Micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) around the world are in a precarious financial position. After over a year of struggling through COVID-19’s economic crisis, many small business owners still can’t make ends meet. They’re facing decreased sales, overwhelming debt, and depleted savings. Though we’re seeing signs of an upward trajectory after the initial economic devastation caused by the pandemic — businesses have opened, profit levels are starting to stabilize, and hiring has started up again — many MSMEs remain in a fragile place. These microentrepreneurs need support to keep their businesses running in today’s more digital world.
To provide MSMEs with the tools they need to rebuild their resiliency in the face of this crisis and future challenges, Accion has launched a COVID-19 recovery toolkit on our edtech platform Ovante. With funding made flexible by our donor, MetLife Foundation, as well as sponsorship from S&P Global Foundation and FedEx, the toolkit is available at no cost. We designed the recovery toolkit to help small entrepreneurs manage their businesses through tough times by offering guidance on improving their finances and getting their businesses online fast. Small business owners can access the COVID-19 recovery toolkit on Ovante.org in three languages: English, Spanish, and Hindi. Each action plan in the toolkit takes between 8 to 15 minutes to complete and is designed to be highly interactive, actionable, and fun. We encourage financial service providers to share this toolkit with their clients to help microentrepreneurs around the world build better financial behaviors and strengthen their managerial and digital capabilities.
The toolkit addresses three primary questions we hear from small business owners as they aim to recover from the COVID-19 crisis: How can I feel more confident about my finances? How can I adapt my business to survive and thrive? How can I bring my business online?
How can I feel more confident about my finances?
For many microentrepreneurs, making ends meet during a crisis feels impossible. Accion surveyed microentrepreneurs in Chile, Mexico, India, and Nigeria in October 2020 — six months into the pandemic — and learned that microentrepreneurs in these regions were still struggling to cover their essential expenses. Nearly 60 percent of those surveyed told us that they have not been able to pay their bills on time, and 50 percent said they have had to borrow money to cover their expenses. The toolkit provides action plans to help microentrepreneurs gain confidence in their finances by learning to:
- Get out of debt: Microentrepreneurs are encouraged to list their debts from smallest to largest and receive recommendations on which debt to pay off first based on whether they are secured or unsecured and the consequences for late payment.
- Create a spending plan: Users prioritize their expenses and create a plan to reduce spending. They are then prompted to develop a budget based on their income and receive strategies to stick to their newly created spending plan.
- Utilize digital banking: Microentrepreneurs learn the benefits of digital financial services for their business, including cash flow smoothing, keeping a digital record of records and bills, securely sending payments, and quick access to financing. They also learn step-by-step how to set up a secure digital account.
How can I adapt my business to survive and thrive?
Fifteen percent of microenterprises in the services industry we surveyed had completely closed due to COVID-19. Furthermore, the pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on women. Women reported experiencing greater financial stress, feeling more tired, and being in an overall worse mental state than men. To cope with these challenges, over 30 percent of respondents in Mexico said they are seeking another source of income. In Chile, Nigeria, and India, over 40 percent said they want to find a way to grow and expand their current business but are not clear on how to do so. The toolkit helps them navigate these difficulties by providing instruction on how to:
- Stay profitable during a crisis: A guided activity leads microentrepreneurs to determine their current profits and consider what direct and indirect costs can be reduced to increase profitability. They also learn how to price their goods depending on whether they are an essential or non-essential business.
- Apply for digital credit: Users learn when it is appropriate to seek digital credit and receive step-by-step instructions on obtaining a digital loan. At the end of this module, users will have greater confidence in their ability to safeguard themselves against the threat of fraud.
- Adapt your business: Microentrepreneurs are asked to answer a series of questions to assess their urgency for change. Based on their responses, users can explore potential opportunities for adapting their business, like selling a new product or service, taking other low-demand items off their shelves, or finding a new way to serve their customers.
How can I bring my business online?
As the modern economy becomes more and more synonymous with the digital economy, MSMEs that can sell online and operate digitally are more likely to weather this crisis and thrive in the long run. With fewer customers physically walking in the door, many business owners feel the urgency to shift their business online but are not sure where to start. Our survey showed that 33 percent of MSMEs across the four countries opened a new social media account for their business in the first 6 months of the pandemic. And 30 percent of respondents told us that they feel they must urgently begin selling products over the internet. The COVID-19 recovery toolkit explains the value of bringing businesses online and shows entrepreneurs how to:
- Get started online: Users learn about online platforms that can help them better promote and operate their businesses, like Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Google. They evaluate which of these platforms makes the most sense to advertise their business and learn easy ways to start building their online presence.
- Accept digital payments: This lesson helps MSMEs consider the advantages of accepting online payments, determine which platform is right for their business, and learn tips and tricks for getting started immediately.
- Promote your business online: Users are prompted to define why they need to advertise online, decide who their target customers are, and learn best practices for social media advertising. They learn how online promotions can expand their customer base and grow their profits.
- Offer online delivery: In times of crisis, it is challenging to stay connected with clients when they are no longer visiting the business. Users will learn about delivery services and how to best select a delivery service for their business.
Once MSMEs complete these action plans, they will gain the tools, capacity, and confidence needed to leverage the internet to stay in business by selling their products or services online, accepting digital payments, or promoting their business on social media. To date, 90 percent of MSMEs that completed all modules started using the internet for their business needs, and 69 percent opened social media accounts for their business. Using simple examples and user-friendly tools, Ovante enables microentrepreneurs to put their acquired knowledge into practice and take steps towards greater financial health.
We encourage financial service providers to support their customers’ recovery from the pandemic and build their resilience to future crises by sharing the free Ovante COVID-19 recovery toolkit action plans with their clients.