Nine tools for business owners to tackle the uncertainties of the COVID-19 crisis

The only certainty about the unprecedented Covid-19 crisis is that the world will be quite different once the pandemic and the different levels of lockdown pass - and that includes your town, your community, your industry and your business, says Jeremy Lang, regional general manager of Business Partners Limited.

But exactly how things will change is impossible to predict, which means business owners will have to adopt a high alert and proactive stance on to counter the threats and take up the opportunities that are bearing down fast on all businesses.

Jeremy lists these nine tools that business owners can use to counter the uncertainties ahead:

  • Stay informed about your environment: Use the period to become as knowledgeable as you can about your environment and your industry. Stay on top of world events and national, regional and local news. Try to find sources of ongoing news about your industry as well as the wider economy. Find out what is happening with your clients, your suppliers and your competitors. In circumstances such as these, your decisions will be so much better if you are informed about the fast changes that are happening around you. When you get back to work, make sure you remain on top of the news.
  • Consider the relevance of your offering: Think very carefully on how the pandemic and the economic recession will affect the relevance of your products and services. Even after the lockdown your clients will be jittery about the virus. What should you do differently to put them at ease? To what extent has the crisis boosted online shopping? Should you expand your ecommerce offering? Your clients will also be under immense financial strain. Is your product range and pricing still relevant? The exchange rate has been impacted - how does this affect your supply chain and your products?
  • Constantly watch out for opportunities: There will be many, despite the difficult conditions. Even if your business has been virtually wiped out temporarily by the pandemic, such as international tourist services, think hard about how you can use your infrastructure and team to provide alternative services. A well-placed guest house, for example, could offer student accommodation or become a convalescent facility for a while – read up on the Capital Hotel self-quarantine facilities here.
  • Remain agile: A large local car manufacturer has recently adapted quickly to produce ventilators for the Covid crisis. If they can do it, any smaller business should be able to adapt even faster. South Africa and its economy will take months, if not years, to get back to normal. Know that things will constantly change, and adopt a mindset of constant flexibility and adaptation.
  • Reassess your cash-flow forecasts and budgets: You probably have to do this several times in the coming weeks and months, because at this stage you don’t really know to what extent and how fast your industry will bounce back or change. If you want to be able to take fast and sensible decisions, you have to apply the fast-changing information to your cash-flow forecasts, even if you have to plan for best-case and worst-case scenarios.
  • Find finance to plug the gaps in your cash flow: Few businesses are lucky enough to have reserves big enough to carry them through. If you have any emergency resources, now is the time to use them. You will probably have to set about looking for finance to bridge you over the worst of the recession, and possibly further lockdowns. Try traditional business financiers, but also angel investors, family and friends, crisis relief funds, and account facilities at your suppliers. Ask your existing financiers for a few months’ payment holidays, and your landlord for some relief with your rent.
  • Find new markets: Chances are that most of your clients will be badly constrained financially and that you will have to find new markets for your business. Explore the possibility of offering new products to your existing clients, or your existing products to new clients. If there is any possibility to export your product, now is the time to try. The weak rand is expected to make local products relatively cheap to overseas buyers.
  • Adapt your marketing strategy: Along with almost everything else in your business, your marketing messages and channels will probably have to change often as you adapt to the post-Covid world. It requires careful thought and experimentation for every business, but in general the direction is online.
  • Communicate: In fast-changing, stressful circumstances constant communication becomes very important, not only with your clients, but also with you workers and your suppliers.
  • Cut expenses: Cut all unnecessary expenses. You are going to need every penny to get through the difficult time ahead. Try by all means to hold on to your staff through work-sharing or short-time arrangements before your let anyone go. The crisis is a collective one borne by everyone: you, your clients, your suppliers, your neighbours and your workers. It is only by collective, cooperative action that we will pull through.
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