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Online resources for SMEs

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IBM, Business Partners, International Finance Corporation (IFC – a member of the World Bank Group) and the Department of Trade & Industry have launched a resource to help budding entrepreneurs and SMEs to start, finance and grow their businesses. 

The South Africa Business Toolkit (http://southafrica.smetoolkit.org) contains the latest information and communication technologies (ICTs) to help small and medium enterprises in emerging markets learn and implement sustainable business management practices.
The goal is to increase the reach of local small business into the global economy by improving the productivity, efficiency and capacity of the estimated 600 000 active small businesses in South Africa as well as improve their access to capital and new markets.
The South Africa toolkit is available both as online and offline modules which include the portal, offline CDs, mobile alerts and classroom training.
“The SME Toolkit is a particularly powerful combination of technology and business expertise in a country such as South Africa where there is so much potential for small and medium business growth,” says Mark Harris, MD of IBM South and Central Africa. “This initiative, which applies IBM technology and the incredible reach and experience of IFC as well as Business Partners and brings in the Department of Trade & Industry as a crucial partner, is poised to promote job creation and economic prosperity on an unprecedented level.”
The resource was developed by IBM and IFC to leverage ICTs in order to provide South African businesses with access to key business management information and training.  The site contains information and tools to address accounting and finance, business planning, human resources, legal and insurance, marketing and sales, operations, and technology needs. For example, a business owner could quickly go to the site and find templates for employee evaluations and then log off.
Among the specially designed free tools are:
* An online calculator that helps small businesses determine their readiness for financing;
* Free software to build a web site;
* Free business forms used for employee performance evaluations;
* Community tools such as online conferencing, blog capability, group calendars;
* Survey and quiz builders to help small businesses make decisions; and
* A multilingual business directory to help small businesses link locally, regionally and globally.
“Small businesses are the growth engines of the world’s economies; yet their success rate is not as good as it could be simply because of a lack of access to good business management practices,” says IFC Director for Africa, Thierry Tanoh. “Giving small businesses the information and new collaborative technologies they need will help them grow and prosper.”
Small businesses can, through the Toolkit, receive business training delivered via classroom workshops and partnerships with local support providers. The Toolkit can also help small businesses go global by providing detailed market access, investment and trade information for the 64 countries most exported to. In South Africa, where an estimated 70% of new businesses fail within 18 months, the Toolkit has been designed to provide the access and expertise to enable small business to connect to the world economy.
“Many entrepreneurs struggle through their challenges laboriously, and many of them get it right, after they have tried and failed a few times. Some don't get it right at all, as they think that a good idea is enough,” says Ferose Oaten of Auto Vehicle Test Centres AVTS. “This Toolkit should go a long way in taking away the obstacles and goes further than just the starting, establishment phases, but goes on to provide the tools for maintenance and sustainability.
Business Partners is responsible for making sure the more than 500 pieces of content, tools and resources are customised, localised and available in the language of their respective markets.
“When a business is in trouble one of the most important things needed is advice from someone who cares, who has been through it before,” said Jo’ Schwenke, MD of Business Partners, a specialist investment company for SMEs.
“The Web 2.0 collaborative features of this Toolkit provide that advisory service by allowing small and medium business owners to interact with each other as well as access data normally available only to Fortune 1000 companies. It will be a great help to our 600,000 small and medium business owners here in South Africa,” Schwenke explains.
“Small, medium and micro-enterprises (SMMEs) represent an important vehicle to address the challenges of job creation, economic growth and equity in our country. Notwithstanding this, it is clear that the sector is still confronted with challenges and constraints that hamper its development. An integrated approach that deals with inherent challenges is key to the development and growth of this sector,” says Mandisa Manjezi, DTI’s Chief Director: Enterprise Development.
“The DTI has embarked on the SME Toolkit initiative with other stakeholders with the intent of setting up and growing a network of partners that will continue to provide a united response to the challenge of access to information currently experienced by the SMME sector in South Africa.”