How your business can recover from a global disaster, and then thrive

Taking stock of the current situation

We have grudgingly come to accept that the Covid-19 lockdown will last longer than most of us expected and consequently its impact will be more severely felt by almost everyone

And when will it be over? Some experts believe that the effects of the contagion will not be ‘over’ for months, maybe years, after the lockdown has been lifted

Its impact will be keenly felt by:

  • the vast majority of businesses in general and cash-strapped individuals in particular
  • workers facing joblessness. Estimates are that as many as half of the South Africa’s working-age population will be unemployed before it is over
  • the many millions of people who will not have adapted to the 21st century reality. People Toffler identified as: “… those who cannot learn, unlearn and  relearn.”

Indeed, things will never return to the way they were. We are already entering a ‘new normal’ world

But, things may not be quite as bad for those who are self-employed. Business owners are more accustomed to making their own futures than are people who depend on a boss to direct them

And not all sectors are suffering equally. „Die een so dood is die ander se brood.” Some businesses are actually thriving

Which sectors are benefitting from the lockdown? 

  • video on demand (eg Netflix),
  • mobile network companies (eg Rain),
  • online shopping (eg amazon, takealot),
  • home-schooling (eg Brainline) and online education,
  • pharmaceutical companies (eg Roche),
  • delivery businesses (eg BottlesApp),
  • niche sector products (eg face masks, hand sanitisers),
  • online conferencing apps (eg Slack, Zoom)

and maybe

  • artisans (plumbers, electricians),
  • mental health practitioners (therapists, life coaches)

The move to ecommerce is being imposed on a lot of reluctant shoppers by the lockdown. But once they have grown accustomed to the online buying experience, many people won’t revert afterwards

Coming to terms with the realities

What does this all mean for you and for your business?

► A recent survey of small businesses in Mzansi showed that most operate in the services sector. The majority of micro businesses operate in the retail space. Currently, service businesses cannot meet their customers face-to-face. Most retail and manufacturing businesses cannot sell their products

► Many people, your customers and suppliers included, will have been emotionally and psychologically stressed out by the alien experience of a pandemic

► And many, both people and businesses, will not have adjusted to the ‘new normal’ world by the time this is over

► Indeed, some of the business that you bought from and some of your customers will no longer be around in their pre-Covid-19 form

► By the end of the pandemic, a huge proportion of this country’s workforce will also have lost their jobs. It is projected that up to 50% of the workforce will be unemployed

► Millions of people will lose their dignity and self-respect together with their livelihoods

To prevent what may be inevitable, several small businesses have resorted to requesting donations via crowd funding and offering their loyal customers gift vouchers: and

These are some of the realities that businesses have to come to terms with if they hope to rebound in the future

Seeing the situation differently

The ‘Spanish’ flu of 1918 killed as many as 50 million people. The world recovered from the Spanish flu 

Billions of dollars were wiped out in a single day in the 1929 Wall Street crash. The world recovered after the Wall Street crash

This too shall pass

But businesses can’t afford to wait ‘till it has past; we have to plan for life in the post-pandemic world, Now!

To respond to and take advantage of new realities, you need to examine and understand how the business landscape that you operated in pre-Covid has changed

This is also the time to do scenario planning:

  • what will the post-Covid world probably look like?
  • what short and long term strategies can you develop to leverage the new landscape?
  • how will your business have to be structured to respond to the new realities?

Critically, you will need a robust and resilient business to take advantage of the new conditions. You have to analyse and interpret your current financial position. (You may want to enlist your accountant to help them to conduct profitability and cash flow forecasting)

From a sound financial base, you will be able to strategize: identify and exploit (new) short term and long term opportunities

To recognise those opportunities, you will conduct research to establish what your current and prospective customers need now, and in the future; many customers’ needs will have changed, and many will remain changed

Some of your customers will not have survived and will have closed, some will have adapted to / embraced the ‘new normal’

With this new knowledge in your pocket, you must now ask yourself: What expertise / products / services do I offer / can I offer that I can adapt / re-purpose / reinvent to satisfy my current / new / future customers’ needs? 

