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Looking back, there are things we wished we could have prepared for during these uncertain times. Although we can’t turn back the clock, we can use the bad times to prepare for the good ones. So what can SMEs do now to emerge stronger post COVID-19?

In this post, Mr Poh Leng Yee, Vice President of Digitalisation at iPlast 4.0, shares with us the biggest lessons we can learn from this pandemic and what SME owners should do to take things in their stride.

Every SME owner knows the importance of preparing for unforeseen circumstances, but few would have anticipated the onset of a global crisis as rampant and far-reaching as what we have experienced today.

Amid the raging COVID-19 pandemic, SME owners are fighting battles on multiple fronts, including supply chain disruptions, reduced local and overseas demand, changing consumer patterns, manpower shortages – among other things.

Although we can’t change what has already happened, we can change the course of our (very near) future, simply by channeling our focus on the things we can do today.


“Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”

1.Rebuild and diversify your supply chain

What the COVID-19 crisis has shown us time and again is the importance of diversifying our supply chains. Relying on a single, lowest-cost source is not a sustainable approach, and it is more than likely to backfire on you later on down the road.

When it comes to your supply chains, ask yourself these questions: Are you single-sourcing from only one supplier? Or are you heavily reliant on only one customer? If any one of them pull out, can your business still stay afloat?

SME owners should carefully review and manage interdependent levers in the organisation such as multiple sourcing, localising and tapping into diverse markets. Your supply chain model should be adjusted to allow for more flexibility and decentralisation with a robust risk management system in place.

Whether it is your manpower, logistics or raw materials, the lesson is the same: You need to build resilience in your supply systems in order to have sustainable, long-term success.Many companies have started to realise this, and it is a valuable lesson that should stick with us, even after this pandemic.


“Open and honest communication goes a long way”

2. Improve communication with partners and customers

In times of a crisis, most companies shy away from the limelight because nobody likes to be the bearer of bad news. We duck our heads below the surface and pray the crisis will blow over so we can go on with business as usual.

But what most SME owners forget is that no one likes to be kept in the dark. Timely and relevant communication is essential to keeping any relationship going, especially when it comes to business relations.

What your business partners and customers would like to know is not how badly affected you are by the COVID-19 situation, but rather how you are handling it: What are you doing to rebound from this crisis? What are you doing to prevent another shut down?Providing honest updates and answering the difficult questions will help to increase the confidence level among your stakeholders.

All businesses should have a crisis communication plan – and I don’t mean you have to hire an army of PR professionals to do it. Even a simple email or a short call with your customers will suffice.


“The Three Rs: Recruit, Retain, Retrain”

3. Encourage employees to do staff training online

This probably comes as no surprise. After all, our Government has repeatedly emphasised the importance of retraining our local workforce, especially during this time of a global pandemic. In his Budget 2020 statement, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat announced a SkillsFuture top-up for every Singaporean aged 25 and above, encouraging us to “Take action early to learn new skills, and to make the best use of this period of economic slowdown.”

Since then, there has also been a plethora of COVID-19 relief grants and incentives for employers to encourage them to step up efforts to recruit, retrain, and retain workers. What an SME owner should do then, is to encourage their staff to take up online courses and pick up new skills useful to their industry.

Besides ensuring that employees are making the best use of their time, online training helps to bridge the gap so that when the economy starts picking up again, your staff can be the first one out to hit the ground running.

If you’re still not sure what COVID-19 subsidies and relief measures are available to SME owners, check out the Schneider Electric Budget 2020 Guide for SMEsto get a quick rundown of everything you need to know.


“Prevention is better than cure”

4. Refine workplace health and safety measures

One thing is clear: The world as we know it will no longer be the same. The emphasis on workplace health and safety will ramp up even after we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Government has already announced that they will put in place new workplace safety standards and ensure work premises comply with the new regulations. So companies need to get familiar with the new measures, whether they like it or not, because safe workplace practices will continue to be the new norm.

What this means is that SME owners should look into investing in protective equipment and supplies, such as masks, sanitisers, temperature screening systems and even contact tracing apps. Educate your employees on these new protocols and cultivate healthy workplace habits, even after we resume some level of normalcy post COVID-19.

Seeing as these regulations are here to stay, ask yourself: Will you be able to manage these safety protocols manually going forward?If your answer is no, you should look into how you can automate and digitalise such functions in order to free up your time and resources for other valuable work.


“Automation and digitalisation is your trump card”

5. Invest in automation to deepen your capabilities

Finally, this is perhaps the most important lesson learnt from these trying times. If the COVID-19 crisis has taught us anything, it would be that companies who can adapt, automate and digitalise functions are the ones who stand to gain the most in the long run.

As people started telecommuting and businesses moved online, those that stick to old-school methods face no other option than to pause operations, if not shut down completely.

What SMEs should learn from this episode is that automating your business and digitalising processes is not a matter of ‘if’, it’s a matter of ‘when’. It is a fallacy that SMEs cannot afford the cost of automation and that only big corporations have the capacity to undertake it.

Evidently, calculation on investment and cost has changed: The cost of a 2-3 month operations shut down has far-reaching implications on your business, and this revenue loss clearly outweighs the cost of automation, which really should be seen as an investment in growth and transformation.

So as an SME owner, think about how you can prepare for automation. Even if you are a manufacturing SME that relies heavily on labour and manual processes – there are numerous digital solutions that you can take advantage of. One way to jumpstart your foray into automation is through the SME Go Automation initiative.

With the COVID-19 crisis, obtaining automation funding and support has also become more accessible and easier than ever. Find out more from the Schneider Electric 17-page guide on how SMEs can apply for government grants to subsidise their automation costs.

Article by Mr. Poh Leng Yee, VP Digitalisation at iPlast 4.0

Discover how you can transform your enterprise and upskill your employees with the SG Budget 2020 and Supplementary Budget 2020.

Download  this guidebook from Schneider Electric “The SME Owner’s Guide to SG Budget 2020” to find out what are the available government grants for SMEs in Singapore








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