three and a half years or longer, are the ones that create jobs. The GEM 2011 Report states that these businesses create 3.2 jobs on average, and further states that established small businesses create 32 times the employment opportunities that start-up businesses do.
The GEM 2011 Report indicates that South Africa has an established business ownership rate of 2.3%, which is substantially lower than the average of 7.2% for all participating efficiency-driven countries. In terms of established business activity, South Africa ranked 52nd out of 54 countries.
This suggests that to create more jobs government policy should focus on supporting established small businesses rather than start-ups.
Interventions for sustainable job creation
While the government’s New Growth Path (NGP) targets for job creation appear ever more unlikely to materialise, it is essential to identify the interventions that are most likely to lead to sustainable job creation.
Focus on established businesses with potential for considerable growth
Most often it is the operation that employs around 10 people that is ready to cope with expansion. These are the businesses that should be receiving the bulk of our support services in the form of incentives, grants, export assistance, access to new markets, mentorship for the processes of business expansion, and even subsidies for selected essential services such as financial and HR consulting.
Agencies such as the National Empowerment Fund (NEF) and the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) should actively court these small businesses and provide them with proposals for expansion. Private sector agencies and banks should aggressively target this sector. In addition, giving procurement preference to this sector would assist suppliers with capacity building.
Relax labour policies
A working paper published by the African Development Bank in October 2012 states that:
Firm level surveys indicate that the single greatest impediment to the more rapid growth of outward-oriented manufacturing in South Africa is the high level of real wages relative to productivity levels. […] Labour market regulation – in particular the “extension provision” which requires collective bargaining agreements to be extended to all firms in an industry, regardless of size – is inhibiting investment and growth.
Small businesses cannot currently hire staff in confidence, because it is so difficult to fire people who are not performing. The Global Competitiveness Report 2011-2012 ranked South Africa 139th out of 142 countries in terms of rigid hiring and firing practices.
While laws to protect employees against exploitation and abuse are needed, there has to be a balance that makes it easier for companies to choose and retain the best person for the job. Relaxing the current dismissal regulations for the discretionary probation period would go a long way towards addressing this matter.
The existing regulations are counter-productive. Thousands of small businesses in South Africa, in fear of the arduous and costly dismissal process, are resorting to using temporary staff or hiring people only on short-term contracts.
The Adcorp May 2012 Employment Index notes that since 2000, permanent employment has fallen from 11.0 million to 9.1 million workers, a decline of 1.9 million workers or 18.7% of the workforce. In the same period, the number of temporary workers has increased by 2.6 million workers or 187.5%.
For the people in these jobs there is no job security; neither is there an incentive to strive to become a valued member of the workforce.
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Import needed skills
The concern that foreign workers will take jobs away from local people is misdirected – a lack of skills inhibits job creation because without a skilled workforce the economy cannot grow. When intellectual capital flows freely, it supports growth; yet current policies deny South Africa the benefit of an influx of skills, further stifling our economy.
Brazil, which has the world’s sixth largest economy, has traditionally had a permissive immigration policy. Its booming economy is now attracting growing numbers of Portuguese speaking immigrants from job-starved Europe.
Entrepreneurship is flourishing in Brazil– its Global Entrepreneurship Week in 2010 attracted 50 000 entrepreneurs, compared with the 8 000 who attended South Africa’s.
Open up access to African markets
Intra-African trade is tiny relative to what it could be. Given a giant market on our doorstep (up to 30% of Africans are now middle-income earners)South Africa fails to compete with suppliers from abroad. Indian, Chinese and South American products are flooding into Africa– where are the South African goods?
Our potential exporters are hampered by old trade monopolies, cumbersome Forex regulations, corruption, cross-border nightmares and a lack of infrastructure.
Government is not working hard and fast enough with its African trading partners to ease the trading environment, improve capacity at border posts, and clear the obstacles to a smooth movement of goods. South Africais ranked as 115th out of 185 economies for ease of trading across borders in The World Bank’s Doing Business Guide 2013. This is a regional problem that is stifling cross-border trade: Sub-Saharan Africa on average ranks 137th.
Focus on entrepreneurial education rather than start-up financing
Contrary to popular opinion, lack of access to finance is not the primary obstacle to small business growth. More money won’t solve the problem. A bigger concern should be entrepreneurial skills development and education.
