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‘SMEs must adapt their business models to workable models to survive’

Kemi Ogunkoya is the Founder of Rellies Works, a leadership consultancy firm that equips business leaders with the appropriate technology-driven leadership skills to effectively perform on their jobs and businesses.

Apart from being the founder, Ogunkoya is an MBA graduate of Management Consultancy from the University of Wales, UK and also a leadership development strategist, management consultant and an author.

In an interview with BusinessDay, she talks about her company and how SMEs can thrive in the tough economic environment caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and ensure sustainability in their various businesses.

Tell us about Rellies Works, when it started and the inspiration behind it?

About 10 years, I along with other partners founded a management consultancy firm that helps organisations devise innovative strategies for growth, improve in their financial and operational health. We proffered impeccable results diligently to our clients for almost a decade until we realised a certain pattern.

The realisation that without effective leadership, even the most innovative change strategies and interventions will not stand the chance of survival. I realised that beyond policies, strategies and organisational dogmas the quality and effectiveness of leaders within an organisation will be the greatest determinant of organisations that survive, thrive or die.

I had experienced it one too many times with clients how ego, rigidity, lack of character, vision,  values, discipline, experience, had cost organisations severely, therefore I knew if we could get those at the helm of affairs to lead more effectively businesses will be healthier and more sustainable. To address the leadership gap in organisations; a looming future crisis, Rellies Works was conceived and birth in December 2019.

 We focus solely on leadership development across the personal sphere, organisational and national, equipping business leaders with the appropriate technology-driven leadership skills to effectively perform on their jobs and businesses, bridge leadership gaps and enjoy seamless leadership transitions and executive onboarding.

For close to a decade, you have helped individuals and organisations, both nationally and internationally to create amazing results equipping businesses with the appropriate technology-driven leadership skills. Can you tell us more about this?

The reality of today’s business environment can be summarised in one term ‘VUCA’, an acronym which stands for Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. One thing is certain, technology is here to stay, and there will be no slowing down on the progression of technology and its possibilities. Today’s world is constantly changing, becoming more unstable, unpredictable, dramatic and complex each day. It’s becoming more difficult to anticipate events or predict how they’ll unfold.

The only constant thing is change. Neither organisational leadership nor its strategies are spared in today’s VUCA world. Knowledge, Skills, Experiences, Dogmas and Paradigms all come under scrutiny, and surely the “dinosaurs” – (business leaders who refuse to adapt to the realities of today’s needs) will keep going extinct.

For this reason, organisations need digital leaders who are always connected, disruptive, flexible, curious, responsive, collaborative, values and outcome-driven, and grounded in character, not the dinosaur leader who is stuck to past wins, ideas and knowledge.

Developing this Digi-leadership competence in business leaders is exactly what I have been doing over the last decade.  I have conducted and facilitated high impact leadership development workshops for organisations and business leaders across three continents; Africa, North America and Asia and provided leadership development consultancy to help organisations develop adaptive, visionary and transformational leadership that help them not only to survive the disruption we call the new normal but also thrive and lead organisations that are sustainable, prosperous and globally competitive.

From your experience in helping SMEs, what are the biggest obstacles that they face in Nigeria?

There are peculiar obstacles SMEs are dealing with operating in a country like Nigeria, ranging from poor infrastructure, fluid government policies, unstable economy, poor business knowledge, and unpredictable political terrains. However, beyond the external factors which majority have no control over, the biggest obstacle SMEs face is that of a lack of business knowledge and resourcefulness.

Let me use a relatable analogy to explain this, If you go to the swimming pool for the first time, I am sure you will not dive into the deep end of the pool without assistive swimming devices. Unfortunately, I see so many entrepreneurs in Nigeria dive into setting up businesses without acquiring the requisite skills and knowledge on managing and growing a business.  I was also a victim of this, too in the early days of my business and I have worked with a lot of SMEs who get caught right in their tracks for this reason.

I would say that entrepreneurs need to move beyond passion towards understanding the fundamentals of business development and sustainability. Entrepreneurs should learn and invest in the development of crucial aspects of business development; sales, structure, planning, financials, marketing, leadership, technology, and so on. Entrepreneurs should also get mentors who can help them navigate the journey of entrepreneurship.

COVID-19 has disrupted a lot of business activities, forcing entrepreneurs to take drastic steps in order to remain in business. What innovative ways do think start-ups can take to remain less vulnerable and win in this tough situation?

Truly the COVID-19 pandemic has hit hard across sectors with the SMEs literally left to fight their way to survival. Just as we have seen the SMEs being hit by this unforeseen disruption, the curve to normalcy may be quite steep and the coming months are likely to still be very tough periods most entrepreneurs will ever experience, and while government support schemes are almost non-existence especially to the average Nigerian entrepreneur, it is imperative that entrepreneurs strap on their innovative hats.

Innovation around business models will be crucial during this crisis and more importantly in the recovery phase as many hibernating small businesses seek to reboot their business while they explore the adoption of new channels to existing and new customers and new product development in response to their current reality.

My organisation for example which is a service-based capacity development company has had to evolve our business model and serve our customers virtually, an aspect which was not our focal prior to now.

Therefore entrepreneurs must be flexible and adaptive and be willing to embrace new learning and technology, revisit their value proposition utilise customer data and business insights for revenue modelling.  While innovation around business models, systems and products are crucial, the greatest change must occur in the mind of entrepreneurs to see opportunities even in the face of the uncertainties presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Research has shown in Nigeria that SMEs account for more than 95% of all productive activities with the capacity to employ over 70% of the work. But most SMEs also have the highest mortality rate. What survival tips would you suggest could ensure the sustainability of SMEs in Nigeria?

Just as a cactus plant is designed to adapt to the hostile conditions in the desert, SMEs who truly want to survive must learn to adapt to the realities and peculiarities of our business environment. A lot of Nigerian businesses entrench business models of businesses in developed countries and pretty much just copy and paste it in our environment. But it doesn’t necessarily work that way, to survive in the business climate here, SMEs must adapt their business models to workable models.

For those who currently have business models that are not working, change direction. There is no straight curve in business and it is important that business owners grasp this. A major cog in the wheel for most SMEs is structure; a lot of Nigerian businesses lack adequate business structures that can help them weather the waves of volatility.

The business that will stand a chance must ensure that they adopt healthy business structures and corporate governance to ensure transparency, accountability, and security of SMEs. Another thing SMEs also need is to always protect their cash flow, reduce expenses and look at their overheads. They should also constantly review market opportunities and client needs; they always need to understand what’s most important to ensure that what they are offering stays relevant.

Technology is also a no brainer when it comes to SME sustainability. SMEs must embrace digital channels; more and more people are buying online and doing comparisons, so the more SMEs embrace the opportunities that these online channels present the better. There are plenty of tools available online, with a little digging

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