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How Saudi SMEs overcame the pandemic

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Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia.
Image credit: Agencies

The coronavirus pandemic has rocked business hard and left industry and commerce in tatters in its wake. This was a phenomenon that is not unique to any particular country, as business owners and entrepreneurs around the world have been hit hard by the protocols that followed in an attempt to curb the spread of the virus. .

Saudi business owners found themselves in a similar dire situation when the external factors linked to the pandemic began in March 2020. Some have closed and closed shop, but many others have risen to the challenge and started marketing new products as a means of responding to the particularly difficult situation. . According to a recent Kaspersky study, more than 32% of small and medium-sized businesses have actually thrived despite the economic drought caused by the effects of COVID-19.

When the lockdowns were first imposed, more than half of companies suffered a massive drop in financial stability and they quickly resorted to a host of savings measures. In light of this, besides consolidating their existing workforce and launching new offerings and business opportunities, other steps had to be taken in an attempt to survive.

Borrowing a page from Steven Callander, professor of political economy at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, who said: “The goal is to manage a crisis like a management problem” and “to thrive in the spotlight”. In light of the pandemic, the decisions were particularly complex. The ability to respond appropriately to a crisis can allow a business to get the most out of it. As a result, organizations had to take into account external factors – a lockdown, new health requirements, a drastically altered lifestyle – and their business capabilities. “

The Kaspersky study shows that in addition to launching new products and services, as an active response, nearly one in five organizations has entered new lines of business (14%). Innovation leads to finding quick and rapid solutions on pain of closure. Business owners quickly realized that there was a need to maintain a customer base despite closures and curfews, new metrics had to be used and digital marketing and services began to take a more dominant role.

Manufacturers of medical accessories such as masks, disinfectants, etc. have taken the lead in rapidly ramping up production to meet the growing need for an audience slowly waking up to the threat of the pandemic. Companies involved in staging events, entertainment, art and cultural shows have had to resort to a digital alternative to satisfy their customers. Stores and restaurants without customers began to implement delivery processes and increase their online sales.

The government, very aware of the massive financial impact on SMEs, reacted quickly by offering financial assistance to qualified beneficiaries. Among other anti-crisis measures taken at the time, all or most employees were allowed to work remotely (72%). But the study also shows that the majority of decisions were still aimed at optimizing spending: organizations introduced budget cuts (26%), cuts in wages or working hours (50%), diverted budgets or investment plans finalized (28%). One in ten businesses had to take critical actions such as firing employees (10%) or stopping paying bills (8%).

Andrey Dankevich, Senior Director of Product Marketing at Kaspersky, said: “While some decisions were difficult, they were necessary. Now, it’s good to know that general sentiment regarding the outcome of the pandemic is somewhat positive among small businesses: (56%) agree their business has responded well to the global challenge. The lessons learned should now help them better prepare for future challenges, improve the current investment plan and processes, try new things boldly, and become more digital. I also believe that the products and services launched in response will remain relevant as the anti-COVID-19 restrictions are still in place and people continue to follow the digital habits acquired during the pandemic. “

I recently had the opportunity to discuss the challenges of running a small business with Ahmed, a barista owner who had launched his cafe just months before the world became aware of what’s called COVID. -19. “We started out small, but quickly gained popularity and our reputation spread beyond the neighborhood we were in. Our clientele increased and the tables that we had to set up to accommodate them too. Suddenly the virus came in and we were all arrested. It was a depressing time for me, but then I realized I had to do something or shut down for good. I reached out to my customer base and started promoting alternative coffee products online which garnered enough interest and money to sustain me during the lockdown months. Today we are even taller than before.

Indeed, many business leaders who have faced the pandemic by thinking outside the box now find themselves in a comfortable and profitable position. It is a testament to the resilience and imagination of an emerging Saudi generation of capable people.

Tariq A. Al Maeena is a renowned Saudi socio-political commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Twitter: @talmaeena


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