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We Remain Committed to Helping Businesses Get Back On Their Feet: Archana Vohra, Facebook India

The last one year has seen small businesses rapidly accelerating their online journeys in order to survive and grow says Vohra.

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MSMEs are the backbone of the of the Indian economy and contribute immensely to the country’s socio-economic development. They not only generate employment opportunities but also contribute to social development. In India, 6.3 crore MSMEs provide over 12 crores of jobs – playing a pivotal role in stimulating economic growth. 

Multiple waves of Covid-19, lockdown and strict guidelines to contain the infection have severely impacted the MSME ecosystem. Many small businesses had to shut shop owing to the pandemic leading to loss of employment and livelihoods. However, on the brighter side, the physical distancing norms have led several small businesses to explore digital, accelerating the online-to-offline journeys not just in metros but also in smaller towns.

Facebook India continues to stay committed supporting the economic recovery of the small businesses through pandemic and beyond. The company strongly believes that small businesses deserve genuine support to return to vibrancy and is doing everything it can do to support them by way of financial help, skilling support, and customized tooling and solutions.

In this interview with Everything Experiential, Archana Vohra, Director, Small and Medium Businesses, Facebook India, spoke about how the platform is enabling a more conducive environment for the digital growth and more.

Excerpts

What are the various initiatives by Facebook towards creating a more conducive environment for the digital growth of small businesses in India?

Facebook is committed to India and its socio-economic progress with a special focus on small businesses. Globally, more than 200 million businesses, mostly small, use our apps to connect with their customers every month. Of the 200 million, there are more than 15 million WhatsApp for Business app users in India. 

Last year, as part of our USD 100 million global grant for small businesses, we announced a grant of USD 4.3 million (INR 32 crores) for more than 3000 small businesses across Delhi, Gurgaon, Mumbai, Hyderabad, and Bangalore. 

We also understand that small businesses in India have felt the urgent need to adopt digital during the pandemic, and we wanted to play a pivotal role in their journey from offline to online. This inspired us to launch a local SMB Guide for India that is free and publicly available but we proactively reached out to 9 million small businesses across the country to ensure it reaches those who need it the most. 

We have also sharpened our focus on digital skilling and taken several of our industry-leading digital skilling programs online to ensure seamless learning and support businesses during these times. Our Managed Partners program that helps small businesses get expert advice and support from third-parties at no cost to them has enabled more than 800 businesses since January. Another one of our flagship programs, the Advertiser Bootcamp, that offers deep customized support through masterclasses in Hindi and English, has reached out to 15 million customers on the platform. 

Our VC Brand Incubator Program that works with venture capital funds to scale young, invested brands just finished two years during which time it has tied-up with nine VC funds and scaled more 200 young, invested brands. As part of this program, we have also started ‘Campaign Lab’ that helps direct-to-consumer businesses get creative solutioning support, and go live with mobile friendly creatives and strategy in under 72 hours. 

How have the multiple waves of COVID-19, lockdown and strict guidelines to contain the infection impacted the MSME ecosystem? Despite this, how did pivoting to digital help small businesses from metros as well as smaller towns, in accelerating their businesses?

The pandemic and the resulting lockdowns have had a deep impact on small businesses. Facebook’s State of the SMB Survey conducted along with World Bank and OECD revealed that towards the end of 2020, one-third of small businesses surveyed in India had cited cash flow to be a challenge. 

The last one year has seen small businesses rapidly accelerating their online journeys in order to survive and grow. The same survey cited that more than half of small businesses on Facebook India now make at least a quarter of their sales digitally. A third of small businesses on Facebook India also said that the proportion of sales they made digitally had increased compared to before the COVID-19 pandemic. 

When a small business grows, it instantly multiples growth opportunities for the local economy. Take the example of Swasth Arogya that sells Ayurvedic products and treatment services, and has a manufacturing unit in Patan, Gujarat. During the last year, they are using Facebook and Instagram more than they were pre-Covid. Their digital sales have increased by 40% year-on-year. As a result they are looking to expand their production capacity considerably, and are consequently scaling-up their employee strength as well.

MyBageecha, based in Ahmedabad, accredits a 3x growth in their sales after setting up their Instagram account and starting advertising on the platform. With Instagram, they have the unique vantage point of being located in a non-metro city, and yet having access to a country wide market through its many features. 

Could you provide a few case studies of small businesses which have benefitted / grown by leveraging the Facebook Family of Apps?

Every day, we come across inspiring stories of small businesses from metros and equally from small towns that have taken this moment to re-invent themselves. 

Take the example of Disha Singh who started Zouk, an online lifestyle and fashion business. They started with exhibitions but got real India-wide reach only when they created Zouk's profile on Instagram and Facebook. This shift has enabled them to grow nearly 7x, and scale-up rapidly. In fact, after the ease in lockdown restrictions last year, they have doubled down our efforts online, and as a result have grown 2x from the pre-Covid levels.

Kriger Campus is an education network and marketplace built especially for India. They integrated WhatsApp into their business very early on, and use it to communicate throughout the user life-cycle from sign-up to everyday support. They saw a 55% increase in their business interactions over WhatsApp during the lockdown period. 

What steps can small businesses take to recover from the impact of the pandemic and the lockdowns?

The pandemic has been challenging for many small businesses and the second-wave has deepened the crisis for many that were beginning to make some recovery. Some key steps that small businesses can take to recover from the impact of the pandemic are:

Continue to engage with customers:  Many businesses unfortunately stop engaging with consumers when business operations take a hit. If anything, a crisis demands more proactive communication. We’ve observed that small businesses that have invested in building their virtual communities have managed to move both their brand and business metrics. 

Move online for growth and customer acquisition:  If there is a mantra to survive and thrive right now, then it is this. Our study with Boston Consulting Group last year told us that online shopping in India has accelerated by at least 2-3 years. There is a huge opportunity for businesses to expand using digital and reach potential customers across the world. Lockdowns and disruptions are repeatedly showing that small businesses that are digitizing their value chains are managing to stay afloat and even grow. 

Invest in business learning: There is a massive skills gap in the SMB space today, and this is particularly accentuated when it comes to digital skills. There are many resources and opportunities available to small businesses to upskill for fuelling growth. For instance, Facebook has taken all of its digital skills programs, which are free, online in the last one year, and continues to build on them to provide young businesses with timely support to scale their business. 

Use conversation tools to reduce path to purchase:  Our experience with brands and consumers over the last one year tells us that in these socially-distanced times, people want personalized and real-time communication. Chatbots, Messenger, and the WhatsApp Business app are great ways to connect with consumers and solve their queries real-time. 

Consolidate and measure: No matter how small or big the operations - now more than ever, it’s important that small businesses understand the importance of measurement and consolidation of campaigns. Business disruptions can be navigated more seamlessly if small businesses are focusing on and measuring truly incremental business outcomes. They should set up a test, learn with minimal spends, and identify what is working for their business. Aggregate and consolidate campaigns vs having more campaigns than results.

Explain the role MSMEs play in contributing to the country’s socio-economic development.

Small businesses are at the heart of our communities, and  are vital to the economy – they contribute to a reduction in poverty and income inequality, create new jobs, and are key growth drivers in the digital economy, contributing 30% to India’s GDP. In India, employment in the sector has risen from 23.9 million in 2000-01 to nearly 111 million in 2019-20. Economic disruption as a result of COVID has been rampant and small businesses are among the worst hit. As we focus on economic recovery, we remain committed to helping these businesses get back on their feet and we believe that the contribution of SMBs will be significant in fueling India’s economic reset.




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