NON TRADITIONAL, LOW CAP PRODUCTS: KEY TO SME GROWTH & SUSTAINABILITY

This subject may sound very simple, everyday kind of debate, but the fact remains, most SMEs fail due to this very reason. Everyone wants to be in business, and also in fast moving products, so there are no issues of finding buyers, however what we tend to forget, is the fact that all major corporates deal in similar products, which are far better in quality & packaging, and they spend tons of money on brand building, much much more than SMEs total business capital. I can relate this situation to one incident happened in early 90s, Coke was relaunching itself in Pakistan, we used to have returnable glass bottles. Coke, instead of pumping millions into advertising, they knew that all they had to do is to make the product available across the country. What they did? they bought all glass bottles of their competitors including Pepsi, they broke all bottles & made sure their own product was available, not just on the shelf, they even went on to let customers have free drinks in all affluent restaurants for weeks

What I am trying to make SMEs understand, is that there are multiple risks in getting into high consumption products – a) competition from giant competitors, b) high production cost together with less impressive quality/packaging of SME versus very low cost & high quality presentation of large companies due to their volumes, c) weaker distribution network, and d) virtually zero marketing budget

I also want to present another scenario, lets assume we go ahead & develop a few fmcg products, say anti-bacterial soap, what are the pre-requisites? minimum production quantities, minimum production volumes of packing material, give atleast 30 days credit to distributors which means we need to have atleast 3 months inventory in respect of investment, we need liquid capital for marketing, deploy sales teams. Now comes the most critical factor, pricing structure, it is imperative for us to dish out much more discounts to distributors & retailers for them to trade our products, which could result in negligible income for the SME. Its important we relate this ” low income” to the actual costs because it may not even be enough to sustain, meet all costs input due to low volumes

Solution? its a bit challenging, we first must accept our ground realities, not in negative sense, we must be realistic and plan accordingly. Lets see how fruit & veg vendors operate! they make money with their meagre seed capital, selling from small kiosks, they remain happy, because they make better profits, enough to recycle full capital, save a bit and at the same time, eat from profits

Non-Traditional products bring much better profits, we would not pay a cent more on a soap knowing another equally good brand is being sold cheaper, however we wouldn’t question if someone is selling a smartly packaged, reasonably good quality picture frame for $10 because no one would question us on the actual cost, so this frame could be costing us not even $3 and yet we end up making very good return on our small capital

SMEs offer best growth potential but for us to be on a sustainable road, we need to come up with creative ideas, sell items no one or less people are selling, to avoid getting into serious competition, knowing things may get nasty like what we witnessed in Coke re-launch strategy

All the best!

MISTAKES ARE GOOD, SO ARE LOSSES – ITS THE ONLY SOLUTION TO WIN

This is again something that we (parents, mentors, teachers etc) fail to tell our kids that its only natural to make mistakes, encourage them that they experiment, learn, and grow. That’s how a baby also learns to walk, he/she cannot even stand up, without trying to tumble & crawl

This process of constant encouragement must start from the very early formative years, at home, while attending schools, at universities, and at place of work – No one would mind if we enhance the selection criteria while selecting most deserving kids, even though its being most discriminatory, but its not going to hurt kids the way “negative, abusive, demeaning  remarks” do to one’s self respect

Every banker, charity knows the significance of developing SME businesses, and the benefits to reach out to youngsters at the grass root level, so if there is a genuine hunger, and desire to eat the best mango,  its only natural that we give all the attention to provide right nutrition & care to the tree during its entire life cycle

All I am trying to make charities, banks, NGOs understand, that this is the same formula they should adopt while developing SME & youth business ventures, please dont cut them down if they fail to bear fruit the first or the second or the 3rd time. All that’s required is our careful, matured evaluation to make sure that the person, we are putting our time & money on, is hard working, responsible, good family background, self motivated, ambitious, then committing little money on small 100 small businesses, in regular instalments is absolutely safe, much safer than dishing our millions to 1 corporate client

I have seen dozens of times, when SMEs, full of potential get verdicts against their life from banks on seeing small losses. It maybe a routine decision on part of the bank, but that person loses his/her hard work, confidence to stand again, leave alone losing seed capital, because the funding bank would have first right to reclaim its loan amount plus interest from sale of assets, which in some cases force an SME to give away their house to the bank as well

I ask all our champions SME bankers, what do we call this? an incompetent, untimely, irresponsible reckless business decision? or “good governance” and/or “risk management” as they call it? that’s being totally inhuman, taking hasty decisions at the cost of ruining business, country’s economy and above all shooting down the entire household

