The future is digital, and the pandemic has left no doubt in our minds in enforcing this belief. With the emerging tech, the shift in consumer behavior, and the COVID-induced physical constraints, businesses are now required to rethink their marketing strategies and focus on developing their online presence.
While most enterprises have successfully risen to the occasion and established a virtual identity, small businesses, especially those in rural or semi-urban areas, have borne the brunt. With suffering revenues, a lack of knowledge, and practically no digital expertise, these organizations are often left clueless in anguish.
However, all is not lost for them just yet. On the upside, the pandemic has forced the otherwise ignorant SMEs to step out of their comfort zones and accept the need for technology for growth. They are now dropping their inhibitions and looking at the brighter side of the virtual picture.
While local businesses have been slow to catch up with the digital boom, they have slowly yet steadily risen to the occasion. The pandemic has coaxed them to shift their businesses online and adapt to the whole gamut of digital transformation.
This stands true for many brick-and-mortar stores as well. After learning it the hard way with practically no alternative, SMEs are now integrating technology in critical areas of function such as accounting, customer service, sales and marketing, inventory management, and lead generation.
Along with the changing mindset of SMEs, the government, too, has rolled out several digital initiatives to help them stay afloat. One such means to revolutionize the Indian digital lending infrastructure is the India Stack. It allows credit extension to SMEs through quick and seamless Aadhar based authentications. The Digital India initiative also enables account aggregation for consent-based financial data collection and sharing along with easy adoption of digital payment solutions.
At the same time, conglomerates such as Google have also come to their rescue by acting upon the cause. The technology giant has partnered with third-party online platforms such as Swiggy and Dunzo to help SMEs build an online presence via the ‘Grow with Google Small Businesses hub’ in India.
The organization is further in the works with the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FICCI) to roll out an industry-wide digital skilling program with a focus on helping SMEs use digital tools in local Indian languages. The initiative is also complemented by a show called ‘Namaste Digital’ in association with Doordarshan that will carry home the message of digital transformation at the grassroots level.
While the government and larger conglomerates have introduced a plethora of digital initiatives to support small businesses, their implementation stays sketchy. This is owing to the lack of knowledge and a direct connection with those who are far from it all. Local artisans and rural-based businesses are still grappling to come to terms with social media, smartphones, and the world wide web.
However, collectives and non-profits have been quick to act. Several of them are now training local artisans and SMEs in remote areas in ways to click photographs, use social media platforms, and adopt digital payment modes.
For instance, Tata Trust’s craft-based livelihood initiative Antaran is carrying out mentoring sessions for local businesses via its YouTube channel, Antaran Knowledge Centre. Similarly, Dastkar, a society for crafts and craftsmen, started its online store in September last year to enable artisans to reach a wider customer base.
Another such organization that has come to the fore to help artisans is GoCoop, India’s first online marketplace for craftspeople. It partnered with Creative Dignity to train SMEs in the digital sphere amid the pandemic.
Similarly, in understanding the role of technology in bridging the gap between grass root artisans and global buyers, social engine Lal10 is now looking to work on a customized SaaS solution to provide ease of transactions to both the sellers and buyers. It also has in place an on-ground team to help local sellers with their queries and help them bag the best prices for their products.
The MSME industry contributes about 29% to India’s GDP, with local artisans forming the backbone of non-farming rural India. It is therefore important to support, safeguard, and promote their growth via digital means.
By using the right digital techniques and strategies, SMEs can enter the expanding virtual arena and ensure a smooth and steady flow of income in the future. It is high time that we have an all-encompassing adoption of a ‘Digital India,’ after all!