SMEs can't wait it out this time

Mr Ho Meng Kit, chief executive officer of Singapore Business Federation (SBF).
Mr Ho Meng Kit, chief executive officer of Singapore Business Federation (SBF).ST PHOTO: YEW MENG JIN

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have had it tough for several years now, but it looks like they are headed into even choppier waters.

Business sentiment among SME bosses has declined for five consecutive quarters, according to a regular survey by the Singapore Business Federation (SBF) and the DP Information Group.

The quarterly poll, which asks SME owners and managers about their thoughts on the following six months, found that they are now less optimistic about all aspects of their operations, from hiring to business expansion and capital investment.

Expectations about profitability turnover in the first half of this year are now at their lowest since the survey was started in 2010.

Some of the worries are not new. Industrial and commercial rents continue to be high while the labour market is still tight, putting pressure on wages. Add to that the economic outlook, also at its gloomiest in years, and you have a toxic brew.

The situation calls for nothing less than an overhaul of how business is done in Singapore.

As SBF chief executive officer Ho Meng Kit noted in the survey report, this situation calls for a collaboration between the Government and business community to develop "a new paradigm".

DP Info chief operating officer Lincoln Teo said infrastructure, innovation and internationalisation will be key. "Businesses will increasingly need to draw opportunities from global and regional marketplaces while ensuring that there are robust physical and resource capabilities to support a cradle of creativity and growth," he said.

Indeed, there is a growing sense in the business community that this is not a difficult period SMEs can simply wait out until the economy improves.

The Government will have to do its part but, in order to survive, SMEs too must reach deep into their wells of creativity and come up with innovative offerings, explore new markets and find better ways of doing things.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 01, 2016, with the headline 'SMEs can't wait it out this time'. Print Edition | Subscribe