A Development Bank of Southern Africa working paper published in 2011 summarises the South African government’s youth entrepreneurship programmes as follows:
The NYDA is responsible for overseeing and monitoring these interventions for young people, including the provision of loans for young entrepreneurs, business development services, potential support for youth cooperatives and the introduction of youth entrepreneurial training in schools. However, the number of young people accessing these services in 2010 was almost negligible. Hence, there is a major gap in youth entrepreneurial training, which needs to be addressed if self-employment is to provide a pathway into employment for young people.
Emerging entrepreneurs urgently need to learn to understand the concept of a commercially viable business. A legacy of our failed education system and the previous deliberate marginalisation of black entrepreneurs is that the majority of emerging entrepreneurs have not had exposure to the complexities of building a viable and sustainable business.
They also often have no experience in identifying viable opportunities and developing these into sustainable ventures.
Banks would love to lend more money if it meant that they could get a competitive return on their investment. There is a great deal more money chasing good ideas than there are good ideas trying to get funding. Again, the solution is to give targeted support to those businesses that have the right potential, and the funding would follow.
Here, the private sector could make a strong contribution in the short-term by deploying skilled personnel (even for a few hours a month) to mentor smaller companies within their supply chains.
Whatever the problems in the small business sector, South Africans are enterprising. With the correct support directed at high potential established small businesses, a lighter corporate governance load and entrepreneurially friendly legislation, entrepreneurship can be the solution to reducing poverty and increasing job creation.
How SMPs Can Support Businesses Looking To Internationalise
Key findings from a new global research report from ACCA suggest Small and Medium Sized Accounting Practices (SMPs) recognise many of the key challenges and opportunities that internationalising SMEs face in today’s global economy. This provides them with an excellent platform towards providing additional value-added support to clients.
Much has been written in recent years about how SMPs are experiencing a growing number of commercial challenges that are disrupting the client services they have traditionally relied upon for revenue.
Equally, many have argued that more SMPs need to consider whether diversification into new advisory services could be the key towards the sector’s future success. However, such change can be difficult when talent flows in the sector are uncertain and competition is fierce.
Whilst not appropriate for everyone, ACCA was therefore interested to explore whether international trade is one area where SMPs’ unique experience and expertise might lead to the development of new service provision.
Our findings suggest that many SMPs are equipped with an excellent platform towards providing additional value-added support to clients. However, despite SMPs stating that most of their clients had been involved in some form of international activity over the last three years, their current provision of relevant support remains highly focused around a small number of limited areas.
The new report, Growing Globally – How SMPs can support international ambitions, also revealed the following about internationalisation and the relevant advice landscape for SMEs.
Although the research was global, specific findings from five key markets have also been extracted and presented. These markets are Ireland, Malaysia, Nigeria, Singapore and the UK. They were selected on the basis of their representation of markets in various stages of economic development, and their global and regional importance to international trade.
SME internationalisation today
- Just under half (45%) of SMEs said the main benefit of internationalisation was access to new customers in foreign markets. Increased profitability (35%), faster business growth (33%) and access to new business networks (30%) followed.
- Both SMEs and SMPs considered ease of doing business and high growth potential as the most important factors when choosing an export destination. Geography was seen as less important, which may be a result of new technologies reducing its significance as a perceived barrier.
- Both SMEs and SMPs recognised foreign regulations as the most significant barrier to internationalisation. For SMEs, the second most important was competition (27%) though for SMPs it was foreign customs duties.
- In terms of the future, SMEs’ international ambitions are focused on building the capacity of their business (45%), building networks in foreign markets (45%) and introducing or developing more products and services to market (44%).
The advice landscape
- A wide breadth of professional advice and support is used by internationalising SMEs, who tend to reach out to different sources as they move along their internationalisation journeys. Government or relevant public agencies (39%) are the most widely used source of professional advice, closely followed by lawyers (35%) and then banks (33%).
- Accountants are most likely to be used by SMEs when looking for support on international tax, regulatory compliance, foreign exchange and accessing external finance.
- Only 9% of SMPs said they had no clients who had been involved in any international trade activities over the last 3 years. Importing and exporting activities were the most common, as was participating in broader international supply chain networks.
- SMPs mainly rely on internal and informal resources when advising clients about internationalisation. However, this gradually shifts towards a reliance on more external and formalised resources as practices grow in employee size.
