In a series of digital interviews, business experts and partners of Zubair Small Enterprises Centre (Zubair SEC), along with the centre’s own advisory team, have urged SMEs to face the COVID-19 situation with a positive attitude and take needed action to stay afloat.
Sharing their insights to help entrepreneurs and local businesses ride out the storm, they encouraged them to ‘keep faith’, ‘maintain financial discipline’, ‘embrace innovation’, and ‘go digital’ whenever applicable. They also encouraged SMEs to prepare business continuity plans, and if necessary, make changes in the way they conduct business.
Abdulaziz al Balushi, group CEO, Ominvest, said, “These are indeed unprecedented times. Here in Oman we are facing a twin crisis – one of COVID-19 and the other one is that of oil prices. However, I have no doubt that we will come out stronger by mainly helping each other. At this critical moment, I believe we must help SMEs to navigate through these difficult times. It is important for SMEs to effectively engage with all their shareholders and build trust with them.
“We need to cut unnecessary expenses. Every penny that is earned or saved will make a lot of difference.”
He reminded SMEs who are financially and operationally strong that this is the time for them to grow. Advising SMEs to do more for less, he asked them to embrace technology.
“That is the only way forward. If we think about innovation let us think how we can innovate through technology,” he added.
Pankaj Khimji, director, Khimji Ramdas, said, “This sector has taken a massive hit as has the other sectors. We must remember that SMEs is an ancillary industry, a service provider to a major cluster. SMEs will survive only if there is an ecosystem which is providing them a so called ‘feed’ to grow on.”
Khimji explained that SMEs who are hit badly are the ones who have large ‘ongoing fixed overheads’ such as rent or those invested on a vehicle which is a ‘non- productive cost’. He suggested permission from authorities to operate from home or garages; outsourcing the transport of delivery systems is certain to help young entrepreneurs.
Humayun Kabir, chief executive officer at ABQ Education Group, said, “We live in unprecedented times and face challenges we could never really plan for. SMEs should try to ‘out adapt’ and ‘out innovate’ the competitors and delight the customers.”
Speaking on the importance of learning and self-development during crisis, Prof Yusra Mouzugh, vice chancellor of Muscat University, said, “COVID-19 is a difficult reality that has cast a shadow on our lives and changed our world completely. Successful institutions are the ones who deal with the situation with positivity. Investing at this stage is important; we can face the future in a stronger and better way. I believe one of the most important measures to combat this pandemic is to invest in continuous learning. I would advise SMEs to look for new tools to help them and their staff keep learning and developing important skills at this time.”
Elucidating on how businesses can respond to COVID-19, Dr Rashid al Balushi, managing director, Iskan Oman Investment Company, said, “The pandemic has forced small and large companies to rethink their strategies. The slowdown of economic movement and the freezing of activities such as aviation, hotels, and restaurants has led to disruption. I would guide SMEs to be ready with measures to come out of the situation. The most important of which is a careful review of all financial matters, especially the availability of cash liquidity in order to review financial obligations and entitlements, negotiate with banks and creditors to document the financial situation.”
Articulating on how a company can cope with this crisis, Martin Luxemburg, managing director of Erasmus Centre for Entrepreneurship, asked SMEs to, “Stay connected to your customer. Go to them, talk to them and ask them what their needs are. It is possible that their needs have changed, so you have to make sure that you are still able to support them. SMEs can offer certain things online or may be offer new products for which maybe they didn’t have time to develop before.”
Ali Shaker, advisor, Business Development and Strategic Partnerships, Zubair SEC, said, “While everyone’s primary focus is on how to perform better, it is important that research and product get management attention. With the future market and customer demand unclear, it is important to focus on R&D too. Ultimately, the world will return to some modicum of normalcy, and businesses should take steps with R&D so they are ready with plans.”
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