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“A crisis is a terrible thing to waste”- Paul Romer

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented disruptions for Nigerian MSMEs. This has led to a myriad of strategies and recommendations on how MSMEs can survive. As these are being implemented by MSMEs, a new normal and the probability of an economic recession have forced MSMEs to focus on thriving and not just surviving. To do this, MSMEs have to be proactive to face the ‘new normal’ by reshaping their business models to recognize and adapt to changing customer demands. To describe how MSMEs can thrive, we adopt a business model approach that describes how a business creates and delivers value propositions to its customers. Through this approach, we can assess how the pandemic affects MSME customers, value proposition, financial viability and infrastructure (channels, partnerships and key activities). 

A critical review of the Impact of COVID-19 on MSMEs in Nigeria 

A critical approach to analysing the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on MSMEs can be done on two levels. 

The first level of analysis is to focus on the immediate impact of the lockdown on MSMEs. According to research carried out by the Pan Atlantic University-Enterprise Development Centre (PAU-EDC), most MSMEs (~93%) reported a decline in income due to the lockdown, with 88% of them re-thinking their business models. The study revealed that some of the biggest challenges most MSMEs faced were associated with their sales, cash flow position, production activities and logistics.

The second level looks at the post-lockdown impact. Existing evidence from preliminary research on the impact of COVID-19 on customer demand revealed that the potential increase in job losses and reduced wages have affected people’s finances. As a result, a good number of people may have lesser income available to cater to their needs. This will result in most customers limiting their consumption to essentials (e.g. food and medicine). Thus, MSMEs that predominantly offer non-essential goods and services may face diminished patronage which could have long-term negative effects.

As regards value propositions, evidence from existing research on the impact of a crisis on value propositions showed that, due to tighter finances, a vast majority of customers become more price-conscious and look for offerings that represent the best value for money. Thus, MSMEs with brands or value offerings that are quality focused (e.g. premium brands) may struggle more than MSMEs with value-centric brands.

Concerning financial viability, evidence from a study by Deloitte showed that MSMEs with huge variable costs are more likely to be negatively affected, primarily as anticipated reduction of demand lowers revenue. In addition to this, MSMEs with a single revenue stream may face challenges as customer demand changes or reduces. 

Re-inventing MSMEs to thrive not survive during a crisis 

To thrive during a crisis, MSMEs must look to introduce strategies and pathways to mitigate the impact of changes that emerge during such a crisis. Recommendations of action plans that can be implemented to ensure this include: 

  • Identify and Retain key customer segments: MSMEs are defined by their customers. This statement is as true during good times as it is during a crisis. MSMEs must ensure that they have a steady stream of customers. Most MSMEs tend to cater to multiple customer segments. However, there is always one segment that contributes the most to revenue. MSMEs must be able to identify what that key customer segment is! It is essential to assess how this segment has been affected by the crisis and how such an effect may influence their consumption patterns. Being able to address the changing consumption/demand patterns of this particular segment represents the first step toward a thriving MSME. 
  • Amend value proposition to align with changing demands of key customer segment: As consumption patterns of the key customer segment change, the previous value propositions of most MSMEs are unsuitable to consider as competitive advantage. Even in situations where there is a slight/negligible change in demand, customers may be tempted to look elsewhere due to other MSMEs providing a more attractive value proposition. As a result, MSMEs must be willing and proactive enough to make it difficult for their key customers to switch over to other competitors. Recommended strategies include increasing value-based offerings (such as discount or bundle packages for price-conscious customer segments), introducing convenience options (such as domestic delivery options for existing customers), etc.
  • Review and Re-strategize on activities and customer channels to improve customer satisfaction: If an MSME wants to improve their customer satisfaction during this period, they can improve the efficiency of their key production activities, localise their partnerships to reduce the risk of disruption to supply chains and create new channels that enable them to reach their customers easily. Some strategies that have been proposed to achieve these include: leveraging digital channels to reach customers faster, introducing process improvements (such as reducing the number of human hand-offs in their business processes), and increasing the number of local suppliers
  • Create additional revenue streams to harness potential opportunities that may arise as a result of the crisis: While the previous points focused on key customer segments, it is equally important for MSMEs to be aware of the new opportunities that may emerge due to the crisis. As a result, MSMEs must continuously scan for new opportunities worth exploring to enable them to create a new product that can serve as an additional revenue source. 

To conclude, the concept of a new normal is frightening for all stakeholders but history has shown that every crisis brings forth opportunities. The most successful companies are the ones that recognize those opportunities and act upon them. 

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