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Load shedding biggest threat to SMEs

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This year’s SME Survey has revealed that small businesses now consider load shedding to be the biggest threat to their livelihood.

If you were to ask the owners of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) what keeps them awake at night, chances are that you would be inundated with shared concerns. Based on the findings of the SME Survey this year, finance, competition and crime are some of the most pressing issues. However, crime no longer claims first place. Instead, frequent and prolonged power failures rank as the most concerning issue for SMEs.

According to Arthur Goldstuck, MD of World Wide Worx and principal researcher for SME Survey, this year has seen a dramatic shift in what SMEs consider to be the biggest external threats to their businesses.

“With power failures cited by 71% of respondents, the issue rates at almost exactly double the importance of crime, which came in a distant second, at 36%. This category is obviously driven to a large extent by those concerns that are highest in the public mind – SMEs have in the past attributed their sleepless nights to crime, the high cost of fuel, or even interest rates. These results came even when power failures were featured in the survey during the first load shedding several years ago, but load shedding still came well below crime at the time,” he says.

“The reason we have seen such a massive jump for this category is due to the cumulative effects of ongoing load shedding. While load shedding has been punted as a temporary problem, it is clear that business fears that it is going to be with us for the foreseeable future.”

Ethel Nyembe, Head of Small Enterprise at Standard Bank, says: “While big companies have the infrastructure, client bases and capital to cope with the challenges highlighted in the survey, many small businesses, which have the potential to be active players in the South African economy, do not have the financial muscle and resources to overcome these challenges.”

Elaine Wang, Microsoft Business Unit Manager at Rectron, adds: “With the ever-looming possibility of load shedding, there is no better time for SMEs to consider a cloud solution for their businesses. Given limited capital for expensive infrastructure, public cloud offerings are a great way to ensure that SMEs are protected against loss of data and downtime. These solutions also ensure that they are able to stay up to date with the latest in technology offerings while paying on a per user or usage basis.”

Goldstuck concurs: “The impact of even short periods without power is greater on SMEs than it would be on larger companies that likely have generators and other fall-back options.”

“The rising concern regarding load shedding is probably also due to the fact that its effects seem more severe now than they did in 2008 and, at the same time, the lights are off for longer periods now. On top of this, there seems to be additional challenges, such as blown transformers that occur when the power comes back on, increasing concerns for the safety of home appliances. All of this, combined, paints a very bleak picture for SMEs,” he adds.

It is also essential for SMEs to play a role in mitigating the effects of load shedding, such as backing up data on their computers, which is integrally tied to a sudden loss of power. “Backing up any less than on a daily basis can prove to be disastrous for an SME, yet the figures demonstrate that the proportion of SMEs doing exactly this has risen from only 30.5% in 2014 to a still-low 40% in 2015,” he says.

There is no doubt that, by failing to improve their policies on backing up, SMEs are flirting with disaster, he says. In an era when electronic information is the lifeblood of a business, it is almost inconceivable that more than one out of every three SMEs only backs up on a weekly or monthly basis.

“Part of the problem is that few SMEs associate power failures with the need to back up data, and yet unexpected load shedding is one of the events most likely to lead to a loss of data,” says Goldstuck. “However, with load shedding expected to be with us for the foreseeable future, I anticipate that backing up will become far more of a priority for SMEs as we move forward. After all, there are already more than enough worries SMEs face, so the thought that one might lose vital business data to an unexpected power failure should be cause for concern for small businesses.”

Ms Nyembe says that big organisations are no longer the primary focus for growth and job creation. The biggest emerging economies today are driven by SMEs as key drivers for economic growth, innovation and sustainable employment. She is of the view that if South Africa is to join their ranks, SMEs need the necessary backing, namely financial assistance, access to markets, corporate and government support, business and skills development, and mentorship.

The SME Survey is the original and largest representative survey of SMEs in South Africa and, since 2003, has contributed ground-breaking research into the forces shaping SME competitiveness.

* SME Survey 2015 is sponsored by Standard Bank and Forest Technologies powered by Rectron

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2-in-1 devices may save PCs

Overall PC sales are expected to decline over the next four years, while 2-in-1 PCs are expected to grow over the same period.

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Shipments of personal computing devices (PCDs), inclusive of traditional PCs and tablets, are expected to decline at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of -2.4% over the 2019-2023 forecast period. However, 2-in-1 devices (convertible PCs and detachable tablets) and ultraslim notebook PCs are expected to grow 5% collectively over the same period. According to a new forecast from the International Data Corporation (IDCWorldwide Quarterly Personal Computing Device Tracker, overall PCD shipments will drop below 400 million in 2020, which would be the first time this has happened since 2010, the year the original iPad launched. The bright spots in this challenged category have been thin and light products and detachable tablets, which includes Apple’s iPad Pro devices and Microsoft’s Surface tablets.

“So far in 2019 we’ve seen some unexpected positive trends within the traditional PC market,” says Ryan Reith, program vice president with IDC’s Worldwide Mobile Device Trackers. “The commercial demand driven by the approaching end of support for Windows 7 was somewhat expected and still leaves room for growth in the second half of 2019. But we’ve also seen some surprising areas of consumer demand. Concerns about whether tariffs will drive consumer costs up has many vendors trying to put product into the channel early, so the real focus will be monitoring sell out for the remainder of the year and into 2020.”

IDC anticipates a splintering of the 2-in-1 category as Apple and Microsoft continue to push forward the detachable form factor while other PC vendors continue to promote convertible PCs. Looking ahead, IDC expects iOS detachables will capture almost one quarter of the 2-in-1 market throughout the forecast.

