Scaling your SME: How to Increase the market reach of your business in Africa

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Scaling your SME: How to Increase the market reach of your business in Africa

The word “SME” (short for “small & medium enterprise”) has climbed a few notches higher in the consciousness of Africans and in particular Kenyans recently and you could attribute that in large part to the courtesy of President Obama visiting Kenya and participating in the GES (Global Entrepreneurship Summit) and subsequently pledging over KES 100 billion to SMEs.

President Obama in a discussion with some entrepreneurs at the GES Summit held in Kenya In July 2015

President Obama in a discussion with some entrepreneurs at the GES Summit held in Kenya In July 2015

If you ask any self respecting Kenyan in employment or otherwise, s/he will always tell you about their small business on the side or they are writing a business plan and lately that has become “I have a business in the SME space”.  Given this zeal for entrepreneurship in Kenya and our SME sector bandied about as the engine of the economy, it would be interesting to ask how many SME transcend from S to M and subsequently become large businesses. We know the answer to that question is “not many” and hence the more interesting question would be why so many of them remain S “small” and what are the main challenges for so many entrepreneurs in scaling their business and growing it and making a bigger contribution to our economy.

1.Understand the SME Value Chain 

The key to understanding the constraints of SMEs is to first grasp their value chain. An enterprise starts off with an idea or business plan which could be a great product or service. This product or service requires capital which could be intensive in the case of development of a product that requires heavy machinery, factories etc or could be light in case of a consulting business which requires an office and related infrastructure. Every enterprise than has to find a way of deploying this idea to their target market which could be consumers, businesses or governments. This is the stumbling block for most SMEs.

2. Identify your target market 

Why is this so difficult? Accessing your target market entails first and foremost identifying clearly who your target market is and then finding an efficient avenue to reach them. This can be done efficiently in a mature market where there is enough market segmentation due to high competition and an entrepreneur can pick and choose their target market right down to the habits of people as is evidenced by the growing popularity of Facebook advertising.

 3. Don’t go with the flow: Know which channels your audience is in

Most SMEs do not have a huge budget to grow their business through mainstream channels

Most SMEs do not have a huge budget to grow their business through mainstream channels

In Kenya, most businesses think they would have to access main stream media advertising to reach their desired target market. However, extremely high costs  and implicit wastage deters most SMEs from being able to access this medium. For eg. A half page ad in the Daily Nation would cost around KES 1 million for 1 day. Most SMEs do not have that much as their entire budget for the year. In addition to the cost, however, there is enormous wastage for an SME by picking such a medium. Take the case of a restaurant, which would draw about 80-90% of its revenue from residents/employees from its immediate 4-5 neighborhoods. If it places an ad in a national newspaper it gets the eyeballs but the likelihood of someone crossing over from town is extremely minimal and the cost of any incremental visitors to the restaurant as a result of the ad is enormous.

Social Media Advertising is the new billboard, where all the eyeballs are.

Social Media Advertising is the new billboard, where all the eyeballs are.

4. Capitalize on growing usage of mobile phones and internet accessibility

All other mainstream media such as radio, print, digital avenues of newspapers etc are extremely prohibitive from a cost perspective and most SMEs seek capital primarily to cross this bridge of accessing their market. However, due to the enormous wastage this is a dead weight loss to society. In addition if an SME wants to capitalize on the growing usage of mobile phones and internet accessibility, they need to appear in search engine results when a user searches for their products or services. However, this route is also ridden with high costs for SMEs as the mechanism of search engines is such that the highest bidder for a key word appears on top. SMEs would need to hire a search engine optimization (SEO) expert to appear on these search engines and the cost of an SEO expert is extremely high. Therefore, many SMEs in Kenya will find themselves shut out from search engine results.

So whats the solution?

5.Get advertising and marketing channels that work for you

There has to be a platform that connects consumers and these SMEs such that consumers are able to find the products and services of these SMEs easily and the SMEs don’t have a high cost burden to be “found”. is just such a solution. It provides a standard listing which is FREE for businesses so that they can appear in a directory listing format and if they want to have their key words and map they can choose a premium listing for 10K a YEAR. That is an amount that should not be prohibitive to any small business. is an enabling platform dedicated to giving businesses an opportunity to connect with consumers that are looking for them.

Tell us about your challenges as an SME and what we can do to help you.

Imran Khan
Imran Khan
I am a financier with a passion for entrepreneurship & travel. I love numbers but would prefer crunching them in tranquil surroundings.


  1. Hi,

    Love the article,

    I agree, main stream marketing channels such as print and media is very expensive. SME’s should also look at inbound marketing as a way to get the attention of their target market. Inbound Marketing is the use of interesting content to attract your audience to you. This takes time and effort but in the long run you will build a loyal following around your brand who trust your products and services.

    SEO experts are expensive, but it’s not rocket science. There are lots of free online resources to help you improve your website’s SEO, I recommend
    » Google SEO starter guide (FREE)
    » MOZ The beginners guide to SEO (FREE)

    I also think SME’s should leverage the power of Social Media it’s accessible and most improtantly affordable.

  2. Japheth shilaho says:

    Yes. I agree with the article. Every startup you will find the owner(s) want to focus on big spendings that have no immediate impact to the growth as far as cashflow is concerned. I came to learn there are many ways to minimize initial start up costs and still make it through in the market. This should be the focus of many entrepreneurs

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