By Natasha Hatherall-Shawe
Entrepreneur Natasha Hatherall-Shawe proves it doesn't take big bucks to make a big difference
2020 was the year we found ourselves in a situation we never imagined could happen outside of a cinema screen. But it did.
As a leader in the communications industry and a business owner, these times have made me question so much, as well as living with fear for not only my own company, but for others, too.
Every single person and business will be affected by Covid-19, but the SME community will be one of the most severely affected. SMEs are a major component of economic growth for the UAE, making up a significant part of the GDP of the country, as well as playing a major role in the creation of employment - it’s essential that we protect them.
Within the SME community, one of the hardest hit groups is the marketing, communications, creative and content agencies. With customers not buying as much, businesses have to find ways to stay afloat and to many the thinking is to cut marketing and advertising expenses first.
However, what statistics show, and what many businesses don’t immediately see, is that continuing to invest in marketing and advertising during a recession actually benefits a business. There are many examples in history of those who grew during tough times, but what all have in common is that when companies continue to market, they keep their names in the minds of consumers, so that when there is money to spend, they are more likely to turn to the brands they remember.
The first two weeks of lockdown I barely slept, worrying about my own agency which lost 70 percent of revenue overnight. I desperately wanted to do something for the SME community in a similar boat to me, a group I am part of and passionate about.
Initially, my agency partnered up with another local marketing and communication agency, Fox and Hound Communications, offering one business the chance to win a package of PR, Marketing and Social Media support. In just one week we received over 2,000 entries from local SMEs, each telling a very personal and emotional story about how much their business meant to them and how the prize would give their company a chance of survival during this very difficult time.
There could only be one winner, but it got us thinking about what more we could do to help our fellow SMEs during this time, whilst also supporting their own businesses and employees too and then one day a slightly crazy out there idea came to me and in two weeks, we created a whole new concept, developed a brand, built a website and launched The SME Rise Collective, a platform that offers individuals and companies in the community the chance to come together and buy packages from local marketing and communications agencies that will be used to sponsor and support other local SMEs in a pay it forward kind of way.
It’s now 2 months since launch and what started as a journey between two small agencies in the region has become a behemoth of a collective of over 500 applicants, 400 sponsors and 30 UAE marketing and communications agencies and licensed freelancers that is proving that the collective power of a community really can create change.
The SME Rise Collective has now allocated 3 month marketing and PR support packages to its 76th SME in the region. We hope to have hit 100 by the time you are reading this! The Collective has also built 6 e-commerce websites, undertaken 4 re-brands, run training courses in social media, digital marketing and plenty more to provide whatever support the SME community asked for.
Our journey is by no means over just because lock down is, as now the critical time for many businesses starts as they look to rebuild and survive in the challenging months to come of UAE summer and reduced consumer spending power.
The SME Rise Collective continues to receive an average of 30 applicants every day. This means there are still many struggling small businesses out there that need support. Only with the continued efforts and kind help of agencies looking to collaborate and individuals and companies looking to sponsor, can the work of the SME Rise Collective continue in its mission.
When I started, I had no idea if it would work and make a real difference in the community, but I truly hoped it would as I’ve always strongly believed in the power of collaboration and that we are truly stronger together. So, let’s continue to rise and get back on our feet together. And if you can help or support in any way, we’d love to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org.