PLANTERSBANK: Empowering SMEs One Site at a Time
Before moving to the Department of Finance next month, Trade Secretary Purisima has issued an order forming a cluster in the trade department for small and medium-scale enterprises. Developing SMEs, after all, is one of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's flagship programs.
On the side of the private sector, the strategy to cultivate SMEs is more personal: empowering the Filipino entrepreneur with information, skills, networking and a lot more, all just a click away.
Planters Development Bank is already moving in that direction. It has opened an Internet portal -SME.com.ph -which serves as an online membership development program created exclusively for SMEs. It gives aspiring and current entrepreneurs access to affordable information and communications technologies.
"The portal empowers Filipino entrepreneurs," Adonis Yap, vice president for product marketing and management of Plantersbank said. "It equips them with the knowledge, information, tools and technology they need to make their business succeed and be globally competitive. It is also a way of exposing one's business or company in the global market."
"Filipinos are smart, innovative, resourceful, creative and industrious. These traits and skills are what make them successful in any endeavor. The SME portal exists to further uphold the Filipino enterprising spirit and enhance their innate skills and knowledge through the information and tools we provide from our Website and the available new technology," Mr. Yap added.
The project was first conceptualized in 2000 when an electronic commerce platform that SMEs could use was formed. This platform categorized site visitors and users as "B2C" (business to consumer) or "B2B" (business to business). The developers felt, however, that the market was not yet ready for that kind of technology. The SME.com.ph team tried various business models until they were able to design a portal that would change the SMEs' lives forever.
So what exactly does SME.com.ph site offer to the Filipino entrepreneur? Upon entering the site, the SME entrepreneur is given links to almost all the information he needs to start, maintain and make his business grow.
SME toolkit. This section offers a business course online. It has a collection of business tips, forms and tools on accounting and finance, business planning, human resources, legal and insurance, marketing and sales, operations, and technology.
Business e-books. This section contains a selection of helpful electronic books on business, marketing, the Internet and e-commerce that can be downloaded for free.
Business articles. Compelling readings on topics covering marketing, finance, the economy and more courtesy of Business Line magazine, a special publication of Plantersbank for SMEs.
Downloadable forms from government agencies and related laws. Listing of useful forms that businesses usually use when dealing with government agencies in the Philippines. It also holds a combination of laws, programs and pronouncements useful for SMEs and serves as a guide in the way they do business.
Help from experts. Aspiring entrepreneurs and businessmen can address their specific questions on franchising, human resources and business management to experts in the field.
Other SME tools. Useful business and technology tools such as peso-dollar rate tracker and a currency converter.
Another helpful link in the site gives information on loan applications and money management.
Interactive business page
Probably the most appealing feature of the SME portal is its interactive business page. It allows entrepreneurs to communicate with one another online. It is also a venue for suppliers, distributors, employees, manufacturers and, most importantly, customers to talk to one another about their needs.
Reading through posted online messages, one will be surprised to see that there are postings from the United States and countries in the Middle East. Some are from Filipino contract workers or migrants that are thinking of setting up their own businesses when they return to the Philippines.
"With the advent of mobile and electronic commerce, having an electronic network of small and medium businesses is ideal and essential since this will pave the way for them to exchange business alliances that will bring about progressive achievements in their respective ventures. The network will also provide convenient access for transacting business," Mr. Yap said.
The portal makes the Filipino entrepreneurs' business community actually borderless. Small and medium-scale entrepreneurs now can search the globe for employees, suppliers and customers.
The SME portal has received numerous praises from different sectors.
"When one gets to search for business information and keying in the words 'small and medium enterprises in the Philippines,' our site is often included in the top 5 search results. Moreover, Alexa, an organization that conducts Web site rankings, includes SME.com.ph in the top 150,000 sites worldwide, which made us surpass other billions of sites seeking to be noticed in the global arena," Mr. Yap disclosed.
Three years ago, the SME portal won the "Asian Banking Awards for eCommerce Service" held in Bangkok. Its pioneer member, Godiva Inc., won the "1st PICS-SME IT Excellence Award" given by the Philippine Internet Commerce Society in December 2003.
Through the SME portal, Godiva now enjoys monthly sales of ₱25,000. Another pioneer member, Figlia Shoes, won "Best in Website" during the Manila FAME Expo held in April last year.
President Macapagal-Arroyo herself congratulated the portal's developers and thanked them for helping her admiministration battle "the poverty that cuts our people's lives short."
Probably the most heartwarming praises are those that come from the small and medium-scale Filipino entrepreneurs themselves.
There have been doubts about the readiness of the small Filipino entrepreneur to go global. Many think that they are not ready for this kind of technology. The SME portal proves that nothing will happen if Filipinos continue to stay in the dark about e-commerce, and that it all starts with empowerment, one site visitor at a time.