Survival of the Fittest: When a Global Pandemic Breeds SME Innovation

Necessity is the mother of invention. Those who innovate, invent opportunities for themselves, survive and flourish. True, the COVID-19 pandemic has been especially damaging to the SMEs sector in Indonesia, leaving many scraping to survive or in the dust completely. But some SMEs have been quick to shift gears to keep the motor running since the pandemic struck.

Kania, a restaurant owner in the North Sumatra capital of Medan, relied heavily on dine-ins and online deliveries in pre-pandemic times. Once social distancing and self-quarantine became the norm, she quickly shifted her focus to online deliveries, which previously contributed to 40 percent of her sales but has now more than doubled, reaching up to 90 percent. Kania also switched up her product offering: in addition to delivering ready made dishes, she also offered frozen versions of her dishes, offering a quick fix alternative to people who would be reluctant to buy groceries at the local fresh market.

William, a coffee shop owner in Jakarta, is also diversifying his product to stay afloat: offering liter bottles of his top selling coffee drinks at very fair prices, relative to what he would charge for in-store orders. William relies on online delivery services to ship his product, but since he’s still not registered with any of the major online food delivery platforms, he’s relied on social media marketing and word-of-mouth to prop up sales.

Both Kania and William’s stories point to one crucial fact: going online is an SMEs only chance of survival during this global crisis. Not just in terms of marketing and delivery, but in various aspects of a small business operation. Online software can make it easier to keep the books, manage the payroll, pay taxes, set business priorities, even monitor and evaluate performance.

Online marketing is also a skill unto itself because it’s less about promoting the quality of your product, and more about making people want it. Small businesses should create content that draws attention, sparks interest, creates a desire and finally prompts a call to action. Finally, to overcome the all important cash flow issue, tech companies like Silot offer the means to seek online credit from credible funding sources, without the dubious debt collecting practices often associated with P2P fintech lenders.

As Indonesia struggles to flatten the curve on COVID-19, the road ahead for SMEs appears to be a bumpy one for the unforeseeable future. Government stimulus and incentives are expected to lessen the burden and breathe new life into ailing SMEs, but ultimately product innovation and a willingness to embrace online technology are the keys to survival and growth.