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Is Unmanaged Stress Killing Off Our SMMEs?

Most SMMEs don’t make it past their first year. This is worrying for an economy in which SMMEs are a vital part of growth. A range of reasons are given for what is stifling these businesses, from financing to access to markets, but one factor has been completely overlooked: Stress.

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It is now widely understood that Small Medium and Micro Enterprises (SMMEs) are key to a country’s economic- and employment growth, but something is amiss in South Africa. Our SMMEs are just not doing what they should and understanding why this is – and fixing it – will be critical to the future success and sustainability of the economy.

The common conversations around SMME failure rates point at six main culprits: (1) access to funding, (2) access to markets, (3) infrastructure challenges, (4) scalability, (5) tough regulations, and (6) skills/education. The problem is that we have known about these for years, and for all the efforts to address them, we are unfortunately not seeing the growth in the sector that is needed.

A recent survey by the Small Business Institute (SBI) and the Small Business Project (SBP) put the number of formal SMMEs in South Africa currently at just 250,000. These numbers are alarmingly low – especially when compared with international benchmarks. SMMEs in Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, make up 95% of businesses, and employ between 60%–70% of the working population, contributing up to 60% to GDP. In South Africa, while SMMEs make up 98% of the business population, they only employ 28% of the nation’s workforce, according to Chris Darroll, CEO of the SBP.

Related: Why Stress Can Actually Be Good For You

And yet the government continues to pin its hopes on the SMME sector. Initiatives like the DTI’s Invest SA and the South African Investment Conference this October, that claims to have attracted billions in foreign investment to the country, have foregrounded the role of SMMEs in economic revival. And the Government’s National Development Plan aims to have SMMEs contributing 90% of job growth by 2030. It is likely that more money will be channelled into support for the sector, to join the billions that have already been spent on incubators and initiatives to help small businesses.

This is a good thing, but it is not enough. The numbers speak for themselves. To date, none of these initiatives has borne much fruit and this signals that we may be overlooking something fundamental. Our collaborative research at the UCT Graduate School of Business suggests that what is being overlooked is something that most of us find difficult to define, or even talk about: Stress.

Stress is under-acknowledged by most people, personally and professionally, and for varied reasons. And this can have devastating effects. If ignored in business, the human devastation is likely to have larger scale effects on job loss, workforce disengagement, health-related days off, impaired teamwork, sub-optimal decision-making, lowering of productivity, and ultimately fuelling a declining economy.

While access to finance and markets, infrastructure and scalability challenges, tough regulations, and not enough educated and skilled employees are all valid hurdles tripping up SMMEs, the fact is that they are perfectly normal hurdles to have in a competitive, emerging economy. Our research reveals that good leaders, who are able to get their businesses over each encountered hurdle, are also able to manage their personal negative stress and harness their positive stress.

Related: A Brain Surgeon’s Tips For Handling Stress Head-On

Stress can, generally, be quite motivating, however it is generally accepted that there are three kinds of stress: (1) positive stress, which is chosen and does not last very long (like writing an exam), (2) tolerable stress, which is unexpected and lasts a little longer, but then stops and there is time to process, and (3) toxic stress or distress. Toxic stress is tolerable stress left to run on and on without end, without rest and without time for healing and processing. It is this third and debilitating kind of stress that business leaders are likely to experience, and in SMMEs it can be even more severe.

Our research suggests that SMME owners tend to set very high, and often lofty, goals for themselves when setting up their SMMEs. And then they are constantly feeling stretched in either striving for these goals or ‘maintaining the course’. This can mean maintaining good business results, maintaining the customer base, where often 20% of the customer base accounts for 80% of the revenue, maintaining employment levels in changing political and economic conditions, maintaining pricing when squeezed for ever-lower prices while delivering good quality products and services, having their integrity challenged, and dealing with clients/customers who are not averse to replacing their products/services.

Another cause of stress for SMME business owners is that they mostly have internal loci of control, meaning that they take personal responsibility for outcomes and results and therefore blame themselves for every failure, and find it difficult to forgive themselves for deviations from intended results. In addition, an innate sense of accountability to their staff and their staffs’ families reportedly weighs heavily on business owners. Many feel similar accountability toward the broader stakeholder groups that their businesses serve.

All of these factors, which many argue are innate to the nature of business, place undue, long-term pressure (toxic stress/distress) on the cognitive, emotional, psychological and spiritual resources of individual business owners. This reportedly leads to drops in productive activity and motivation, withdrawal from relationships both personal and professional, low energy, impaired decision-making and ill health. And it also destroys resilience – leaving business leaders unable to ‘bounce back’ from personal- or business-setbacks, which is part and parcel of life and business. With a debilitated leader, the business is almost always likely to suffer, on a day-to-day basis and also in the long run. Like a virus, stress transfers to others.

