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How apps boost SMEs

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Small business owners looking need to increase productivity and profits need to change their outlook on technology and should even start making use of mobile apps, writes COLIN TIMMIS, SA Head of Accounting, Xero.

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), labour productivity in South Africa has trended downwards since 2011 – and, in the 47 years between 1967 and 2014, it’s declined by 41%. While this is concerning, it hasn’t hampered

South Africa’s thriving small business community as confidence is running high: according to research recently conducted by Xero and WWW, some 58% of small business owners anticipate growth within the next year.

To drive growth and make immediate, impactful improvements to productivity, small businesses should focus on technology: it plays a crucial role in maximising efficiency and generating profits. It’s encouraging that many South African small businesses already recognise this: 47% consider it “very important”, while 19% go as far as to call it “essential”. However, we still have some way to go, as 26% consider PCs to be necessary business tools, and only 6% consider their internet connection to be crucial. A mere 4% of respondents believe smartphones to be essential – and 10% don’t have one at all.

So if you’re a small business owner looking to increase profits and efficiency, your top priorities should be to rethink your approach to technology and, in particular, consider how mobile apps might revolutionise the way you run your business.

Which apps can help me simplify my business?

40% of South African small businesses rely on paper records and spreadsheets, and research suggests that 88% of these spreadsheets contain errors. When you’re handling sensitive data, it’s important that it’s done quickly and accurately.

The age of the app has given rise to more SME-friendly tools. It’s now possible to automate and consolidate functions like payroll, bookkeeping, training, and marketing – and if you take advantage, you’ll spare yourself a big headache.

Within the mobile Salesforce dashboard, for example, you can manage customer relationships, monitor employee work performance, and send marketing material with Pardot – much easier than logging in and out of several different applications.

What’s the most cost-effective option?

Some 39% of the businesses we surveyed reported cashflow concerns, which have a direct influence on whether or not the business can afford the tools it needs. An increase in labour productivity only matters if you’re making money – which becomes exponentially more difficult if the tech you’re using is unaffordable.

Where enterprise software can be exorbitant on a perpetual license, tools like Slack, CamScanner and Evernote offer unlimited free plans for smaller teams. If you need to scale up, you can usually upgrade to premium for a reasonable monthly fee – significantly cheaper than an outright purchase.

Which apps can give my team more flexibility?

The modern employee demands flexibility, and modern apps can give it to them. Project management software like Trello and Asana make it possible to keep track of individual tasks and assignees, while the cloud-based hosting service of Dropbox allows you to access whatever you need from anywhere across the globe.

What’s more, you don’t lose anything by allowing your employees to work in their preferred way: it actually has a positive effect on their productivity.

That said, adopting technology isn’t just a means of improving labour productivity. It’s a chance for South Africa’s SME community to give itself a shot in the arm. The analogue world is receding further into the distance. We are in the age of the app, the smart device, and the

hot desk. Soon enough, we’ll be in the age of the ‘Internet of Things’.

If small businesses make strategic use of the right apps, they’ll not only improve productivity and profits: they’ll carve out a place for themselves in a bright – and not-so-distant – future.

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SA startups in Visa final

Leading fintech companies from the Sub-Sahara Africa technology startup community have made it to the finals of Visa’s Everywhere Initiative.

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Among the 12 chosen, from the 238 total entries, South African startups Howler and FinChatBot will compete against innovators from across Sub Sahara Africa for a chance to secure funding of up to US$50,000 to develop their ideas when the initiative concludes in Johannesburg on July 24. 

Fintechs in Africa are making incredible strides; not only to bring more convenience to consumers, but also to enable people who would not otherwise have access to financial services or even a way to connect to the formal banking system. Venture funding for African startups jumped by 51% to $195 million in 2017 and fintech in Africa is expected to grow exponentially in the next few years as it continues to disrupt the traditional financial sector. With a clear goal of reducing reliance on cash, building digital payment based economies and increasing financial inclusion, Visa is committed to fostering an entrepreneurial spirit and driving innovation in its payments landscape. 

The Sub Saharan Africa edition of the Visa’s Everywhere Initiative challenged local fintech startup to deliver solutions based around three real life business challenges: 

  • How can startups leverage Visa Developer APIs to either:  Enable smaller merchants to accept payments in-store digitally OR Provide a safe and secure solution for online merchants to drive eCommerce and reduce cash on delivery?
  • How can startups use Visa’s APIs to leverage mass reach and social media partner platforms like Facebook to help businesses operating in fast-paced consumer centric environments improve cash flow and receive payments? 
  • How can startups leverage technology to provide services that are functional for illiterate customers to provide them with secure transaction experiences that build and enhance their confidence in the banking system?. 

Entrants were asked to submit ideas to leverage Visa’s network and technologies to resolve against at least one of the challenges. One winner per brief will be selected, with each receiving funding of US$25,000. Winners will be invited to a working meeting with Visa and may be presented with the opportunity to create a prototype. Visa will then select one overall winner to receive an additional US$25,000.

Geraldine Mitchley, Senior Director – Digital Solutions, Sub-Sahara Africa, Visa, said: “We are delighted with the response to our Visa’s Everywhere Initiative and the quality of submissions we received is an indication of the region’s rich talent pool and innovative spirit.”

“Launching this innovation program in the region has been an exciting time for the Visa SSA team, and the takeup reflects Africa’s enthusiasm to develop and pioneer solutions to the continent’s challenge – particularly in the payments technology space. I would like to congratulate the finalists and  wish them luck as they enter the final stretch.  When they come together for the final, they will not only have the chance to turn their ideas into reality, but also potentially help shape the future of payments in the region.”  

Howler which enables cashless transactions and end-to-end ticket handling for consumers and event organisers is competing in the first challenge and FinChatBot, which aims to automate part of customer services for financial service providers through AI-powered conversations is competing in the third challenge. 

The SSA edition of the Visa’s Everywhere Initiative will wrap up on July 24 in Johannesburg, with each finalist having an opportunity to pitch their ideas to a panel of expert judges from Visa and the payments industry. 

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Win a Poster Heater with Gadget and Takealot.com

This winter Gadget and Takealot.com are giving away three Poster Heaters, which look like posters but become heaters when you plug them in.

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Three Gadget readers will each win a unit, valued at R550 each. To enter, follow @GadgetZA and @Takealot on Twitter and tell us on the @GadgetZA account how many Watts the heater consumes.

What’s the big deal about these heaters? Many of us are struggling to keep the balance between soaring electricity costs and the need to keep warm this winter.

However, the recently launched Poster Heater by EasyHeat and distributed in South Africa by Takealot.com is not only one of the most cost effective electric heaters currently on the market, it is also easy to setup and use.

As the name indicates, it is a poster similar to one you would hang on a wall. But, plug it in and it turns into a 300 Watt heater. The Poster Heater isn’t designed to heat hallways or large rooms, but rather smaller ones like a bedroom or a baby’s nursery or a dressing room.

It uses radiant heating, which means that it heats up in a couple of minutes and the heat is directed at the objects or people around it, quickly taking the chill out of the air and providing a comfortable ambient temperature.

The other advantage of radiant heating is that it doesn’t dry out the air like infrared or gas heaters. Users also don’t have to worry about their children or pets getting too close to it because, even though it gets hot, it can be touched.

To enter the competition follow the steps below:

Competition entry details:

1. Follow @GadgetZA and @Takealot on Twitter. (We will ONLY be accepting entries via Twitter, so please don’t enter through the comments section of this article.)

2. Tell us on Twitter, via @GadgetZA, mentioning @Takealot in your posting, how many Watts the Poster Heater consumes.

cleardot.gif3. The competition closes on 31 July 2018.

4. Winners will be notified via Twitter on 1 August and Takealot.com will be in touch to organise delivery.

5. The competition is only open to South African residents.

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