Mastercard in partnership with online gateway PayFast, recently hosted the “Empowering Every Business SME Masterclass” – a free virtual webinar designed to help entrepreneurs’ future-proof their businesses and grow digitally.
Under the webinar theme ‘The New Age of Digital Entrepreneurs: Growth Re-loaded’, Mastercard brought together some of South Africa’s incisive entrepreneurs and business influencers, Vusi Thembekwayo and Lebo Lion, who shared insights on how small and medium enterprises (SMEs) can start or grow their business online, mitigate risks, and take the “new normal” by storm.
According to a Mastercard study on consumer spending, 68% of South African consumers have been shopping more online since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and 63% say that they are making a conscious effort to shop online at small businesses. Another study, Online Retail in South Africa 2021, points to the fact that online retail grew 66%, reaching an estimated total of R30.2 billion last year (2020).
Speaking at the webinar, Anita Opperman, Director: Commercial Sales Specialist at Mastercard South Africa said small businesses have been hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, and that many businesses have had to figure out quickly how to pivot their operations to a ‘digital-first’ approach.
“While small businesses have had a miserable time as the pandemic closed shop doors and reduced foot fall, they have also been granted a unique opportunity to pivot their operations to go digital and grow their businesses online. Online retail is expected to grow to around 4% of total retail sales in 2021 – up from 2.8% last year -– so there is a significant opportunity– and it’s one that requires small businesses to have a clear and decisive digital plan in place,” says Opperman.
Speaking at the event, Thembekwayo encouraged the audience of business owners to make the shift to digital and build a Web 3.0 business. Thembekwayo shared insight into how business owners can take advantage of the absence of borders online and provided strategies for how businesses can create value for their customers.
To realise this, however, business owners will need to find new ways to operate that embrace change, said Thembekwayo.
“One of the problems with being conservative is that you miss the boat of new trends, and new opportunities because you are so invested in what you know and how you know things to go,” he added.
Lion’s message to business owners was to market themselves online to gain the full benefits of going digital. “Those who undermine marketing, get undermined by the market,” she said. According to Lion, with over 4.8 billion users on social media, it is time business owners realise “the immense opportunities that are available for anyone who has the audacity to participate in the online space”. This includes the opportunity for businesses to attract customers and create awareness of their products.
Beyond the ‘why’, Lion shared with attendees the ‘how’ of selling online which includes business owners making use of digital tools such as lead generation, social media, Search Engine Optimisation and Artificial Intelligence.
To close off the event, a panel discussion was held featuring Opperman Celeste le Roux, co-founder of madebyartisans, and Colleen Harrison, Head of Marketing at PayFast. The panelists discussed the opportunities and pitfalls of growing an e-commerce business, as well as the free tools SMEs can tap to protect their businesses and continue their learning journey.
The SME Masterclass follows a two-month campaign between Mastercard and PayFast earlier this year designed to encourage South Africans to shop online at local businesses, while putting a spotlight on small business and the inspiring entrepreneurs behind them.
“Small businesses are the backbone of local communities and an engine of growth for the South African economy. Because of this, it’s never been more important to ensure that entrepreneurs and small business owners have access to the educational resources, insights, tools and solutions to recover from the impacts of the pandemic and truly thrive. The SME masterclass is the latest in our efforts to deliver on the needs of these critical businesses so they can unlock their full potential in today’s digital economy,” says Opperman.
For years Mastercard has been focused on moving businesses at the margins to digital growth in the mainstream. Mastercard’s extensive experience with financial inclusion, and its commitment to connect 50 million small businesses globally to the digital economy by 2025, makes the company uniquely suited to lead at this critical inflection point.
Last year, Mastercard announced a $250 million commitment over five years to support SMEs with digital tools and training during the pandemic. Recently, the Mastercard Academy launched ‘The Entrepreneur’s Odyssey’ – a first-of-its kind and free-to-watch digital education platform that brings together a range of world-class academic and business resources to help small businesses learn and thrive.