I am also addressing the so called “banking regulators”, the central banks & SEC, that please be very responsible & conscious of the consequential damages that each single family has to face, in the event their lending bank’s sword falls on them. We can always cut down on the risk exposure by lowering loan amounts, and even get focused on only taking up trading ventures with short turnaround cycles so we keep funds moving all the time, its like taking up a position between standard SME size & typical micro credit situation, it may enhance operational costs but its worth the effort as results are guaranteed

Again, we go back to the same solution, we need “father figures” and not just another 9 to 5 banker who comes to make money during the day, no matter what happens to the client. Smart bankers wouldn’t get offended by my harsh remarks, instead, its an opportunity to set right footing and take advantage of the wide gap, which may not remain there for long

 

 

Women’s role in the Development of a stronger & sustainable Society

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We (men) talk of women liberation, we hold seminars, organize events to project women the very best way possible.

We also preach democracy and education for our girls no different or inferior than boys, however in all honesty, we fall short miserably at home, contradicting our actions being projected outside

I wish to remain progressive without getting into unwanted criticism or throwing dirt on anyone, because its going to help us only when we start a healthy debate, identity our weaknesses to help one another constructively

The relationship between husband & wife is like 2 ends of a bridge; we cannot build a home unless we tie both ends firmly, and continue to strengthen the bridge by keeping love & affection paramount. It’s equally critical that our teachings and words of wisdom to our children compliment our actions

Most husbands let their wives handle and control all domestic matters solely without any interference, this ensures discipline and harmony perfectly. It’s important that we identify a potential high risk situation here, husbands at times get carried away to the extent of being disrespectful to their wives on petty homely issues, this attitude puts a dent in maintaining peace, leave alone putting children under stress. There’s something husbands should realize that they must assume greater responsibility, demonstrate maturity to handle domestic issues with a kind heart. However, this must not be taken as weakness by wives, its pure ‘submission’ to let the family continue enjoying the best environment. Husbands/fathers on the other hand would endup gaining more respect from wives and children alike. It means, RESPECT cannot be demanded by force, instead, we have to earn it, through exercising patience, tolerance and love ONLY

Democracy, whether practiced at home or outside, is an ‘ESSENCE’ of maturity, tolerance and responsibility together with high sense of “taking ownership” few points to ponder

A) we cannot abandon our family in a distress situation
B) we cannot just pick and choose good moments, we have to live through bad times as well
C) can we preach democracy, knowing we become dictators at home?
D) we cannot gain respect without being humble and understanding

GROUND PREPARED TO ADDRESS REAL ISSUES

STRONGER MOTHERS ENSURE STRONGER FAMILY VALUES – if Allah has entrusted the biggest responsibility on women to be responsible of carrying a child inside her for 9 months, followed by extreme pain during childbirth (science has proven that the pain is equivalent to fracture of 43 bones). Once the baby is born, mothers embark on a long journey that lasts nothing less than 15 yeas of round the clock devotion and care MULTIPLY BY THE NUMBER OF CHILDREN EACH MOTHER CONCEIVES – what does this translate into? There are several relevance to extract;

1) women are much stronger, mentally than men
2) responsibility, maturity, affection comes naturally to women (a decision taken by Allah Himself)
3) women have far greater ability to exercise tolerance and patience (again a Gift from Allah)
4) no one will debate that women are the best teachers
5) best listeners, counselors are women

Way forward… It’s time, we (men) stand up, thank and honor women with all our heart for being the sole pillar of existence in our homes, practicing love, patience, tolerance in our lives, being solely responsible for our children’s upbringing and utmost care

It’s imperative that women be given high ranking positions, we must take advantage of their better sense of judgement, consult them before taking key decisions, respect their opinion, see them as a blessing from Allah. This change in our mindset is not just going to ensure stronger societies, it will also lift depleting confidence in young girls who either endup being victims of our harshness or they become rebellious and get corrupted, morally. Who’s to blame? Our own shortsighted attitude, unfortunately

Let’s not defy nature, if Allah can entrust women with such huge responsibilities, its only natural that they be given their due share of respect, place in our societies, we treat them with kindness because what we do outside our homes is not even a 10% match against what’s being done inside

I request all responsible parents, children, youngsters to share their opinion in order to build resources and joint efforts to make this dream a reality

May Allah give us wisdom and strength to bring all of us together as one family of Mohammed (Peace be upon him) Aameen

Right Attitude – SMEs, Women & Youth enterprises must present themselves as opportunities rather than seeking Sympathy