An SMME’s success is inextricably linked to having an effective leader. And effective leadership is inextricably linked to effective stress management and self-care. It stands to reason, therefore, that improving the way SMME business owners manage their stress and boundaries could have a significant impact on improving business survival rates.

Related: Is Your Business Prepared For The Worst? How You Can Stress-Test Your Business

Along with offering business advice, funding incubators, opening up markets, attracting foreign investors, educating consumers, subsidising and improving infrastructure, the government should be looking at ways to encourage stress management and self-care into the daily operations of small to medium-sized businesses.

We need to get business owners educated about stress and self-care: about how exercise, sleep, diet, meditation, life-balance, self-forgiveness, and other-forgiveness affect them, their staff and their businesses. Effective self-care, of which stress management is a part, will enable business owners to courageously stay resilient in the ongoing stressful situations they will naturally encounter. This may, in turn, help to turn the tide in South Africa’s SMME sector so that it can drive the country’s economic revival like everyone hopes it will.

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Many SMEs Start With Great Plans But Fail To Take The Big Leap

Most small-to-medium sized enterprises (SMEs) are aware of the benefits of good governance practice but, faced with limited time and resources, which could be costly in supporting growth ambitions.

ACCA

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  • 27% of SMEs don’t have a vision that covers more than the next 12 months
  • 45% of SMEs either don’t have a strategy, or one which covers only the next 12 months or less. 

The latest global research, inclusive of Africa in supporting small business growth from ACCA, outlines the governance needs of SMEs. It highlights simple but effective practice over vision, strategy and human capital can provide them with greater flexibility, adaptability and resilience as they grow. This a huge factor in the long-term sustainability of the business, if put in practise.

“If you incorporate good practice for running your business from an early stage, your company is more likely to be resilient and is more likely to appeal to external investment,” explains Jo Iwasaki, head of corporate governance at ACCA. It is about leadership directing the company and being aware of factors both within and beyond their enterprise and build resilient organisations in the face pf the changing world.

Related: Growing Globally – Supporting SMEs On The International Stage

The research also found that half (49%) of SMEs do not involve anyone external in their strategy discussions, despite the benefits experienced by those that do, which include additional experience and knowledge of the industry/sector (according to 46%), an independent perspective / constructive criticism (44%) and advice on their growth strategy (39%).

“There are a lot of daily concerns for the leaders of a small business, and often the biggest challenge is meeting day-to-day operations and cash management needs while thinking about the long-term future of the company. And while many leaders are keenly aware of the importance of resilience in the rapidly changing business environment and of buy-in from stakeholders, for example funders and employees, there often may not be the time to think or do much about it,” added Iwasaki.

“I hope that this research helps SMEs in focusing on some of the most crucial issues, and can be a resource not just to SMEs themselves but also to policymakers,” concluded Iwasaki.

How vision and strategy helps small business succeed is available at ACCA Global.

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Small Business

Small Business Owner? All The Documents You Need To Get A Car

Read on below for some tips on all the documents you need to get a car as a small business owner.

Amy Galbraith

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As a small business owner, transport is an important aspect of your financial success. You need to be able to drive to and from meetings so that you arrive on time, as well as have the ability to transport your products to customers and to your store.

You will need to purchase a car for your small business to make life easier and more efficient. Once you have used a car repayments calculator in South Africa, you will need to gather all the necessary documents together in order to make a purchase. Not sure what those documents are? Read on below for some tips on all the documents you need to get a car as a small business owner.

A business plan

A business plan is necessary for the financial institution as it will show them how your business is doing financially and whether or not you will be able to repay them on time and in full. Your business plan should be detailed and provide a financial breakdown of your business at its current point in time.

Having a business plan will also show the financial institution that you are serious about your commitment to repaying your car loan. Being transparent with them will work in your favour and allow them to see the progression of your business with the use of your new vehicle. You will need to carefully outline how you will repay the car and what you will do if you are unable to make the repayments.

Related: Keep It Simple: How To Write A One Page Business Plan

Ownership

One of the most important documents you will need to provide the lender with is proof that you are the owner or part-owner of the business. You will need to turn in the correct documents that correlate to your business, such as a partnership agreement, limited liability company documents or a business licence.

In some cases, you can simply provide your lender with your personal information and the information of your business. You will need to provide the tax identification number of your business too. The ownership documents are important, as they differentiate the purchase from being a personal one to being one for a business.

Be sure to have these documents ready, and make copies in case you should misplace anything.

Personal information

You will need to provide the lender will all the necessary personal information. This includes a copy of your identity document, the most recent three month’s worth of bank statements for your business as proof of your ability to repay the debt, as well as proof of business and residential address.

If you are the sole proprietor, the financial institution or lender will need these documents because you and your business are seen as one in the same. This means that they need to look at the income from your business and both your business and personal expenses when calculating your affordability. You can use a car repayments calculator in South Africa to do the legwork and figure out your affordability before the financial institution does but their results might differ.

