Friday, December 31, 2010

SMEs - SMEs and labour market rigidity

Left wing governments often resort to protection of their labour forces. This is generally necessitated by political rather than economic imperatives. This leads to rigidity in the labour markets and has a number of negative consequences.

SMEs are generally unable to pay top prices for their staff members, and by default feed from the bottom of the labour barrel. They cannot offer perks such as pensions, medical etc. Therefore when it becomes too difficult to acquire, retrench or fire staff, they simply keep it tight. They try and reduce staff before the new legislation comes in. They tailor everything to existing revenue streams. They simply do not have any of the assets necessary to handle the situation. They do not have money for legal employees, or legal advice. They cannot pay minimum salaries.

Rigid labour markets have a negative impact on economic and job growth. SMEs are equally affected by this situation. As they close ranks in order to reduce staff, so they reduce their ability to grow their businesses. Everyone is a loser, including SMEs.

South Africa has been particularly heavy handed in this regard and are about to add even more to this hamfisted approach to economic development. The new round of labour legislation is a potential nightmare for SMEs and large businesses.

SME - types of opportunities

The starting point for me with writing this document was Prof Mark Casson from the University of Reading on the UK.

As an economist he wanted to know how many opportunities there were and who decided who got which opportunities.

I did a little desktop research as I found the question intriguing. My research revealed the following. Opportunities vary in complexity. Therefore the skills, knowledge and experience needed to sell fruit to people at a taxi rank in a developing country is minimal. However, at the other end of the scale, identifying two companies for a merger, and then succeeding in achieving a merger between the two, requires a high level of skills, knowledge and experience.

So the first thing to note is that opportunities can be graded from extremely simple through to extremely complex. Similarly, the simpler the opportunity, the more of them there are, and the converse is also true for complex opportunities.

The second thing to note is that as complexity increases so too does the profitability in respect of both % and actual value. While you may be selling oranges at the taxi rank for US $1, the merger could be a US $10bn deal.

Therefore the question must be asked as to whether you are looking for simplicity or complexity when looking for a new business opportunity?

Bear in mind that your ability to handle complexity will be informed by your education and experience.

How complex is your business or your new idea? Here in South Africa there are too many copy cat entrepreneurs. They are lifestyle entrepreneurs simply looking for an easy buck. I have seen very very few business plans that have made me sit up and say wow. However, we can do it, and this is evident when we look at the number of world leading products designed in South Africa.

SME - types of entrepreneur

Research indicates a number of different types of entrepreneur. These include survivalist entrepreneur; salary replacement entrepreneur; lifestyle entrepreneur, small business manager, franchisee, copycat entrepreneur, franchisor, inventrepreneurs, serial entrepreneur, portfolio entrepreneur, angel funder and venture capitalist.

However these can be grouped into three (3) groups of people who act in a similar manner.

The first is the survivalist. The survivalist is often associated with informal sector survivalist businesses, but could also include the formal sector person forced through circumstances into self employment. This could be someone who has been retrenched.

The second group is the lifestyle entrepreneur. They vary in a number of ways, but generally are the same “animal”. For some the “lifestyle” is about working the hours they want, or the type of business (maybe a hobby) or about maintaining a lifestyle which includes holidays, and toys such as motorbikes, cars, caravans, boats etc. All of them have clearly defined “rules” on how they run their business. These rules are written in stone most of the time. Do not ask these entrepreneurs to work late or weekends.

The third group are the high growth entrepreneurs. These are the entrepreneurs who generate large profits quickly, normally create the bulk of new jobs in an economy, and are able to retire young. Notice I said “able to”; many do not and start the next business soon after they harvest from their business.

Where do you fit in?

The South African government has not recognised this current research, and consequently are not fine tuning their SME development strategies accordingly. This is a pity, as the job creation we so desperately need in South Africa is not being achieved as a result. It is time governments all over the world start consulting with SME specialists in order to understand the research findings in this area of expertise. This will assist in creating better SME development interventions.