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I got to talk to a few of our micro, small and medium entrepreneurs during our recently concluded Digital Sign Up Now, and I was amazed at how the discussions immediately had them all excited about the potential of digital technology and social media in helping them grow their businesses.
I was also heartened to see how forward-thinking they have become. One young man I mentored, Mark Anthony Mayo, is the prospective new owner of a laundry shop near a major university and is already thinking ahead about franchising the laundry shop. He’s asking the correct questions: beyond having a nifty, memorable name, he is asking about pricing structure, staffing, overhead costs, and all the minute details that normally escape aspiring entrepreneurs.
Then I met an active entrepreneur, Garry Sevilla, who is behind Kyla’s Amazing Soybean. He is mainly in the manufacturing and distribution of taho – a soybean-based snack that’s a street food favorite here in the Philippines. Like Mark, he has set his sights on franchising. Gerry elevated his taho game by having strict quality control in manufacturing, and using a clever strategy of positioning taho as a healthy snack and a social activity among friends. Thus, his clientele includes gyms and events organizers who want to put an element of fun into their party food.
Garry is methodical in planning for franchising. He is testing via DTI-sponsored events and assessing the performance of his brick-and-mortar stores, trying to see how it can be parlayed into a franchise business. I advised him to start small, and begin to franchise only when he has five branches that are already profitable.
Kyla’s Amazing Soybeans already has a digital presence. It’s on Facebook and on Instagram, and uses Lazada to ship bulk orders. But after hearing the speakers we had at the Digital SignUp Now, Garry is looking to explore the potential of Tiktok. This platform is especially useful because its algorithm doesn’t unfairly disadvantage newcomers or those with relatively fewer followers than established influencers.
I was especially impressed with Yollie Perez, a former schoolteacher-turned-business owner. Yollie makes bagoong alamang, the salted shrimp fry delicacy beloved by many Filipinos. She started making bagoong to augment her husband’s income as a welder. Eventually, the business became so big, she was able to buy a farm and her own delivery vehicle, and was able to employ more people in her neighborhood to keep up with the business.
When she took stock of how much her business has made so far, she had more than P1 million on hand. I could just imagine her surprise that what started as a business with only P500 in capital had gotten so big. But looking at her demeanor, she can’t be thankful enough, and looks at her success as a blessing she can share with friends and neighbors as livelihood opportunities for all of them.
With help of the DTI, she was advised to get her own vehicle for deliveries instead of hiring a tricycle or a van to make her deliveries. After realizing how much she was spending on vehicle rentals, she took their advice and bought a van. She later told us that never in her wildest dreams would she have imagined owning a van, much less being able to have a bigger house and an adjoining farm no less.
She is on the Shopee and Lazada e-commerce platforms, but only as a supplier to resellers. She tried her hand at putting the product on Lazada herself but found it too confusing. I advised her that there is nothing wrong with having resellers if it frees her to focus on manufacturing. I pointed out that some of our speakers at the summit were not themselves the producers of the content, but were quite effective at promoting them on social media. I did advise her to recruit the help of her younger relatives to explore more the potential of her product on social media.
But she was already one step ahead of me. I found out later that she has been making her own Tiktok videos. They’re fairly simple videos of her making the bagoong, and “gratitude videos’’ showing her son’s graduation – a happy result, no doubt, of her successful business. These serve to connect her with her customers. Though she may not know it now, her homespun Tiktok videos lend substantial authenticity to her product: the bagoong alamang you buy from Yollie will help send her son to school. Now that’s a marketing pitch that hits people in the heart.
Which brings me to digital technology and MSMEs. There has never been a better time to become an entrepreneur; digital technology is making it ever easier for MSMEs to level up their businesses. There are so many tools at their disposal and most of them are free. It is indeed the great leveler, a force multiplier, a way for small entrepreneurs to overcome barriers in logistics, marketing and advertising.
Through events like Digital Sign Up Now 2022, we help MSMEs learn from the experiences and best practices of other entrepreneurs who have successfully transformed their businesses using digital platforms. It is also a way to introduce MSMEs to possible collaborations with the different digital platforms now in the country, and learn from professionals specializing in creative services, brand imaging, fintech, and even cybersecurity.
There is so much potential. The Philippines has been cited as the area with the fastest growth in digital consumers, according to the 2021 report by Google, Temasek and Bain & Company. Since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic and until the first half of 2021, the country recorded 12 million new digital consumers, 63 percent of whom come from the rural areas of the country.
MSMEs and digital technology are the two growth drivers that can accelerate inclusive growth in the country. The game has changed. Digitalization has given MSMEs an equal opportunity to move up the ladder of success. Moreover, the pandemic has accelerated the digital transformation of many MSMEs. They were the ones who benefited immensely from the e-wallets, the delivery apps, and social media, which allowed them to compete alongside the big players. Imagine how much more we can achieve in the years to come.