Driver’s licence of the regular driver

If you are going to be driving the car regularly, then you will need to provide the financial institution or lender with a copy of your driver’s licence. However, if you will be allowing your staff to use the company car, then you will need to provide both a copy of your licence and theirs, in order to add them to the insurance as a regular driver.

Providing a copy of the driver’s licence of everyone who will be driving the company car will allow your insurance company to add them as regular drivers. It is also important for your financial institution to know how and how often the car will be used, as this will influence their approval decision. Be sure that whoever you list as a regular driver is trustworthy and will drive responsibly in order to limit the amount of wear and tear on your business vehicle.

Related: How South African Small Business Owners Can Overcome Economic Uncertainty

Proof of insurance

Once you have settled on the perfect car for your needs, before the car can be delivered you will need to provide the lender with proof of insurance. This is necessary as the financial institution or lender needs to be assured that the car will be insured against anything that might happen to it while en route to your business.

You should look for car insurance that offers affordable premiums and that is tailored to company cars rather than cars for personal use. The proof of insurance should have the details of all regular drivers listed, so that your lender has a comprehensive list of everyone who will be using the car, and should clearly state what is and is not covered. Be sure to make a few copies of this document for the drivers to keep for themselves in case they have any queries or need to make a claim at some point.

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Small Business

How To Choose An Outsourcing Partner For Your Small Business

Before you jump the gun and choose the first outsourcing company that piques your interest, you need to consider the following factors.

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Business process outsourcing (BPO) has proven to be a practical decision for many business owners when it comes servicing your customers’ needs. Gone are the days where you’re needed to juggle customer communication while trying to solve several pressing issues at the same time. Now, you can simply put those concerns in the hands of professionals who can help you achieve greater success.

Many small business owners are forced to wear several hats at the same time. And focusing on your business’ direct needs, such as growing your bottom line, as well as having to manoeuvre your way through the online space to keep your customers happy, is not always possible. Not to mention, there isn’t always enough time in the day to focus on, and excel in, all of these important elements.

Based on the above, it’s clear that outsourcing your needs is a feasible solution for long-term success, however, the question is not always “why” but rather “who” to outsource to. With so many incredible outsourcing partners out there, it’s important that you find a company which can service the needs of your customers and add value to your unique business offerings.

Before you jump the gun and choose the first outsourcing company that piques your interest, you need to consider the following factors.

Analyse the resource quality

When you choose to outsource your services to a company, you need to look at their skills to determine whether or not they will be able to help you achieve the success you want and need. Make sure that you do your research to see the type of clients they work with or the projects they’ve worked on to ensure they’re able to handle the volume of questions, queries and customer needs your business has.

Related: 5 Time-Consuming Tasks Small-Business Owners Should Outsource

Choose according to the infrastructure you need

As a small business, most of the frustration of not being able to meet your customers’ needs is due to the lack of necessary infrastructure needed to perform particular tasks. For instance, artificial intelligence (AI), chatbot technology and more. Your chosen provider will also need to have the correct equipment and software to safeguard your information if the server is down or one of their machines become faulty. Customer service in today’s day and age is a constant service.

Your provider needs to be able to set up solutions to ensure that your customers will be assisted 24-hours a day.

Communication needs to meet your business needs

The company you choose to work with should have a clear understanding of your business needs, and they will need to be available for communication when you need it. Small businesses are testing the waters, and therefore should be able to change their approach in real-time if something isn’t working. If your partner is on-par with what you need for your business, together you will be able to succeed.

Flexibility in service offerings

As mentioned, your chosen partner needs to be flexible in their services in order to keep up with your customers’ ever-changing needs. Should your approach need to change, your outsourcing company should be able to guide you and provide insight that can help you achieve your goals. Reliability also goes hand-in-hand with flexibility, as your partner needs to work effectively to help your business thrive online.

Related: 4 Benefits Of Business Process Outsourcing For Small Businesses

Outsourcing cost versus delivery

Small business owners need to be careful not to over capitalise on their expenses, therefore it is advised that you shop around to find the most affordable, competitive price for your needs. Do your research on the market to see what other companies are offering in terms of costing and services. During this process, you need to ensure that you are not choosing the cheapest place and compromising on quality.

Weigh up your options and remember that this is a service that you are unable to provide due to time and skills.

Final thoughts

With the right partner, the benefits of outsourcing are endless. They will have a positive impact on your reputation and your bottom line, which is why you cannot take this decision lightly. You will also need to choose according to the size of your business and your needs. For example, if your needs are to communicate with your customers across various online channels in a personalised manner, you will need to look for a company that is small enough to attend to the detail you expect. If you simply want to automate your customer needs, you will be able to consult with large companies with years of experience and the latest technology. The smaller your company choice, however, the smaller your financial risk.

In the beginning stages, it’s best to start with something small and work your way up according to your business growth and needs.  The above-mentioned factors are crucial when wanting to boost profits and return on investment (ROI). Choose wisely and, together, you will take your business to new heights.

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