Much has been said about the potential of SMEs to drive job creation and economic growth for South Africa. Our unemployment rate is at 26.7% – an astonishing figure that speaks volumes about the dire need for job creation. On the back of this, we are seeing increasing amounts of money being channeled into incubators and the funding of startup companies.
Although important, the starting of new businesses, unless they are completely innovative, well-timed and highly scalable, will not provide us with much-needed quick wins on our path to job creation and economic growth. It is the “low-hanging fruit” of scaling up South Africa’s established SME businesses that we believe is at the core of how we can grow this economy further.
The state of established businesses in South Africa
Established businesses that already employ 10-20 people have a working product, willing buyers and a proven business model and with some modifications, increased guidance and adequate management, they have the potential to increase their number of employees significantly as they scale up. However, a 2016/2017 report by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) in partnership with the University of Cape Town found that the rate of established businesses in South Africa has declined by an incredible 26% since 2015.
In fact, South Africa had one of the lowest established business rates of all the economies that participated in the GEM 2016 study (ranked 61st out of 65 economies). This, the report says, “paints a bleak picture of the SMME sector’s potential to contribute meaningfully to job creation, economic growth and more equal income distribution.” While we should not neglect the starting of new businesses, scaling up established businesses will provide young people with much needed experience to ensure that when they eventually start their own businesses, they may have greater chances of success.
How to increase the proportion of established businesses that scale up
Have a clear vision for your business
When we as business coaches work with established businesses that are scaling up, we make sure to start with the founder as their attitudes and desires determine how far the business will go. Scaling up an established business begins with a clear vision. Often, we find that the businesses owners don’t have a clear vision of where they want to take their business, and without a vision, it’s very difficult to scale.
Determine why your business exists
Linked to a clear vision, business owners need to have a strong purpose that answers the question of why they want to scale. Some business owners often see their business as a vehicle that provides them with an income, rather than the business serving a bigger purpose to impact an industry or the broader society. As a result, they often stop short of developing the full potential of their businesses.
Be willing to learn and seek help where needed
Business owners also need to have a willingness to learn. Being entrepreneurs, they often have a definitive view of the world and how it should work, which drives them to create something that they believe needs to exist (a new business venture). A risk to these strongly held views and high levels of confidence is that entrepreneurs potentially won’t open themselves up to new ideas, or to being challenged that some of their beliefs and views may, in fact, be holding their businesses back.
Business owners need to realise that they may not have all the skills to scale their business. I’ve found that entrepreneurs tend to be strong in customer service, innovation and sales, and are often weaker in people management and attention to detail – skills that become a lot more critical at the point of scaling the business.
Other areas of importance in scaling up
There are other critical areas that businesses need to address in scaling up but dealing with the founder is most critical. Strategy is one, cash flow is another, as is the question of hiring/finding and developing key talent. I will be unpacking these and more at the upcoming Business Day TV SME Summit on 8 March; and with increasing efforts by government to address the unemployment crises through platforms like the Jobs Summit announced in the State of the Nation Address, we hope that more conversations are had around harnessing the job creation power of established businesses that manage to scale up quickly and sustainably.