2020 has been a rough year for businesses throughout the world. The rate of infection for COVID-19 skyrocketed earlier this year and has caused many countries to go into lockdown and forcing countless businesses to close shop. SMEs in particular were hit incredibly hard as they lack the financial clout to stay afloat during such tough times.
With physical contact being the main source of transmission for COVID-19, face-to-face meetings had to be called off, logistics and deliveries have slowed to crawl, and travel had to be restricted. The SMEs and businesses that have managed to stay in operation under such debilitating conditions are those that are embracing the digital era.
These companies have begun transforming themselves into a digital service where able. Telecommuting has seen a massive rise as employees are now required to work from home to avoid the risk of spreading the coronavirus. Companies are implementing or updating an internal cloud network to streamline data sharing and communication. Even events are now being taken online as large crowds and gatherings are being temporarily outlawed.
In a recent webinar hosted by SME Magazine on 2 May, a group of panellists from across several industries came together to discuss this ‘new normal’ and how they themselves have dealt with the challenges and hardships brought about by the COVID-19 virus and the ensuing lockdowns it has caused across Asia.
These panellists included Nicholas Teo, Sales Director of Advance Lube Enterprise Sdn Bhd, Rueben Lee, Co-Founder of Crynx Group Sdn Bhd, and Mint Leong, Managing Director of Sunflower Holidays Sdn Bhd.
On the topic of “The New Digital Era”, the webinar discussed how digital services are now at the forefront of the majority of SMEs’ minds.
According to Ms Leong, travel agencies are having a particularly hard time during the COVID-19 lockdowns. With physical contact and travel being discouraged, tourism has taken a huge hit throughout the globe. Even the biggest partners for travel agencies, that being hotels and airlines, are facing huge losses.
Ms Leong explains that there is little that can be done regarding sales, but what can be done is preparation and internal transformation. Improving communications, especially having a digital footprint can lay the groundwork to a smoother recovery post-pandemic. Content and experience marketing online can lead to greater awareness of Malaysia as a safe, attractive tourist destination once the pandemic is over.
Mr Lee’s company on the other hand specialises in skincare products. Unlike most businesses, Crynx Group products do not have much of a presence in retail stores. instead, they have a much larger presence online via their own e-commerce platform. This provides an excellent example of early digital adoption and how it has helped a business to survive.
Aside from the already established digital market, Mr Lee’s company is also able to engage directly with their customers via the use of their own digital platform, thus eliminating the potential e-marketing miscommunication that can result of having a third-party distributor.
Mr Teo represents the automotive industry, particularly with regards to the manufacturing of lubricants and engine oils. The COVID-19 has had a particularly huge impact on the business’ exports. With the local market of Malaysia being on near total lockdown, Advance Lube Enterpise had to refocus on the export markets which remain open.
The company has also taken the opportunity to reorganise their business strategy. They have transitioned into making hand sanitisers which are currently in high demand. They have also took it upon themselves to work upstream and manufacture their own packaging to minimise contact. Their digitalisation initiatives involve using data analytics and online marketing to tap new customer sources and pinpoint their needs.
These are just some examples of what SMEs are doing to adapt and transform themselves to fit this new business ecosystem.