- Just under half (47%) were not members of any networking organisation, potentially missing out on valuable resources that could enable the development of more effective forms of international support.
Using these findings, ACCA conducted a series of interviews and roundtables with SMPs and SMEs globally. The subsequent insights were used to develop recommendations on how practices can look to develop their international advisory provision.
- Specialisation is key – For those developing their international advisory provision, it is vital to first identify an area of the market where you believe your practice has the opportunity to effectively develop its expertise, resources and intelligence to best suit the needs of your clients. SMEs’ demands for international advice vary according to sector and size of business. Building a market focus is more likely to make any future expansion of international support more achievable and successful.
- Adopt a strategic mindset – Identifying where you could best add value in terms of international support requires SMPs to think strategically and embark on initial planning and research. The best place to start is with existing clients rather than prospective ones, as they provide a readily accessible (and more approachable) evidence base to explore where demand is likely to be greatest. Making efforts to understand your clients’ internationalisation needs can then help you shape your wider international advisory offering.
- Expand your international network – Networks are integral for the development of new professional advisory services but particularly with regards to internationalisation. This is because global value chains often necessitate close and efficient coordination of activities between businesses. SMPs should therefore aspire to become the central referral point for clients looking to find the most appropriate source of professional advice.
- Invest in professional development – Practices must have highly skilled staff with the appropriate intellectual knowledge for clients to recognise the value in the services offered. Creating a structured programme of learning activities for staff around international trade could be useful for SMPs looking to upscale their international advisory provision. This could involve introducing formal learning activities across more technical areas of international trade (such as tax, compliance and foreign exchange) as well as working with other firms to develop knowledge networks where staff can learn, collaborate and access good practice.
As SMEs continue to seek new ways of engaging in international trade, partly brought about by developments in technology, practices are being presented with opportunities to develop and widen their international advisory provision.
For some SMPs providing additional support to clients involved in international markets will not be feasible or practical. Nonetheless it is important for all practices to continue recognising the changing realities of how SMEs are operating globally.
The key challenge in taking advantage of such opportunities is centred on the risks that inevitably come with the business model optimisation required to provide new and relevant client services.
South African entrepreneurs have one singular advantage that makes them stand out and succeed – optimism.
Game drives. There is a remarkable similarity between the South African on a game drive and the South African entrepreneur. In both cases you’re driving through new territory on the lookout for that ultimate sighting or an opportunity. It’s the endless optimistic belief that around the next corner, after that last stretch of long, hot road, will be that crocodile eating that leopard that’s chasing a caracal. It’s an optimism that’s permeated the very fabric of our culture, our business personalities and the way we face adversity.
South Africans live with adversity every day. We face challenges and issues that our entrepreneurial counterparts in Europe or American don’t even realise exist. Adversity sits on every street corner, hangs out at every robot and reminds us of its presence whenever we stop and look around.
Yet the entrepreneur can take these complexities and harness them to be better at business and more positive in the face of failure. Here are five ways to re-examine what the world has on offer with the eye of the optimistic entrepreneur…
1. The tremendous challenges in our socio-economic and political landscape, from poor sanitation to the unemployment situation, can inspire us to do more and better the world we live in.
Today, many of the most impressive entrepreneurs on the African continent are those who stood up from within adversity and used it to create opportunity. From organisations that ensure children have sanitary pads so they can attend school to non-profit businesses that use the blind to detect breast cancer, optimistic belief in the future is the beating heart of entrepreneurial endeavour.
2. Anyone can succeed
There are people standing at robots across South Africa who are using them as a shop corner, using the captive car audience to sell products and make enough money to get by. Some create works of art, some dance to an invisible beat, and some stand out in their ingenuity. There is a robot in South Africa today where a man stands selling life insurance. That’s the optimistic entrepreneur.
3. We are constantly surprising ourselves
South Africa’s transition from apartheid surprised the world. There wasn’t a bloody revolution, there was a peaceful shift. It was, and still is, imperfect, but it happened with far less brutality than many imagined. The same applied to the World Cup – the stories of doom were ready to be told, but the event was an incredible success. South Africans are capable of surprising themselves and this unexpected brilliance shines through in our ideas and our ventures.
