At the threshold of 2016, SMEs ring in the new

 

By Myrna R. Co, SERDEF Media Bureau

(first published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Sunday Biz, January 3, 2025)

Typically undermanned, the small business owner often gets too engrossed in here-and-now problems and challenges to think about directions the company should take months or years from now.

And yet planning is crucial to any business, regardless of size.  Entrepreneurs need to plan systematically to expand markets, diversify into new products, adopt technology, integrate and innovate, lest they get trashed by competition.

No matter how pre-occupied they have been in daily operations,  the end of the year  can give entrepreneurs time to pause, reflect on the past year’s successes and failures, resolve to do better, formulate goals, and identify how to achieve them.  What better time to “ring out the old, ring in the new’ than at the threshold of a new year?!

The year that was

Carla Ocampo and Lester Valle at the Urian awards night in 2015

2015 was a banner year for Habi Collective Media, which offers photography and other media services for weddings/events. Habi owners Carla Samantha Ocampo and Mark Lester Valle won the Urian best documentary award last year and the feat opened doors for them.

“The award helped tell clients we’re not just another run-off-the-mill services supplier.  Getting them to trust us became easier,” according to Ocampo.

“We also began to partner with producer-friends, gaining for us big clients for the first time in our young history.”

Adrian Philip Jara, owner of online shop FTW Apparel, relates that 2015 was a mixed bag of good and bad for his business.

Early in the year, he joined the two biggest online shops in the Philippines – Lazada and Zalora – which increased FTW’s market exposure.  “Product awareness consequently became more intense which helped me sell more.  With the shops’ nationwide cash-on-delivery service, customers became more confident to buy products online.”

Bad things happened too, no thanks to certain people he met online.  One offered to help with his business registration only to take off with his money and business documents.  Another, claiming to be a “celebrity fashion stylist,” pulled out his products for celebrity endorsement and never returned them.  Before the end of the year, Jara’s website was hacked and he now has his hands full creating a new one.

On the other hand, newbie entrepreneur Lakapati Basa looks back to 2015 with undiluted pleasure.   “The Real Happy Cow,” which she put up to promote her personal “eat vegan, spare-the-animals” advocacy, opened in the fourth quarter of the year to “overwhelming response.”    She took time to develop her products, with some taking a year to finish, prior to release. “By doing so, we were able to grow our market quickly.”

Teacher-entrepreneur Mona Liza Serrano believes her Thinking Hats Mentoring Center did well in 2015, despite changes in the academic landscape.  “We were able to adjust smoothly to the K-12 curriculum as implemented by schools.”  Proper planning helped her and her tutoring staff turn obstacles into opportunities to offer new programs, she adds.

Tom Ranada’s  Uptrend Business Center, which sells nutritional supplements from the USA to the Philippines,  did better in 2015 than in 2014, with the addition of new items to his product line.

Picking up lessons

What lessons have the entrepreneurs picked up from the way their business performed in 2015?

“Don’t trust those you meet online readily, and make sure the people you work with are honest and reliable,” Jara says.  He has also become more alert to dangers in cyber space and learned to secure digital accounts and passwords.

From her first few months in business, Basa learned that integrity and heart are important in order to stand out in the marketplace.   The company made customers feel great about their purchase and realize that buying vegan contributes to a bigger ideal — humane treatment of man’s fellow creatures.   “This is how we managed to catch the attention of high-profile individuals, some of whom offered to invest in our business.”

Lakapati Basa shows off some of her vegan products

For his part, Ranada was led to spend more time studying the competition and looking for better, lower-priced products.

Two major lessons Habi Collective learned :  Never underestimate your capabilities and accept your weaknesses so you can start doing something about them.  “We realized, for example, that we may be good filmmakers but lousy marketing people.”

New Year resolutions

Reflecting on business success and failures and lessons learned has prompted the entrepreneurs to resolve to do better in 2016.

Here’s what they look forward to doing:

Ranada: “I will have to prune down on the number of products and focus on better selling items, while discarding slow-moving ones.  I will keep on looking for new products that have good sales potentials.”

Tom Ranada sourcing nutritional supplements in the US

Jara:  “Creating brand awareness for my business is the first priority in 2016.  By improving my website’s search visibility, I can reach more people.  I will also try to understand finance by learning accounting basics, creating cash flow statements, and balancing my checkbook weekly.”

Ocampo: “We vow to take care of the current connections we have by making sure we don’t give them something to be embarrassed about.  We also hope to upgrade our arsenal of equipment.  We’re so happy to be able to buy another camera because of the upsurge last year.”

Basa:  “Expansion is our goal in 2016. Apart from offering more vegan cheeses and the pig-friendly liempo, we will offer dairy-free butter and more tasty meat alternatives.  Our priority is to increase public awareness of the environmental and human health consequences of animal meat consumption.”

Serrano:  “Our main goal is to align new programs to the curriculum of schools and the needs of the students and to assist parents in establishing good study habits in their kids.  Thus, our priority is human resources management, from hiring, training and retraining.”

An exciting year ahead

All five entrepreneurs interviewed expressed confidence 2016 will be a better year.

“Why not?” Serrano asks.  “The Philippine economy is thriving.  2016 will be better, with the academic community having adjusted to and fully implementing the K-12 program.”

Ranada has a buying office in the United States which he thinks puts him in a good position to out-price and out-source competitors.

Because what her business does is important, Basa expects The Real Happy Cow to do better in 2016.  “Vegan is the future of food. There is no other way to go.”

Jara is excited for 2016, mainly because he has learned a lot in previous years.  “I’m ready to take on challenges that will surely come my way.  I have so many ideas and plans; each year will find me a more committed and competent entrepreneur.”

Ocampo says Habi Collective is taking all the lessons it has picked up to heart.  “Last year was a great year.  Sana tuloy-tuloy na.”

 

(For more entrepreneurial stories, visit the Small Enterprises Research and Development Foundation website at www.serdef.org.)

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