3 Malaysian SME Owners Share Tips On How To Manage And Grow Your Small Business

"A lot of times we don't enjoy extra cash, because it's all being invested back into the growth of the business."

Cover image via MU Artisan Soy Sauce & Preeti's Farsan

Have you ever thought about running your own business?

Image via Unsplash

While the idea of starting something and becoming your own boss might seem enticing, the fact is that running your own business is usually not a bed of roses. As a small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) owner, you'll have to juggle multiple responsibilities, especially in the first few years, from building your products and growing your customer base to balancing finance sheets.

Nevertheless, most SME owners will tell you that all the hard work and challenges are worth it to see your business succeed. :)

Besides that, having the right tools and know-hows will definitely help you save time and effort as you run your own business. One such tool is WhatsApp Business, a free-to-use app for businesses to connect with customers seamlessly. Read on to find out more about this helpful resource.

In collaboration with WhatsApp Business, we talked to successful Malaysian SME owners to give you some insight into starting or growing your own small business.

Here are some practical tips they shared:

1. "As you know, money is always necessary for expansion. You'll often need to tread a fine line — a lot of times we don't enjoy extra cash, because it's all being invested back into the growth of the business."

Meet the founder of MU Artisan Soy Sauce, Shirley, the third generation to inherit her family's secret soy sauce recipe. With the rise of mass-produced and machine-manufactured soy sauce, Shirley wanted customers to experience the taste of authentic, naturally brewed soy sauce.

Using the same methods as her grandparents, MU Artisan Soy Sauce features soy sauce brewed under the Malaysian sun for months to acquire its deep, rich flavour and natural aged taste. They pride themselves in not taking shortcuts when it comes to their crafting process.

"At the very beginning, as a young female in a male-dominated industry, it was a challenge for some to take us seriously. I was also a bit naive at the start, thinking it would not be hard," shared Shirley.

"One of the biggest challenges came when we were trying to expand and also make a profit. For us, a lot of times we don't enjoy extra cash, because it's all being invested back into the growth of the business.

"Thankfully, during moments when we were down, we were able to find the motivation and will to go on. If you look closely around, you'll find some sort of support system there for you — it could be as simple as a word of encouragement from a customer."

"Sometimes, we will receive photos and recipes of homecooked food using our soy sauce, and it's our biggest joy," she said.

According to Shirley, she enjoys engaging with customers, especially through the WhatsApp Business platform. She has also set up a WhatsApp Catalog to showcase the different products available. In fact, roughly 50% of MU Artisan Soy Sauce's sales come from WhatsApp orders.

2. "First of all, time management is important. Secondly, as SME owners, there is always something new to learn every day."

Image via Preeti's Farsan

Vishaal Manoj Kumar runs the online business for Preeti's Farsan, a vegetarian home catering business in Penang featuring Gujarati and Punjabi delights. The business was founded by Vishaal's mother, Ms Pravinabahen, a.k.a. Preeti, and her mother-in-law in the early 2000s.

During the Movement Control Order (MCO), Vishaal expanded the business online and increased the delivery radius. Besides offering authentic vegetarian food, Preeti's Farsan also puts unique twists on classic dishes. For instance, they make Chocolate Pani Poori and Durian Pani Puri, which are rarely found in Malaysia.

Image via Preeti's Farsan

"Currently, it's just me, my mum, and my grandmother handling Preeti's Farsan. My mum does the cooking, while my grandmother helps, and I do deliveries.

"That's why time management is important. From planning the cooking to delivery, time is crucial for small business owners like us. In fact, there was a time when I was completing my final year assignment, while juggling Preeti's Farsan's orders. There were a few occasions where I had to prioritise my assignments and take a short break from Preeti's Farsan," shared Vishaal.

Image via Preeti's Farsan

Nevertheless, Vishaal enjoys running Preeti's Farsan's online business, especially when it comes to learning new things.

"There is always something new to learn every day, whether it's an innovative recipe, dealing with various types of requests from customers, coming up with eye-catching deals, or handling finances.

