It has been a turbulent period globally for countries, businesses and individuals. The impact of Covid-19, manufacturing lockdowns, chipset shortages and the war in Europe affected countless institutions worldwide, plummeting them into survival mode, with many losing ground and inevitably faltering.
The local ICT industry has not been sheltered from these external forces. It saw surges in demand when we were all sent home and consequentially saw the supply-chain squeeze when manufacturers began missing production quotas entirely.
As living costs continue to surge, businesses are left searching for answers for how to navigate these treacherous waters and get their business back on track and growing again.
Below we share five strategies to overcome the effects of the pandemic, national lockdowns and stock shortages to help local ICT businesses continue growing in 2023.
1. Diversify product lines
The semiconductor shortage has affected all manufacturers of Wi-Fi-enabled devices. In a few short months we saw how industry giants that had long held a strong position in the market fell to the wayside because they could not maintain steady supplies for their vast array of customers.
Businesses that remained headfast and did not diversify their product lines in time became victims of their inertia. However, companies with the foresight to look ahead and hedge their product lines are in a more comfortable position because their teams have more selections to choose from when selling.
In doing so, they have managed to keep up with the strong demand from end users who may have transferred their business to providers who could deliver products and solutions.
MiRO works very hard daily to ensure its channels have access to the best-of-breed products. For over 20 years they have diversified their product lines enough to weather the storms of having industry favourite products out of stock. A case in point is Wi-Fi access points. At the turn of the year, Wi-Fi providers were in big trouble. Wi-Fi chipset stockpiles ran dry, and forecasts on stock delivery were hazy, to say the least, albeit for a few who were able to carry the industry on their backs. Grandstream, for instance, delivered a Wi-Fi solution that was brilliantly priced, had a wide variety of form factors and performance levels, and, most importantly, stable and predictable stock forecasts. This meant providers could plan their deployments more efficiently. Grandstream GWN has helped keep certain businesses solvent and running to the point where they begin growing again.
Rule number 1: diversify your product lines. It will increase your likelihood of keeping your business flywheel moving, even during global crises.
2. Increase stock holding
The one thing we have learnt over the years is that stock is king. You cannot deliver your solution or service to your customer without it. Many business owners believe in a lean approach – a “buy when we need it” methodology. While this can help to maximise your cash flow, it can negatively affect your top line: your revenue. We learnt that to help our customers grow their businesses, we needed to ensure we had the correct holding of critical IP-convergence solutions. It meant we needed to hold more stock of the items likely to sell quicker.
It’s scary when one considers the overheads associated with increasing stock holding, but it’s even more terrifying when you can’t do business due to stock-outs. Over the past two years, it seems as if we have been hit with one catastrophe after another. National lockdowns, chipset shortages, wars in Europe and lockdowns in China – all these external events have a way of impacting us at home. MiRO tried its best to foresee the butterfly effect that would inevitably reach our shores.
Rule number 2: If your business needs stock to deliver its product/service, increase your stockholding because it will be a bumpy ride for the foreseeable future.
3. Pursue training and development
While many of us were forced to work from home, it allowed everyone to pursue a cornerstone of any successful team, and that is to pursue growth and learning. MiRO, for instance, realised that the industry desperately needed energy and backup power solutions. Rolling blackouts were affecting our customers across the board, and many were losing money because of the intermittent power surges.
MiRO took it upon itself to invest in procuring and developing the best energy solutions and growing the right talent internally so that we could deliver power solutions to an industry that was bleeding cash because of rolling blackouts. We are proud to say that our energy portfolio is flying, and our customers are closing the taps on the bleeding by installing Acconet UPS and backup power solutions. This, in turn, helps them protect their assets and relationships with their customers.
Another example is how MiRO invested in IoT, a new division of its product lines. By investing in the right skills development internally, we can now sell various home automation, smart home and agricultural IoT solutions to customers spanning many industries – a positive effect of diversifying our product lines.
Rule number 3: Invest in growth and development and see how opportunities will arise in new sectors and how your business can unlock new growth with these newly acquired skills.
4. Delight your customers with fast delivery
Not all businesses have had the advantage of over 20 years of experience managing complex supply channels, evolving logistics infrastructure and constant external market forces applying pressure. The sharp increase in online ordering has accelerated the demand and heightened the customers’ expectations of fast delivery and turnaround. The proof is laid bare for all to see. The provider with the quickest and most accurate turnaround on lead and customer conversion can spend more time building their brand, finding new customers and delivering more innovative services. MiRO saw first hand how its customers responded with delight when the company started pushing its warehouse teams for faster turnaround times.
Coupled with solid relationships with couriers and a sophisticated MRP system, MiRO can plan well ahead and ensure that the right stock is in the right place at the right time to its best ability. When we passed this service onto our customers and started delivering straight to their clients or project site’s doorstep, we noticed a sudden and fundamental shift in how our customers started behaving. We were inundated with requests for deliveries to niche locations, and resellers who could not hold the substantial inventory of a distributor were requesting XML feeds. These feeds provide a window into our stock levels so that they can promote our solutions without keeping the stock.
Lastly, customers started behaving proactively and notifying themselves when popular items would be back in stock. Fortunately, our step 1 approach of diversifying product lines meant we could still assist the customer on out-of-stock items by suggesting another of its type on the same page.
Rule number 4: Delight your customers with fast delivery and they will reward you with loyalty and retention while singing your praises to others in the industry.
5. Be smart and strategic with your finances
To succeed in 2023 and beyond, we need to make the numbers work to our advantage – legally, of course. Simple accounting methods can massively impact your company’s bottom line, creating more cash for investment and operating purposes.
A fast-growing wireless Internet service provider (Wisp) explained that to make the capital investment in infrastructure seem more reasonable, they amortise the expense for towers, radios and CPEs over 36 months. The reason they do this is to drive down prices on their services. Many Wisps make the error of simply expensing the capital outlay in one shot. This leaves a gaping wound on the income statement and deters businesses from scaling as they focus intently on harvesting ROI from the initial installation.
Amortising works for ISPs because they know that should their service be on par or even better than their competitors’ and their price point on par with the market rates, they will be able to secure the customer’s hand for more than 36 months. The time it will take to pay off the capital required to connect the customer, meaning they will be able to generate profit from the customer sooner and with it cash. Positive cash-flow businesses are an ideal investment opportunity for an external funder or buyer. The funder/buyer is looking to invest their capital into cash-generating businesses.
With these additional funds, the business can invest more in scaling its product, reaching new customers and developing its services. MiRO helps customers by leveraging solid financial partnerships that stimulate cash-generating businesses through our project finance and credit term accounts. Customers are given the breathing room to grow by splitting the upfront costs over a series of instalment payments instead of one large expense, creating a healthier, positive income statement and a more astute balance sheet, leading to a more credible and financially savvy enterprise.
Rule number 5: Be smart and strategic with your finances. Make your money work for you, but do it ethically and within the rules, and outside investors will reward you.
While these strategies might not apply to every business, as every institution faces its own unique set of obstacles and constraints, holistically these strategies can be considered best practice across various business models and industries.
We saw first hand how implementing these strategies enabled our business to pivot when we needed to and double down when the time was right. We believe in sharing our knowledge with as many partners as possible so that collectively we can all survive this period together and continue playing our part in connecting Africa’s communities.
For more information, contact us at [email protected] or call and WhatsApp us at +27 12 657 0960 for assistance.
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