Some businesses will discover that they will have to diversify their product range / market segments to satisfy changed needs

Some nimble businesses have already responded. These businesses repurposed what they had to respond to a new reality:

A total pivot

In many cases, businesses may have to pivot completely or collaborate to combine their respective strengths to secure (new) opportunities: 1 + 1 = 3.  Granadilla

The lockdown is a god-send for those proprietors who need to upskill. It is an opportunity to learn new stuff so that you can enhance / re-purpose your business:

  • digital marketing,
  • project management,
  • small business finance,
  • pitching,
  • securing finance,
  • branding

While big corporates can apply for business rescue when they get into difficulty, SMMEs have to take care of their own business continuity: paying school fees (costly learning experiences) today to prepare to be ready for what CoViD-20 will throw at them

What lessons are you learning now that will inform systems that will prepare your business to respond effectively to future disasters?

It’s just good business

Some enhancements that you can and must implement right now

► Make your systems work for you:

  • Update your customer database. (If you are not using a CRM, implement one TODAY)
  • Segment / personalise your mailing list. (If you are not using an email marketing program, implement one TODAY)
  • Build resilience: implement accounting systems to help you to take control of your cash flow eg manage debtor days. (If you are not using an online accounting program, implement one TODAY)

► Communicate regularly: Continually engage with suppliers, creditors, banks, investors to keep them informed about developments at your business

► Stay in touch with your market: Let your customers know that you are still there for them whenever they need you. It is cheaper to keep a customer happy than to recruit a new one

► Employ publicity: Keep customers constantly informed about changes / specials / new products

► Enhance customer care: Contact your customers to conduct a satisfaction survey: How could we serve you better?

► Conduct a needs survey: Find out if customers’ existing needs are being satisfied / if they have new needs

► Support your partners: put mechanisms in place to help your customers – and suppliers – to survive / cope / adapt / succeed, eg: Pay part now the balance later

► Pay it forward: Remember to support other small businesses who may be distressed. (You may also need them when the economy recovers)

► Attract new customers: Collaborate with complimentary business and give one another referrals. List your business on online business directories  

► Introduce online sales: Make it easier for customers to continue buying from your business. (eCommerce plus delivery)

► Enable online payments: Make it easier for customers to pay your business. (eCommerce, EFT, SID instant EFT)

► Care for your staff: These times are not ‘business as usual’ for your employees either

  • their finances may be devastated, they will feel insecure, their emotions will be fragile
  • instead of retrenching, explore and discuss other ways to work so that they can still earn an income: work online / part-time / flexi-time / freelance …

► Improve efficiency and productivity: Eliminate unnecessary or ineffective processes to (cut costs and) make for a leaner, more profitable business. (If you are not using a project management program, implement one TODAY)

Suggestions for identifying opportunities

To come up with imaginative ideas, it helps to be in a positive frame of mind. Start by listening to your favourite music, reading about developing a winning mindset, chatting with a successful optimist

Talk with your suppliers and other partners. They know what is happening with your competitors in your market segment. You might discover some unusual needs triggered by the current situation:

► Personal care products (hair care, skin care) and treatments (spa, nails, hair, skin)

► Struggling SMMEs whose businesses compliment yours that you could partner with or support

► Mental health opportunities: coping with / adapting to change / stress management

► An opportunity to partner / collaborate with small local businesses that offer complementary products / services to provide something unique / niche: eg online purchasing and delivery of artisanal food combinations (eg bread and beer)

► You could team up people working from home who have particular skills / expertise to provide new online services like:

  • Teaching crafts / skin care / food preparation using online meeting apps
  • eLearning support
  • Distance tutoring / extra lessons / coding courses
  • Personal training via video communications apps
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► You could see old products / services in a new way: yesterday’s cast-off (t-shirt) becomes today’s necessity (mask) becomes tomorrow’s accessory (scarf)

► Invent crazy curiosities. T-shirts with: Covid world tour 2020: Wuhan, Milan, Barcelona, New York, London: I was there

► Satisfying new needs:

  • Meals prepared for business-people and school-kids working from home
  • Meals delivered to business-people and school-kids working from home

► Buy up what distressed businesses are discarding:

  • Property for buy-to-rent

Good luck. I now expect to see you embracing everything that Covid-19 is throwing at you – and your business thriving

Rick Ed

Mentor, trainer and business advisor at DoBetter.Business

PS: If you would like me to help you make your business survive and thrive, give me a shout

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