With businesses now being allowed to slowly reopen, owners of micro-, small-, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) are looking for ways to reopen and operate safely, and also refine their business strategy to meet changing needs. Several months of community quarantine have dampened their sales and forced them to adjust to the new normal, so the next few months will be critical in keeping their businesses afloat.

Fortunately, they do not have to do it alone. Many government agencies, large companies, and even fellow MSMEs have rolled out products, programs, and projects aimed specifically to help small business owners get back on their feet. These MSME enablers were the highlight of our sixth webinar, “Ready, Set? Reboot! MSME Enablers in the New Normal.”

In the webinar, the panelists were asked to identify the biggest barriers MSMEs are currently facing in their road to recovery. Here, we list their replies and highlight how each of their organizations are helping MSMEs adapt to the new normal:

Barrier #1: Lack of Information

When Jude Buelva established hyperlocal delivery startup Pandalivery as a college student back in 2017, he found it hard to find resources that would help him start his entrepreneurial journey. He highlighted how this lack of information is a major barrier for anyone who wants to put up their own business.

“As a student aspiring to become an entrepreneur years ago, hindi ko alam (I didn’t know) where to start. Entrepreneurs have a really hard time accessing information,” said Buelva. “Hindi nila alam kung paano magsimula, ano yung opportunity na meron sa kanila, and ano yung available na resources sa kanila (They don’t know how to start, what opportunities are present, and what resources are available for them).”

Today, Buelva is enabling other businesses in Camarines Sur and Albay through Pandalivery, a logistics startup for food, groceries, and medicine. His hyperlocal approach allows Buelva to contribute in building the business community of the Bicol region, ensuring that his fellow entrepreneurs have resources available to grow their businesses.. 

Ghian Marucot, Co-founder and COO of global e-commerce enabler eCFULFILL, recommended that MSME owners seek out enablers like the organizations of the panelists. These businesses, government agencies, and groups have a lot of useful information readily available to any entrepreneur who needs it. 

“[By using] these services, makikita niyo (you’ll see) how easy it really is to recover using online platforms,” said Marucot.

Barrier #2: No Confidence in Their Business

Both Buelva and Marucot also pointed to entrepreneurs’ lack of confidence in themselves and in their offerings as major barriers in scaling up. While entrepreneurs have to face many uncertainties in how their products will be received or how their business models will fare, both of them agree that these are necessary in order to scale up.

“When you talk about scaling up or expanding, parang natatakot sila kasi baka mawala sa kanila yung product (they’re afraid that they might lose control of the product) or they’ll actually spend more,” said Buelva. “But they don’t realize [that] if you don’t risk, you’ll never really grow.”

This barrier is especially close to Marucot’s heart, as eCFULFILL’s platform allows local retailers and merchants to sell and market their products to potential customers all over the world, through global e-commerce platforms such as Amazon, Wish, and Etsy. He assured entrepreneurs that their products will find a market abroad, as Filipino-made goods already have a reputation for being high-quality.

“We have very good quality Filipino products. Our brands can be global brands,” claimed Marucot. “The way we present our products, yung mga designs natin (our designs), they’re globally accepted. Be confident with your product, let’s bring it out there. Magugulat kayo (You’ll be surprised) how [receptive] the global consumer is to the Filipino product.”

Barrier #3: Reluctance to Change

The webinar also featured two representatives from the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), which have been rolling out and promoting various programs that are helping MSMEs cope with the effects of the pandemic. Both also talked about common barriers experienced by MSMEs that they’ve observed in their projects.

Jerry Clavesillas, Director of the Bureau of Small and Medium Enterprise Development at the DTI, highlighted that entrepreneurs must be adaptive especially with how quickly the market is changing. MSME owners who still fall back to their habits and models prior to the lockdown will find it much harder to thrive in the new normal.

“During this time, the challenge for our entrepreneurs in getting back to their operations is the reluctance to change. Nagbabago ang preferences ng market (The market’s preferences are shifting), so you have to change, you have to adapt to the new norm,” said Clavesillas. “The mindset of our people should be attuned to the demands of the times.”

Clavesillas added that having a change in mindset was one of seven Ms that the DTI is promoting to MSMEs in order for them to succeed. For the other six Ms, check out this post from the DTI.

Barrier #4: Low Digital Skills

One of the key programs that the DTI rolled out during the lockdown was CTRL + BIZ Reboot Now!, a series of free webinars that highlight various topics on how MSMEs can enter the digital economy. Mary Jean Pacheco, Assistant Secretary for Digital Philippines and DTI E-commerce Lead, shared in UNAWA’s webinar that hosting CTRL + BIZ has been a great learning experience both for the MSMEs and for the DTI.

For Pacheco, one of the insights she gathered was how there was a general lack in digital skills among many Filipinos and MSME owners. She enumerated tiers of digital readiness among MSMEs, and she noted how many MSMEs were still in the first tier: having an email for their business.

“We have to make sure that our SMEs are digitalized,” said Pacheco. “There are many SMEs who don’t even have an email. Dapat, geared up ang ating mga kababayan to do the basics (Filipinos should be geared up to do the basics).”

On the individual level, Pacheco urged Filipinos to be more productive with their use of the Internet. She cited how Filipinos were among the most frequent Internet users in the world, but also had low adoption of other digital products such as mobile wallets. 

“We spend 10 hours a day on the Internet,” she said. “If we will be more productive [by using] the Internet either as a consumer or as a seller, our e-commerce will really grow.”

Break the Barriers

As Pacheco highlighted, one of the most effective ways to break these barriers is to invest in digital platforms. By using technology to access information, increase confidence in their products, and change their operations, MSME owners can get a head start in their efforts to reboot their business.


We hope this article was helpful. To get more information, insight, and inspiration,check out the other articles in UNAWA Explainer for more tips on how your business can navigate the new normal.