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Mainstream corporates call it product development, market positioning, capacity building, the list is endless. However the minute small medium enterprises run by women, young entrepreneurs go out to seek business, they are being looked at as if there are seeking charity, this unkind behavior from mainstream players whereby they assist smaller businesses (if they assist as 8 out of 10th times they make excuses or simply get rude to the extent of showing the door)  have gone too far, that they actually believe, a huge favor is being given to the ‘less privileged’

As much as we condemn this situation, its also critical to identify the actual problem so we address and solve this never-ending dilemma. In my opinion, no one can abuse or be rude to us, unless we allow that person in the first place. It’s not difficult to relate this with today’s SMEs, its no secret that a small business owner lacks self confidence when he/she tries to meet a banker or a big customer to discuss business across the table – let’s question ourselves, do we stand a chance to make an impression? Not at all! It’s a non starter, the minute we step into a hifi office building, we get intimidated by our surroundings – its pointless to debate if its a deliberate move on part of corporate giants or its just an inherent shortcoming on the other side because bottomline remains, SMEs lose the race before its started

If I can be honest, the solution if all of us are able to identify would not only benefit small-scale businesses, its infact more profitable to bigger companies to work with suppliers and buyers with low overheads and less appetite. It’s a win-win situation for all

I’m taking liberty to address SMEs – why do we get intimidated? If we have confidence in what we are selling, knowing its also other party’s need, then we must meet on equal terms. All we need to make sure, we must be well equipped to speak the language other parties understand. I’m not talking in literal sense, we must study the mindset of the person or the company we are meeting with so we know their values and long term objectives. It’s like going to an interview with a relaxed attitude, knowing the person we are meeting is not our boss to be! It’s imperative to set playing rules upfront, when we meet a business associate we must be respectful but not at the cost of losing our own ground, meaning we demonstrate confidence and maturity with a clear message that being respectful is mutual

Financial Book-keeping & Accountantancy – Its outdated to walk on a straight line

Being a Business & Finance Strategist, I have come across many chartered accountants, financial controllers across the globe, most of them are simply brilliant in their field, however, it saddens me when I see them being stagnant in their respective positions, no tangible growth when you see them working over the last 20 years, nothing much has changed except the routine annual salary increase if at all – bottom-line remains, they are expected to continue rendering their underpaid, un-thankful support services, that doesn’t end at 5pm

Before we move further, its equally interesting to acknowledge that most corporates prefer MBA Finance over Chartered Accounts, but in all fairness, if we look at it critically, MBA Finance is not even 20% in terms of professional expertise against a CA, yet they are being paid well, and promised consistent growth – I have agreed to call this “progress” that smart ERP applications have taken over most of the accountancy work in the past 2 decades, major banks used to keep atleast 50 CAs in their corporate headquarters till mid 90s against merely a handful number of professionals at this time

I have recently gotten an opportunity to work closely with a certified accountant, he had all the ingredients to become a proper business manager – however like all accounts, he was finding difficult to deviate from his routine course of responsibilities – that is just to record & present filtered financial data to shareholders, management & of-course the regulators – it means that only data recording is being done

There is no effort in establishing the fact that future is even more tougher, professional expertise wise – services industry has been evolving very fast, giving a totally new dimension to modern day consulting services in order to not just remain sustainable but also come up with innovative solutions – its time all accountancy professionals start thinking like business managers – instead of merely booking expenses & recording revenues, they should grow into a senior role by way of analysing businesses, establish capacity available, its utilization, monitor head count, develop realistic budgets & business forecasts, get into client servicing, so there is 1 window service to the end customer – shareholders & senior managers can be guided beautifully whereby we adopt a mutually acceptable strategy to form the basis of building a sustainable road map – they can either identify capacity & work towards maximizing delivery to gain revenue, other option is to target a particular revenue stream and work backwards to see if there are adequate resources to meet such a target – i would however tend to lean towards the first approach, its being conservative and we remain conscious of our direct costs – second option, on the other hand is being practised by sales driven organizations, but there are serious risks as we must make provisions to pay attached costs in meeting ambitious sales targets

This is a strong case being presented to all accounts as a challenge, there is vacuum, someone needs to get up and be the bridge, fill this gap – as scope of services are endless once we get on this road, seeing future as an opportunity to grow & be appreciated, finally

 

“RIGHTS OF ADMISSION RESERVED” : TIME TO BUILD

Being a progressive & constructive discussion forum, we, as always, again restrict ourselves to find solutions than to be critical – lets go back in history to clearly understand the concept of “rights of admission reserved” and at the same time establish its existence even in today’s modern era, no matter how strong we try to advocate in defiance


If we glance through ground realities in the old days, in India, all across Africa, parts of far East and most of the Central America – we know those people used to exercise great caution, not to go near “no entry zones” such as high end shopping areas, public parks, restaurants etc., we have read, seen sign boards displaying “dogs & _______ not allowed” – lets not get into this debate of making accusations, as it was an acceptable practice during the time which was originating from days of slaveryIn today’s forward looking times, we know, that the West discourage “racism” strongly, yet, there are sure signs of “after effects” in the oppressed zones, no matter how hard they try, they still lack confidence, actually seeing themselves as inferiors, less intelligent and so on – bottom-line remains, they have accepted their state of  poverty, inability to stand right next to “a white man” –

Now that question is, what is the end product of being in this state of mind for generations? some of them die poor, but most tend to rebel, get into street crimes, not to take out their frustration, but to manage food for that particular day – which means, we need to see them & treat them with kind & helpful attitude – these youngsters committing crimes, taking drugs are actually in need to our care than our hate & will to punish them – this wouldn’t help at all, instead, it would destroy our new generation, God forbid

While the affected people continue to struggle to meet ends, the West has become more richer & continue to enjoy, not any intention to suppress anyone, they are just being benefited due to gaining on availability of surplus resources & opportunities – that’s why most of us, including the writer, starts believing in distress, that the West has changed its strategy from putting up   “dogs & _______ not allowed” sign boards to making daily use consumer products &  good food so expensive that no unwanted person dare come near them – well, this is not true, problem, actually is the absence of competition, and non existence of small business operators to tap into an ever growing world economy – this quote “you can lead a horse to water, but you cant make it drink” situation across 3rd world economies is no different, opportunities are there, its upto them to stand up, and start walking – as opportunities doesn’t come to us, we have to go to them – they have to come out of their “self pity” attitude, take control of their lives, be confident and go out with a “never give up” body language – end result is guaranteed, no one would ever complain of any sign boards


Realistic/Accurate Business Forecasts | SME’s lack of understanding & Possible Imbalanced Bank Credit

This is one area small business operators find very frustrating, leave alone getting excited to find out what they should earn in the new

year, in advance. Its a shame, banks claiming to be SME specialists fail to understand the root cause of this inherent short coming in majority of their potential customers. In my opinion, problem doesn’t lie in lack of understanding on bankers part, instead, its the “lack of responsibility” attitude which is only looking to attach “any forecast” to the applicant’s file just to satisfy documentary requirements. Few things that needs to be taken care of, either on bankers or SME operators’s part with only 2 benchmarks to focus on- CAPACITY & BUSINESS IN HAND

  • finding the right capacity to delivery each month – in order to pin point a realistic number
  • once capacity is known, see past months actual performance to gauge as to what percentage of capacity, been utilized
  • check for factors responsible in “under capacity” situation
  • set realistic growth, month-wise, giving room to progress steadily in order to reach optimum capacity levels – because if someone is hitting 10 laps, knowing he/she can do 15, there is no way one can achieve 15 overnight – small steps needed to gain good momentum

All above parameters are related to understanding & setting accurate capacity levels, lets look at the other side of the coin – “business in hand”

  •  no matter what our capacity is, bottom line remains that what volume of business does one have at the beginning of each year, so as to insert actual targets
  • being in this situation, one has to work backwards – since business in hand is known upfront, we simply divide it in months – again, 2 sub benchmarks, a) we divide business in hand by our own monthly capacity to establish realistic timeline to finish each job, or b) we get restricted time line from customers, in this situation, one needs to see what’s the best possible volume achievable given our capacity available each month – this will surely save us from last minute embarrassment & penalties in the event we fail to deliver promptly

While we discuss capacity & business, its equally important to establish accurate amount of gap between what SME owners has as his/her equity and what is there to be taken in bank support – this is critical, knowing no one refuses more money coming in – however in the absence of establishing accurate capital requirements, the ability to service bank credit remains a big question mark – it is therefore imperative for bankers & SME operators to realize the need to understand business credentials, in order to ensure sustainable growth, leave alone saving bank from losing out its capital deployed – its being most negative on bankers part to try seek beefy collaterals at the time of sanctioning loans, which in most cases is either business owner’s house or his place of work – meaning, if something goes wrong God forbid, bank would try to extract the last drop that is there to come out clean, lets not discuss what would happen to the business owner & his/her family

Its only being human to realize one’s responsibility to his family, friends, business associates – I don’t think that’s too much to ask dear friends