Monday, October 24, 2016

Supporting women entrepreneurs


One in five SMEs are owned by women, but many tend to be micro-enterprises with limited capital. Extending a helping hand to ensure their success is important because not only would it contribute to economic growth, it would also ensure the well-being of family.

FOLLOWING the talk on women entrepreneurship at our SME Club last May, we joined force with the Secretariat for Advancement of Malaysian Entrepreneurs (SAME), of the Prime Minister’s Department, to launch the Women Talentship Workshop on Oct 6 with the aim of encouraging women to participate in entrepreneurship.

The idea is to equip women with the necessary knowledge and skills in order for them to create and run successful businesses.

The workshop was well received. We had about 300 women participating.

Encouragement and support for women in entrepreneurial activties is important. Based on the latest statistics available (Economic Census 2011), nearly one in five SMEs (19.7%) are owned by women. About 92% of these SMEs are involved in the service sector.

Many of these businesses are likely to be unregistered micro-enterprises operating in the home or on temporary premises, with fewer or no employees and limited capital for expansion.

There are several common challenges faced by these small-scale, women-owned businesses. First of all, the women entrepreneurs constantly struggle with finding a balanced role between career and home.

Women are expected to shoulder the burden of being a mother and a homemaker, apart from being a breadwinner or business woman. And this is a challenging task.

Our workshop was intended to encourage women to participate in entrepreneurship while embracing well-balanced roles through three levels of strategy planning and development, i.e. personal discipline, communication discipline, and business discipline.

SAME’s advisor, Grace Chia, who is an advocator and practitioner of entrepreneurship, says the three disciplines are practised by many successful businesswomen.

By personal discipline, one means the ability to identify, acknowledge and understand your own strengths and weaknesses as the first step to finding your niche in business.

We should focus on leveraging on our strengths and finding peers with skills that we lack.

When we talk about communication discipline, we emphasise the ability to communicate in order to achieve a win-win outcome among family members, business partners and customers. You must be able to persuade your team to share your vision, in order to be able to tap the resulting synergy and move towards common goals.

By business discipline, we are refering to the bankability and marketability of your business. Often, many businesses fail to get financing because they lack solid fundamentals in finance and accounting, and consequently the bookkeeping for the company.

Also, the lack of a workable marketing plan may deter the access to financing as well as opportunities for success.

We must be able to prepare a bankable business plan when we want to obtain financing from a third party. A good bankable business plan would include an attractive and convincing business idea, what problems it can solve, how it fits with market needs, what effective and feasible marketing strategies you have, and what the ROI or return on investment is likely to be.

Also, it is essential to show entrepreneurial elements in the business plan when one is applying for financing. This is to help you to differentiate yourself from the usual business plans. More importantly, the entrepreneurial elements suggest that you are serious and have in mind a long-term endeavour rather than just a profit-making plan.

Equally important is to know your products well.

Who are your target groups? How are you going to promote the products to them? We may have good products, but there may not be a market for the products.

We recognise the importance of promoting women entrepreneurship for the reason that the success of women entrepreneurs will contribute to economic growth as well as the well-being of families. There is no reason for us to neglect the talents and capabilities of women, which form half of the population in Malaysia.

Women entrepreneurs should fully utilise government programmes that promote entrepreneurship among women. Some of the government agencies and programmes that aim to assist women entrepreneurship include SAME’s women talentship initiative, SME Corporation’s Skills Upgrading Programme, and Matrade’s Women Exporters Development Programme.

By Michael Kang, who is the national president of the SME Association of Malaysia.

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