"A few months ago, I switched my WhatsApp to Business mode to enable the use of more features for marketing, like Catalog, Status, and Quick Replies. Integrating WhatsApp with Instagram and Facebook has made it easy for me to sort orders and quickly respond to messages," said Vishaal.

In fact, with the WhatsApp Business App, he was able to create a good business profile with user-friendly features, further utilising social media to grow Preeti's Farsan's customer base.

3. "Having your own business is a big responsibility. Not only do you have to take care of customers, you have to think about the welfare of your employees too."

Image via Jadi Batek

Colin Yong runs Jadi Batek, a batik gallery located in KL offering everything from traditional batik making classes to ready-to-wear apparel and pewter goods. With a team of 25, Colin shared some of the struggles that come with having your own business during the pandemic.

"The main challenge is getting new customers during the pandemic, as our usual customers are foreign tourists, who are not able to come to Malaysia now. Furthermore, as a business owner, when there is no income, we still need to find ways to pay our workers' salary," shared Colin.

Image via Jadi Batek

To continue gaining sales during the pandemic, Colin and his team shortlisted target customers and reached out to them via social media, advertisements, and referrals. One of the mediums that has proven effective for Jadi Batek is WhatsApp.

For Jadi Batek, WhatsApp Business has become one of their staple communication tools, with around 20% of their business coming from the social chat app.

Image via Jadi Batek

"We use WhatsApp Business to communicate with our customers. Compared to email and office number, we are able to respond to enquiries faster and have better customer satisfaction. The all-new Collection feature is also a good way for us to organise our items for customers.

"In fact, we are also getting overseas orders through WhatsApp from customers in Hong Kong, Australia, and the United States. Since WhatsApp is free and allows us to respond immediately, we are able to close deals quickly as well," said Colin.

For SMEs looking to expand their businesses and online reach, the WhatsApp Business app is a great way to connect and communicate with customers efficiently

Over two billion people around the world use WhatsApp, and research has shown that people are not only using the app to message their friends, but to also connect with businesses. In fact, there are over 50 million WhatsApp Business users globally who are utilising the app to grow their businesses.

The WhatsApp Business app is free to use, and was built with small business owners in mind.

Here's a look at some of the special features you can use as an SME owner:

Create a business profile
Add helpful information like your address, operation hours, business description, email address, and website to help customers discover important information about you.

Connect using messaging tools
WhatsApp offers messaging templates to help you build key conversations in advance. You can set away messages, quick replies, and greeting messages to respond to customers quickly too.

Make a Catalog and Collection
Catalog lets you showcase your products or services, and share them on WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, and other online platforms. Once you've created a Catalog, you can utilise Collections to organise your catalog items.

QR codes and short links
Make it easy for customers to connect with you using a unique WhatsApp Business QR code or short link. This enables new and existing customers to start a conversation with your business.

Use labels to sort conversations
Worried about missing out on previous chats or orders? Sort and colour code your customers' conversations into helpful categories, like "New customers" or "Pending orders."

One of the most useful tools for SME owners is the Catalog and Collections feature. Here's a step-by-step guide on how to use it:

STEP 1: Open the WhatsApp Business app
Click 'More' at the top of your chatlist, then select 'Catalog'
STEP 3: Click 'Add new item'
STEP 4: Click 'Add images', and upload up to 10 images
STEP 5: Provide a product or service name, along with optional details like price and description
STEP 6: Click 'Add to Catalog' to add the product to your Catalog

Overall, creating a Catalog on the app is fairly straightforward. You can upload a maximum of 500 products or services to your Catalog and keep it up to date by hiding or unhiding products. Furthermore, the Collection feature allows you to further categorise your Catalog, making it easier for customers to find what they're looking for.

Lastly, once you've created a Catalog, you can easily share the entire Catalog to customers you're connected with on WhatsApp Business or as a link on social media — you won't have to worry about sending individual WhatsApp messages for each product anymore!

Find out more about the WhatsApp Business app and how it can help your business today!

For more #business stories: