SME Diaries: Going all-digital helped our creative agency weather Covid-19, but talent shortage looms

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which make up 99% of businesses in Singapore, have felt the impact of Covid-19 heavily. TODAY’s Voices section features testimonials from small business owners and managers about the highs and lows of running a business during the pandemic.

In this episode, Mr. Kimming Yap, 36, who runs a brand and design consultancy, recalls how work suddenly dried up when the pandemic hit and his clients’ priorities changed. Concerned about the sustainability of the business initially, the company quickly moved from face-to-face interactions to a fully online operation, resulting in a surprising increase in business.

The Covid-19 pandemic was the first major crisis in my 10-year entrepreneurial journey.

Running a creative consultancy offering branding and design services means we are highly dependent on our clients’ priorities.

Many of our ongoing projects were put on hold during the circuit breaker period in 2020 as our customers faced their own challenges. The sudden lack of work worried my team and I wasn’t sure I could sustain the activity.

Fortunately, the government’s employment support program helped us retain our 12 employees, giving us enough time and scope to make significant changes to our business.

Our work revolves around face-to-face interactions. Forced by the crisis, we quickly began to digitize the way our team finds ideas, organizes presentations and collaborates with clients. Now our creation process can be implemented entirely online.

With the reduction in in-person interactions, we have also ventured more aggressively into digital marketing. Surprisingly, going digital (especially on social media) generated five times more leads for our business than before the pandemic.

We have also seen significant changes in how consumers interact with brands during our transformation.

More and more companies are now recognizing the need to have a digital presence and the importance of digital touchpoints to engage with their customers.

We started to offer more digital solutions such as UI/UX (User Interface/User Experience) design, sonic brand and virtual brand design to our customers. As a result, our business has grown and we now have customers from emerging industries such as fintech, foodtech and even electric vehicles.

Although our rapid transformation has been successful, other factors such as talent shortages are hampering our growth.

Our services being highly specialized, it was difficult to find candidates with the right skills. So, I’m grateful to have a capable core team with a learner mindset. We also organized and sent our employees to several courses in UI/UX design, animation and digital marketing.

Since the start of the pandemic, the team and I have also felt more strongly the importance of our work. We have deeper connections with the brands we transform because we understand we can help save their business and their livelihoods.

We have also learned to live and do business more sustainably. We try to do this with SustainableSG, a social enterprise we founded in 2020 to champion sustainable living. We collaborate with designers and manufacturers to produce environmentally friendly home products, such as reusable beeswax food wraps.

As we emerge from Covid-19, we have our eye on overseas expansion while working on our business continuity plan. With uncertainty about when the next crisis might strike, it’s crucial to be prepared and have the resources to adapt quickly to change.

This quote from organizational management guru Price Pritchett neatly sums up what Covid-19 has taught me:

“Organizations can’t stop the world from changing. The best they can do is adapt. The smart ones change before they have become history.”

ABOUT THE WRITER:

Kimming Yap, 36, is the managing director of Creativeans, an interdisciplinary brand and design consultancy.

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