The newly launched WhatsApp service, SMMEstart, provides an effective tool for small businesses to find COVID-19 financial relief and other important resources – and play their part in driving South Africa’s economic recovery.
Amongst a menu of free resources for SMMEs, the dedicated FINANCIAL section of the support service has information on both government and private sector relief programmes and funding mechanisms to help businesses recover from the devastating economic effects of the pandemic. It also provides help in getting applications ready – and has an overview of lessons learnt from COVID-19 relief funding that can help small businesses prepare, going forward.
“We have developed the free chat-based service on WhatsApp as a one-stop-shop to help small business owners in the wake of COVID-19. The bot includes resources and services on the different areas of running a business,” says SMMEstart’s Samantha Manclark. “the service also offers a constantly updated and easily-accessible resource that details how to access both private and public COVID-19 financial relief.”
Among these is how to apply for the Township and Rural Entrepreneurship Programme (TREP), which provides both financial support and business development assistance to small businesses.
Addressing a webinar on Small, Medium and Micro Enterprises and Cooperatives supported by the Department of Small Business Development (DSBD) late February, President Cyril Ramapahosa said that the implementation of the TREP must be accelerated to bring a lot more people into the mainstream economy.
In his address, President Ramaphosa spotlighted the role of SMMEs to drive South Africa’s economic recovery, through initiatives like the Business Viability Scheme.
SMME owners can access the SMMEstart WhatsApp support service by saving the number +27 60 110 110 to their contacts and then texting the word ‘hi’ in WhatsApp to start chatting and then choosing the menu item FINANCIAL to locate the updated relief opportunities available.
Amongst other offerings, business owners can:
Find out about financial relief schemes including grants, soft loans, loan guarantees or a combination of these.
Find out how to access sector-specific government funding including in tourism and the Spaza shop, clothing and bakery sectors.
Access a constantly updated list of available private sector financial relief and funding across a range of industries.Of particular importance to small business owners is a highly useful overview of lessons learnt from COVID-19 relief funding.
“The research that SMMEstart is based on revealed how many SMMEs were unable to quickly access financial relief during the pandemic due to non-compliance or not having the required information and paperwork ready,” adds Manclark. “Just following the advice in this section of SMMEstart will help small businesses be best positioned to access financial relief without delay – now and in the future.”
With several thousand users already signed up and new content being added regularly, the SMMEstart chatbot resource on WhatsApp is becoming an essential tool for SMMEs as they rebuild and grow in 2021.
The new chat-based service aims to provide assistance to local businesses and help them recover from the devastating economic effects of the pandemic. Accessible via instant-messaging platform Whatsapp, SMMEstart has been developed by Praekelt.org in partnership with Arifu (in Kenya and Nigeria) and Jozihub with funding support from Google.org.