Jitesh Ubrani research manager for IDC’s Worldwide Mobile Device Trackers, says: “Apple’s support for a physical keyboard by adding a smart connector to the 2019 iPad and the launch of iPadOS will help to further cement detachables as a viable alternative to modern notebooks and convertibles.”

Outside of the growth from these modern form factors, the introduction of 5G will also play a role in the PCD market, although the ramp is expected to follow smartphones. IDC forecasts that by 2023 10% of detachable tablets will have built in 5G, which is in addition to another 29% running 4G. Meanwhile, the number of ultraslim and convertible notebooks with cellular connectivity is also expected to grow with a double-digit CAGR.

Personal Computing Device Forecast, 2019-2023 (shipments in millions)

Product2019 
Shipments*
2019 
Share*
2023 
Shipments*
2023 
Share*
2019-2023 
CAGR*
2-in-140.910.2%47.513.0%3.8%
Desktop + Desktop Workstation92.423.0%77.521.2%-4.3%
Notebook + Mobile Workstation73.018.1%47.713.0%-10.1%
Slate Tablet116.028.8%93.825.6%-5.2%
Ultraslim80.019.9%99.327.1%5.5%
Grand Total402.2100.0%365.7100.0%-2.4%
Source: IDC Worldwide Quarterly Personal Computing Device Tracker, September 11, 2019

Notes:

* All figures represent forecast data.

  • Traditional PCs include Desktop, Notebook, and Workstation.
  • 2-in-1 devices are a category including convertible PCs and detachable tablets. Convertible PCs are notebook computers equipped with an integrated keyboard and display that can be used in either a traditional notebook configuration or a slate configuration. A detachable tablet meets all the criteria of a slate tablet but is designed to operate with a first-party keyboard designed specifically for the device.

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Launching a website? Follow these SEO tips

By KATIE CHODOSH, content consultant at TopLine Comms

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There is an abundance of small businesses in South Africa and Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) could be the key to getting them off the ground. SEO isn’t easy, but it’s crucial for company growth. When done right, it can help businesses beat out their competitors (both on a national and global scale) and secure quality leads. As a B2B SEO agency, we spend a lot of time working with clients on their company’s SEO strategy (both in South Africa and the UK) and have seen them reap the benefits. 

Launching a new website provides the perfect excuse to create an SEO strategy. As tempting as it is to get writing straight away, there are many elements to SEO that you need to consider before you put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard). We’ve managed plenty of site launches from an SEO perspective (including our own website, TopLine Film, earlier this year) which means that we have a blueprint to work from.Here’s what we’ve learned over the years. 

Get ready to launch

There’s a lot of planning that goes into launching a websiteand you need to have a good understanding of SEO before itgoes live. Google’s resources on how search works and its SEO Starter Guide are good places to start.

Next is your keyword research. Keywords are what your audience are actively searching for and the terms that you want to rank for. The research itself will help you get a better understanding of your target market and might even get you thinking differently about your business. Moz has a good beginners guide to keywords and is also a great tool for carrying out keyword searches.

Once you’ve identified your keywords, you’ll want to sort them by bottom, middle and top of funnel. Those at the bottom are the closest to checking out (i.e. they already want your product). Those in the middle are looking for further information and those at the top are just browsing, generally looking for answers to a problem they’re having (their keywords tend to be questions). From there, you can plan your parent and child pages, as these should be based on bottom funnel keywords. 

Then you can plan your site directory. You need to organise your website in a way that Google deems logical. It’s worth checking out Google’s own resources on site hierarchy to make sure you get it right.

After you’ve completed all these steps, you can think about drafting your website content.

Start writing

Now that you’ve done all the preparation and have all your keywords to hand, you can get writing. The main things to consider are:

  • Your key messages. Make sure relevant key messages are included throughout.
  • Top, middle and bottom funnels. Remember those in the top, middle and bottom funnel, and consider whether your content is catering to them.
  • Consider your target audience and their intent. Try to consider what the searchers are looking for, rather than just giving the information you want them to have. Focus on their pain – if they’re asking a question, answer it before moving on to your key message. You want your audience to feel satisfied with the information they’ve been given, not hoodwinked into purchasing your product.
  • Content length. It’s worth looking at the current page one results for your target keyword to see what the content looks like so that you can write something better.
  • Keywords. Make sure your target and secondary keywords are mentioned throughout (without being too forced – Google will punish you for that).
  • Relevant details. There are certain details that you need for an SEO friendly page, including a title tag, header tagand meta description. All should include the target keyword.
  • Your URL. Ideally, the URL will include the target keyword and be under 60 characters.
  • Images and video. If you’re including images and video, help Google out by giving them descriptive captions, file names and surrounding text.
  • Internal links. Make sure you’re linking to other pages on your website as often as possible. Also make sure to give those links a proper description (i.e. don’t say ‘if you want to see more, click here.’ Instead, say ‘click if you want to learn more about XYZ’.).
  • A content calendar. Google will reward you for quality over quantity, so it’s worth spending time creating a content calendar of about two interesting blog posts a month. 

Once you’ve got your content down, you can find a web agency and produce a brief or get ready to do it yourself. Either way, you’ll need to start tracking your keywords and doing technical spot checks with Search Console. SEO doesn’t stop the moment your website launches – it’s a long-term game that needs constant attention. But it’s all worth it when you start getting some quality leads. Keep at it and it could make a significant difference to your business.

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