Small businesses (SMEs) are easy to miss. The snack seller on the street corner, the little noodle place next to the bank, and the local bakery – they don’t have large storefronts, dazzling ads or fancy displays. We might not notice if one shuts down. Or two.
Collectively, however, SMEs make up over 90 percent of our businesses. If we snapped our fingers like Thanos and erased all of them from our streets, the gaping hole they’d leave in our lives would be impossible to ignore. With only the same few big-name brands left, all that would remain would be a stale, uninteresting market devoid of choice and diversity.
This year, COVID-19 has forced hundreds of thousands of SMEs to shut down. An SME-scarce world is a very real and very sad possibility, but this enormous cultural cost is hardly talked about anywhere. It’s easier to do the economic math – SMEs employ half the workforce and contribute more than 40 percent of national GDPs. But it’s difficult to quantify what it means to lose the tiny, ancient chicken rice stall where the friendly old man always remembers your extra chilli sauce. Or what happens if your go-to Chinese medicine shop, the one with mysteriously labelled drawers and herbal remedies for every ailment, vanishes forever.
Beyond the numbers, these SMEs are important because they’re intrinsically tied to our identity. They aren’t cookie-cutter franchises of big foreign brands headquartered in distant countries. Each one is a unique labour of love, created and run by our friends and neighbours for us. They encapsulate the things that we know and cherish. They embody generations of culture and tradition integral to who we are as a community. But their starring role in our cultural fabric doesn’t make them immune to current economic pressures; in fact, they’re even more vulnerable. They need our support, and it’s time we rallied to take care of our underdogs.
Every time we make a purchase, we make a choice about the type of business that we want to support. That choice has power – hence the term ‘purchasing power’. One silver lining in COVID-19 is that it made people realise the impact of their spending on the SME ecosystem. More and more people are actively choosing to buy or use local, and it’s been heartwarming to see them going the extra mile to support SMEs. But to do so, customers need to be able to reach the SMEs. Many SMEs are losing out because they have no digital presence and don’t know how to get started.
As an entrepreneur and a founder myself, I know first-hand how hard it is for SMEs to try to make ends meet every month. Since we know these businesses and we know tech, we decided to help bridge the gap. We designed and built digital solutions with the SMEs’ specific needs in mind to fast-track their entry into the digital space and help them stay competitive. That’s how Lemi for Business was born.
Through Lemi for Business, we want to empower SMEs with a full suite of digital solutions that connects them with audiences around the world, as well as locals who may have overlooked non-digitised SMEs. We created a whole ecosystem that includes a gamified loyalty program, personalised microsites, digital coupons and business analytics – everything a small business could need. Our model has no upfront costs because we know that SMEs don’t have a lot of spare capital in these times – we want to grow along with our SMEs.
We’re launching Lemi for Business in the Philippines, because of the high SME numbers, smartphone usage and digital literacy in the country, which create a promising environment for Lemi for Business to have the greatest positive impact. These traits make the Philippine business sector a microcosm of Southeast Asia’s wider ecosystem. From there, we plan to expand Lemi for Business to the rest of the region and beyond. We’ll bring it wherever it can make a meaningful difference for SMEs.
Choosing to support SMEs isn’t the most prestigious of decisions and requires a lot of work, both from a business and consumer perspective; it’s a communitarian one. So at Lemi, we made the choice to be a conscientious business from day one. We strongly believe in the power of positivity. We don’t think it’s impossible to do good and do well. We want to be able to proudly tell our kids about what our business stands for and how we make a difference. We do what we do because in this fight for the souls of our neighbourhoods, we’re determined to win – and we will.
I’m excited to see what we can do. Our choice isn’t an easy one, but sometimes the best decisions are the hardest to make. We all have a choice. What will yours be?