I won’t call myself a digital or technology evangelist, (I mean I don’t code, I am not necessarily into gadgets), but over the past 8-10 years, the core of my work has been working with companies to digitise their operations on an essential level. Feel free to call me a digital essentialist.
The impact of COVID-19 on businesses has been huge, the daily news updates on this topic have been depressing. We will still be unravelling the impact of COVID-19 on businesses, especially small businesses for years to come. But what has been the most glaring, is the fact that the digital future we used to talk about, started a long time ago. With the lockdown across the world, we have seen the need for small businesses to move to digital platforms for various functions within their business.
Across core functions for businesses there are certain questions that entrepreneurs need to ask relating to COVID-19 and technology for example:
· Strategy: Do I need to prioritize some service offerings, or pivot the entire business?
· Operations: Which areas of my business operations can be automated?
· Marketing: Is the business leveraging digital marketing optimally?
· Sales: Are we leveraging online sales platforms sufficiently?
· Finance: Do we have a scenario-based budget plan; do we need to raise debt or equity to get the business through the next couple of months?
For this article, I will focus on guidelines relating to digitising your core operations immediately
Leverage available platforms to drive operations management
While doing some research on what platforms small businesses use to manage the operation, I found out that it could vary to as many as 4 non-interoperable platforms, excluding paper-based reporting. This is significantly inefficient, and it makes coordination and reconciliation sub-optimal. As a business owner in choosing a platform for my company to leverage, one big factor I consider is connectivity and interoperability; does the technology platform an all in one platform, does it seamlessly connect with other existing platforms, or do I have to painfully import and export to and from other platforms, respectively. Invest in a platform that allows you to manage your staff, inventory, invoicing, accounting and customers centrally. That way without having to call anyone you can get a bird’s eye view of what is going on in your business at any time. Some of these technologies, provide analytics that helps you answer the core questions that is top mind for an entrepreneur
Some examples of these technologies are: Sage, Traction Apps, Xero
Start getting comfortable with working from home
I have always been tentative about the applicability of working from home in Nigeria, given the fact that >99% of workers in Nigeria need to be physically present to work, plus the fact that power supply cannot be relied on. There are a lot of service-oriented businesses and job functions that working from home applies to, who have been forced to make it work during the lockdown.
I have heard varied feedback on how effective working from home has been for employees, but what has been the constant is the fact that people have felt much more energized working from home given the fact they save 2-5 hours every day since that they are not exposed to traffic. Entrepreneurs need to start considering remote working post the lockdown, as a core way to increase productivity and reduce costs. For entrepreneurs in Nigeria, consider investing in power banks going forward to help employees work from home efficiently when power fails; it is also worth negotiating who funds the internet costs, we have heard of employees taking this on, as their transport expenses would have dropped. Lastly, to make working from home effective, entrepreneurs should have structures in place such as check-in and check outcalls, to ensure alignment on work activities.
Some examples of these technologies are: Zoom and Microsoft Teams for web conferencing, Slack for your team collaborations, Asana and Trello (to organize your team’s tasks)
Move your business online
Over the last 5 weeks, businesses have scrambled to find ways to sell digitally. I have seen and received several pdf catalogues on WhatsApp from retail stores and farmer markets. Post lockdown online sales will experience significant growth, compared to pre lockdown trends, and an area in which businesses will start competing is who has a better online sales user experience. This doesn’t mean you need to start thinking about creating an app. For starters, you need a website, if you have a product-based business you need to have an e-commerce feature, also integrate your business to relevant marketplaces in addition to Jumia and Konga. Activate your sales on Instagram, and look into innovative marketing strategies to push your offering, for example, affiliate marketing across your social media platforms
Technologies to help here include: Disha (to help creators with a simple page), Shopify and WooCommerce (to create an e-commerce feature to your existing website), and Traction Apps (to create an easy online store using the same POS for your in-store operations)
Dolapo Adejuyigbe is the Managing Partner of Traction Venture Partners, a venture builder platform with the goal of creating and enabling a B2B ecosystem in emerging markets. Traction focuses on building businesses that seek to solve pain points of SMEs in emerging markets. To date, Traction has created 3 businesses – Traction Apps, SMETraction and Traction Consult Dolapo has over 10 years of experience in consulting, with 7 of those years with McKinsey and Company (Nigeria, South Africa, UAE). Dolapo holds a BCom (Hons) in Financial Analysis and Portfolio Management from the University of Cape Town, and a BA degree in Industrial Psychology and Communications