The Nova Committee of the TT Chamber of Industry and Commerce held a three-part webinar series in June, Beyond 2020: How to Survive and Thrive. The goal of the webinars was to provide tangible tips and strategies that micro, small and medium-sized enterprises can adopt or adapt, as well as show how to recognise new opportunities in the age of covid19.
Finance and investment strategist Marc Persaud provided a number of tips for business survival:
• Manage your cash flow. Do it right now and manage it ruthlessly
• Engage your suppliers right away, look for options and redundancies. Seek alternatives and backup sources.
• Optimise your supply chain. Move to just-in-time supply, don’t hold inventory if you don’t have to.
• Make it as easy as possible for your customers to pay.
• Negotiate with suppliers, leverage your debt and barter.
In a similar vein, management consultant Francis Lewis humorously summed it up: “Sales is vanity, profit is sanity, but cash flow is reality.”
Nikita Legall, managing director of Tropical Hives, which provides apicultural products and services, proffered her tips for survival, emphasising the importance of communication. She advised MSMEs to talk with creditors to discuss the problems they are encountering and if payments will be delayed. Stating that “...your relationship with your banker is critical”, Legall cautioned that unnecessary spending and credit terms should be minimised.
Trinidad-born surgeon and president of Howard University
Dr Wayne Frederick said marketing to consumers who lived through a pandemic calls for a “nuanced grasp of their changed and changing wants, needs and newly formed habits.” These factors need to be borne in mind when re-engaging customers after a period of lockdown. Dr Frederick suggested that creating an employee wellness plan and ensuring the safety of the business environment help to bolster consumer confidence. "Spread authentic, safety-first reopening messages to cautious consumers... make it tangible," he advised.
Assessing business strategy
Management scientist Dr Kevin Fleary outlined his product service system for entrepreneurs. Lamenting the legacies of our colonial past, he said, “To this day we cannot effectively problem-solve the challenges that we are facing as a people.”
Cautioning about the inadequacy of using rule of thumb or pure intuition, he emphasised, “Evidence-based decision making is key.”
Michael Akindele, Washington DC-based venture capitalist, advised startups and entrepreneurs to “...find your tribe, play your role, tell your story, help others, take advice, build your village, and embrace digital transformation to thrive in a digital world”.
He described a tribe as essentially a group connected to an idea of shared interest, having ways to communicate with each other, plus leadership to give it direction. He further advised that every business should focus on solving a problem – and that the way to do that is by helping people.
Caribbean tech maven Ingrid Riley posited that, “We don’t value our Caribbean stories enough” and for too long, have taken our cues from “outside in” instead of “inside out”.
She identified five areas with the greatest potential for entrepreneurs in the age of covid19: health and wellness; online learning; virtual experiences; e-commerce; and digital media.
Finally, turning to the issue of funding, Michael Akindele shared that location of startups does not matter and that investors are looking for “coachable firms”. IDB-Lab senior specialist Vashtie Dookiesingh offered an optimistic perspective. “Think of the lotus flower as you go forward...it grows in...the dirtiest of waters...but it emerges as a thing of beauty and a thing of resilience...you can transform.”
The TT Chamber thanks Nova Committee chair Allison Demas for contributing this article.