Building Up Our Backbone in Tough Times
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Building Up Our Backbone in Tough Times

By Nozizwe Vundla, 13 August 2021

Since its inception in 2013, the Sanlam Group’s Enterprise and Supplier Development (ESD) programme has helped 267 South African small and medium businesses and financial planning businesses grow their average revenue by 21% and create 391 sustainable new jobs, while supporting 2,427 jobs in total.

Despite the difficulties of COVID-19, the 2020/21 programme saw 35 jobs created – a phenomenal feat. Sanlam adapted the programme to offer extended grant funding and additional business development support from coaches and mentors. This helped participating SMEs to stay afloat and strengthen their offerings with a future-fit focus and renewed vigour and vision.

Bolstering South Africa’s Backbone

The ESD programme’s aim is to support the SMEs linked to Sanlam’s supply chain and sales networks. All participating businesses are 100% majority black-owned. Nozizwe Vundla, Head of the Sanlam Foundation, says SMEs are the backbone of the country’s economy and are key to creating employment opportunities and economic inclusion.

“Our programme aims to empower SMEs to be financially confident and resilient, and foster the growth, transformation and employment this country so desperately needs. Our SME sector has been hard hit by COVID-19 and social unrest. It is imperative we do everything in our power to give business owners the guidance, support and knowledge necessary to survive this – even emerge from it stronger.”

Projects are typically two years long, with subject-specific masterclasses, boot camps and one-on-one coaching with assigned professional business mentors. Year one focuses on setting groundwork in good governance; year two is about growth.

Avoiding Job Loss in the Toughest of Times

To help SMEs avoid job loss amidst the pandemic, Vundla says mentors worked with the business owners to cut back on costs, diversify to new revenue streams, and aggressively target more customers. The Group’s COVID-19 relief grant also played a crucial role in keeping businesses buoyant, even when some were simply unable to earn any income for months.

Additionally, mentors encouraged several businesses to redesign their websites and consider adopting e-commerce. One SME successfully launched a site to market educational books and learning materials online, while another set up a platform to match up artisans (plumbers, painters, and so forth) with their local markets.

COVID-19 Case Study – Dumile Brand Boutique

Sibulele Siko-Shosha is the owner of Dumile, which is a brand management and development boutique. 2020 saw the tragic loss of her brother and business partner, which meant that she suddenly had to face everything in the business alone. She says the Sanlam Group’s ESD programme came at just the right time to help her rebuild.

COVID-19 had a devastating impact, with brand activities being cancelled. Sibulele says, “I went into survival mode and focused more on securing retainer clients.” She continued with her marketing plan and systems development, “This shifted my energy from despair to hope and optimism.” Sanlam also provided a grant to assist with PPE and continued to provide professional business mentorship.

Sibulele managed to secure her retainer clients and did shoots for a major cell phone brand – all during the lockdown. She revisited her hiring style and staff management systems. She says her journey with Sanlam ‘has been great’, “The relief helped financially and so did the assistance with drawing up a COVID-19-compliant management plan. I’m proud of how well we executed this. I feel extremely optimistic about the future.”

Advice for SME Owners During This Time

In the face of uncertainty and adversity, Vundla encourages SMEs to go back to basics. “Take time to refocus. A mediocre plan well implemented almost always trumps a big plan that’s poorly executed. Think about the next 6 to 12 months. Take it one day at a time and focus on your business’s roadmap.” Although sometimes it’s necessary to diversify, she says that right now, businesses should hone what they do best – “Identify what you do well and how you can offer more of this to more clients.”

Her advice to business owners right now:

  • Consider ways to diversify revenues while honing in on what the business does best.
  • Have a strong sales process.
  • Base management decisions on sound financial metrics.
  • Build mental resilience. It can be lonely at the top, so seek business mentorship and support. Having a ‘why person’ to objectively question your decisions and give guidance is invaluable. Also, join a community of other SME owners so you feel less alone.

Building the Country for Generations to Come

Sanlam’s procurement spend was R62,929,334 in the last seven years. In supporting SMEs, the Group recognises that it’s supporting their families, suppliers, creditors, debtors and communities at large.

Vundla adds, “It’s a tremendous privilege to positively influence one SME, then the next, and the next. We see the results that come from this space of sharing and knowledge transfer. There’s such a hunger. People have incredible potential, they just need support. In helping them to live with confidence, we build this country for generations to come.”


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