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WhatsApp-based resource centre for SMEs debuts

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The SMMEstart chat service is available on 060 011 0110.
The SMMEstart chat service is available on 060 011 0110.

Local small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs) now have a WhatsApp-dedicated line from which to access instant information, guidance and resources to support their businesses.

SMMEstart, officially unveiled a week ago, is a chat-based service that is activated by texting the word ‘hi’ in a WhatsApp message to get started, says JoziHub’s Samantha Manclark.

According to Manclark, SMMEstart was developed in SA by Praekelt.org in partnership with JoziHub for SA, and Arifu in Kenya and Nigeria, with funding support from Google.org.

Access to SMMEstart content and resources is free, with the usual user WhatsApp data charges applying, notes Manclark.

“SMMEstart is built on the sustained and wide-ranging global success of HealthAlert, which was developed by Praekelt.org using Turn.io for the National Department of Health (NDOH), to disseminate accurate, timeous information on COVID-19 to the public via WhatsApp.

“The contact NDOH WhatsApp line has had over nine million users to date. Using this technology and menu system, and understanding the need for SMMEs to access up to date, credible information to support their businesses prompted us to initiate this project.”

The COVID-19 pandemic and nation-wide lockdown implemented in the country disrupted businesses across most sectors, putting people’s livelihoods and small and medium businesses, in particular, under immense pressure.

This is one of the reasons the founders of SMMEstart decided to launch the WhatsApp-based service, to help business owners restart and grow their companies during the COVID-19 economic recovery period and beyond.

“The resources included have been developed based on the results of research conducted into the needs of micro, small and medium business in South Africa − especially needs brought on by COVID-19.

“Among other insights, the needs assessment research confirmed that most businesses in the study experienced severe financial impact from COVID-19. Most respondents indicated that COVID-19 illuminated a need for business skills, predominantly skills relating to implementing sustainable, online business opportunities and digital marketing.

“Respondents also indicated difficulty in understanding or accessing relief opportunities and found that they were not properly compliant in order to access or apply for the relief offered. The respondents further indicated a need for assistance in navigating legal matters, as well as with their future business strategy and growth.”

Manclark says the service has had “a few thousand” users sign up in just one week. “We are hoping to reach 150 000 users by July this year.

“We have tried to ensure the content and information is without complicated terminology or jargon. SMMEs are in dire need of support and we believe that working together with other organisations to provide as much resource and support to SMMEs as possible is crucial.”

Information resource centre

According to Manclark, the SMMEstart service menu is filled with a variety of information, ranging from financial and marketing, to news and legal data.

  • Financial: Allows SMMEs to find and learn how to apply for government and private sector financial relief resources, as well as accounting guidelines and information to help businesses through COVID-19 and beyond.
  • Grow: Provides free resources to grow knowledge, including free downloadable books and digital marketing skills training to help businesses grow, despite challenging times.
  • Tax: Provides guidance on how to be tax compliant, something SMMEstart says is key to accessing SARS COVID-19 relief measures and unlocking new business opportunities.
  • Marketing: Allows business owners to understand and implement marketing that can help businesses survive and thrive through this time.
  • Legal: Shows guidance on the new legal dimensions COVID-19 has brought to the way businesses operate – as well as other important legal obligations pertaining to micro, small and medium businesses.
  • Health: This is to access pertinent COVID-19 information. How best to take care of one’s health and the health of employees – from keeping healthy during COVID-19, to stress reduction and other areas that contribute to the ongoing success of SMMEs.
  • News: This is to keep up-to-date on COVID-19 news, including steps being taken by government for business relief and current regulations around reducing the pandemic, as well as news of interest to SMMEs.
  • Free: A resource SMMEstart is sourcing to help businesses recover and grow. These will be frequently updated as free resources are identified and partnerships entered into with other organisations willing to play a role in helping SMMEs through COVID-19 and beyond.
  • Share: A service to give people the ability to easily share the service with other business owners.

“Business owners are also encouraged to register on the service in order to receive updates and provide valuable feedback on the service,” adds Manclark.

Looking to the future, Manclark says because SMMEstart is a live service, functionality, content and additional resources will be added over time, especially as needs change or new needs are identified.

She points to ‘TALK’ as the next offering that will be added in the coming weeks on SMMEstart. This will give users the opportunity to share their stories and also engage with the SMMEstart helpdesk, to ask questions or request additional services, information or support.

The SMMEstart WhatsApp number is: +27 60 011 0110.

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