4. Sometimes you just have to laugh
The corruption, the political manhandling, the rage, the insanity on the drive to work, the rising cost of living – the pressures of living in a volatile country take their toll, but South Africans manage to find the humour hidden in the hardness. The adverts that poke fun at the insanity, the ability to laugh at mistakes – this nation’s sense of humour is a very powerful quality that allows the South African entrepreneur to stand up and face each day with a fresh sense of purpose.
5. We bounce back
The one quality that every entrepreneur needs is resilience. Businesses fail, ideas crash, customers leave and bad times arrive, but through it all self-belief and the ability to see something positive in what’s happened will ensure that lessons are learned and new paths taken. It is perhaps one of the hardest things that any entrepreneur has to learn and yet in South Africa, with its ongoing failure to provide that crocodile-leopard-caracal viewing, has imbued its entrepreneurs with the enviable qualities of patient resilience.
Depressed Economy Leading To Business Bust-ups
Palmer looks at the most common causes of business bust-ups and how to avoid them.
News that our GDP had shrunk by 2.2% in the first quarter of the year, coupled with downward revisions of growth forecasts, are casting a pall on the investment climate. Deals are not only drying up, but there has been an increase in business partnerships bearing the brunt of the economic pressure.
After the initial flush of economic goodwill post the inauguration of President Ramaphosa, we’ve seen a flurry of business owners looking for finance to buy out their business partners.
We have had a number of attorneys and accountants refer dissatisfied partners to us who are looking to exit partnerships. When the economy slows – as we have seen over the last few months – many partnerships begin to show signs of stress. All too often partnerships are seen as tools of necessity and those who rush into these deals without properly exploring the common values between parties will not fare well when things get tough.
What many don’t understand is that undoing a partnership is not as simple as they may think and will come with legal and other costs over and above the finance to buy a partner out.
The most common causes of business bust-ups (and how to avoid them) are the following:
1. Misaligned expectations
This occurs when potentials partners don’t share a common vision of where they want to go, how they want to get there and what each wants from the deal.
Misaligned expectations of a business venture will result in disagreements sooner rather than later as they impact every strategic (and even some operational) decisions. It is worth considering a mediated session between partners before the deal is even drafted.
2. Effort Resentment
Another problem creeps in when one partner feels like they are tasked with doing all the work. Resentment around how much effort is put into the success of a venture is not something to be taken lightly – irrespective of it being based on perception or fact. Most contracts will be clear on the value of the equity each partner has, but many ignore the value of sweat equity and how that will be measured and factored into the deal structure.
3. The Golden Rule
Many partnerships are based on one individual who puts in the lion’s share of the capital and another who is committed to doing the day-today work. Effort resentment extends beyond the deal negotiation. When a contract between partners is drafted it reflects a future which is not yet known. As the venture progresses, reality will set in and the division of labour agreed at the outset may not match day-to-day business in year three or four.
It is sometimes useful to draft partnership agreements as you would a lease. Give it a three- or five-year timeframe, with clear deliverables and then, at the end of the period, reassess the partnership and allow for renewals or re-negotiation. Having a sunset clause in your partnership agreement removes the soul-crushing feeling that you are trapped in an unhappy relationship with no chance of escape.
4. Honour amongst thieves
Although seldom encountered, there are some partnerships which fall apart because someone is doing something blatantly untoward. Finding out your partner had their hand in the till can be devastating but in tough financial times, such as we are currently experiencing, some people will resort to desperate measures.
5. Absentee landlords
In many cases, a partner may have committed capital to a venture and even agreed to joint expectations. But other work commitments (or a lack of interest) means they disappear from operations for extended periods. No-one wants to work with people who are uninterested in the future of your company. However, the truth of the matter is any breakup has associated costs. Unwinding a partnership can cost more than setting it up and this should be considered before going down that road. Many investors are involved in multiple ventures with the same partners and exiting one deal may result in prejudicing the future of others.
While no-one can predict how long the economic slump may last, minimising the potential for partnerships falling apart requires a meeting of minds. This means agreeing to a common set of values and ethics which will govern how the business is run.
Partners need to agree on how they see the world if they hope to make a success of the business relationship. Thereafter, they should explicitly voice their expectations of how the venture will work, what they want out of it, and how they see their role in achieving that result. In some instances business partners have been together longer than they have been with their spouse. It makes sense to treat the relationship with the same care. More particularly, healthy partnerships will attract more investment and will be a key decision factor when it comes to raising future funding.
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