A few days ago, I shared on my social media page (Instagram to be precise), the importance of policies.
It was an interesting piece and I will share some of it here. Policies are beneficial to economies and individuals because they are the guidelines that define the extent of individual and corporate behaviour in a society. However, policies are sometimes resisted by the people, who are either adamant to change or do not fully grasp the implication of such policies in their lives and business. While some have waved off the latter as a communication issue, policies if not well articulated tend to have far-reaching outcomes.
Whether it is political, social, economic or religious policies, the start-up sector is highly impacted by policy changes. When it comes to startups and SMEs, the Nigerian government has been active in creating an improved business environment for small businesses through bodies like the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC) and the Enabling Business Environment Secretariat (EBES) where they implement reforms to existing policies to favour businesses through agencies such as the Small & Medium Enterprises Development Agency of Nigeria (SMEDAN), the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) and the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), to name a few. In today’s digital age, government bodies recognise the need to leverage online channels and social media as their primary form of engagement for both reach and impact. This means that SMEs can look up information around a relevant policy online and should be able to retrieve this information. The question is, how easy is it for an SME or startup to find this information? While the government works towards easing up the business environment, access to information on these interventions must also be simplified.
Some of the notable policies (and reforms) include:
i) Business registration – businesses can now register with the Corporate Affairs Commission within 24 hours. Visit www.cac.gov.ng to get more information on their processes and requirements.
ii) Paying taxes – businesses can prepare, file and pay their Company Income Tax within 8 hours. Visit www.firs.gov.ng
iii) Cross-border trading – a business owner can finalise his/her export documentation process within 30 minutes, down from 7 days. Visit www.nepc.gov.ng
iv) Website registration – information on registering specialised domains with a .ng extension or locating registrars can be found via www.nitda.gov.ng
v) Access to finance – the last but in no way least of critical considerations for small businesses is SME Finance. The Central Bank of Nigeria has put special policies in place to ensure commercial banks and retail provide financing to SMEs. Visit www.cbn.gov.ng for more information on what is available.
How do SMEs leverage existing policies?
SMEs need to know what is available to them and what is not. The primary approach I advise any entrepreneur to take is to research. I have provided a list of websites above, that give a tonne of information and this is always a good first step. Social media is another source, although it may be limited as many Nigerian government agencies are yet to fully utilise social media to effectively communicate their policies. As information still exists in silos in this part of the world, using your network may prove even more effective to get certain pieces of information. Are you asking questions and leveraging your network to get information? It is important to do so in our kind of business environment until information becomes fully democratic.
Thirdly, by joining entrepreneurship support organisations such as Naija Startups and local chambers of commerce, startup and SME founders are kept up to date with information as these organisations act as an intermediary and are good portals of information for small businesses. Visit www.naijastartups.co for more information.
In conclusion, policies are useful and will continue to be developed or reformed over the next decade. We are all integral to effective policymaking by speaking up and sharing our views via the various SME communities, platforms, and support organisations. Governments also need to listen more as policies cannot be created in isolation. Overall, it is a multi-stakeholder effort.
Aramide Abe is the Executive Director of Naija Startups, an award-winning African online SME platform. Through this platform, she has impacted over 80,000 African entrepreneurs. She is an SME policy expert and a business consultant. Recently she consulted at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (AFCFTA policy development and digital policies for the private sector in Africa) and at the European Parliament in Brussels (on digital policies for Africa). Aramide is also a public speaker and a gender equality advocate.