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2021: How your small business can navigate an uncertain future

By Opinion Time of article published Dec 23, 2020

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By Karl Westvig

The national anxiety level soared when President Cyril Ramaphosa announced new restrictions on 14 December to try prevent an exponential and crippling second wave of Covid-19 infections, warning that unless the country cooperated, this would be the last Christmas for many of our loved ones.

While the Democratic Alliance is appealing the closure of beaches along the Garden Route, citing the potentially devastating impact on the economy, the Eastern Cape’s beaches remain closed until early 2021 and KwaZulu-Natal’s beaches will be closed on traditionally high-volume days. This decision affects many SMEs in various sectors.

The country’s infection rate has surged in the first few weeks of December, with the country breaking the 900,000 total infections milestone with more than 24,000 confirmed deaths. At the time of writing, the Western Cape leads the country in both new infections and total active infections, followed by KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape and Gauteng.

Ramaphosa announced that there would be access to a vaccine for five-million citizens early next year and that there are Pan-African efforts underway - that’s all we know.

Amidst this rapidly evolving situation that is eerily similar to the first wave, except that it is happening faster meaning that without it being controlled it will dwarf what happened in the winter of 2020, businesses around the country are in various stages of preparing for the new year.

Each year small and medium enterprises (SMEs) set targets and decide where and how to invest. At the end of 2020, amidst so much chaos and uncertainty, this task is more complicated than ever before. However, there are a few things SMEs can focus on in order to make the most of not knowing what tomorrow will bring.

We can be certain of one thing

Try as we may, we simply cannot say with certainty what will happen in January, nevermind what will happen in the next year or 18 months. This has implications for regional economics and the national outlook.

However, we are 100% certain that the future is uncertain. When you know things are likely to change rapidly it moves you to make the decisions now that will mitigate the change’s impact on your business. It drives you to build resilience into your business, diversify your supply base and broaden your customer base. It instills urgency to digitise and take advantage of everything technology has to offer.

Accept the uncertainty and adopt an opportunity mindset

SME owners with an opportunity mindset are more likely to make the most out of an uncertain future. This requires being creative and taking calculated risks - you will lose some, but when you win it can be game-changing.

At Retail Capital, we are privileged to have a large number of SMEs on our books, spread across all industries. This gives us a unique vantage point to see what does, and does not, work for SMES. Most importantly, it has allowed us to assess which actions and attitudes pulled the winners through the hard lockdown of 2020 and the months that followed.

Accept the uncertainty and adopt an opportunity mindset. Get your game face on, reinforce the fundamentals, live your values and study your industry. Be prepared to be uncomfortable. Once you have accepted this and are ready - approach each obstacle or challenge with bravery and curiosity. Study the details. Look around. You never know, you could just stumble onto an opportunity that could change your business for good.

Accelerate your digital strategy

If you have not started your digital journey yet, start tomorrow. Any business that believes it can exist outside of the digital space is waiting to be disrupted. From online stores, to delivery logistics, all the way through to mobile-optimised websites and booking apps, you have to accept that we are in the thrust of the fourth industrial revolution.

Don’t forget about digital marketing, digital PR and social media. Go and find your customers and talk to them - engage and partake in conversations that matter to them. Now, more than ever before, technology has given you the opportunity to be noticed by anyone, anywhere.

Invest in security tools and equip yourself to be POPIA compliant - because by all indications this act will be signed into law in 2021.

Pay attention to people

The pandemic taught us that despite everything, the most important resource in any business is its people. Listen to staff, suppliers and customers. Invest in authentic relationships because when the chips are down they will invest in you. Set clear objectives and assign the right people to chase them. The virus taught us that we are all just skin, blood and bones - be humble.

If businesses work together, even if it is just building networks, they can lean on each other for advice, listen and learn from each other. This is how humanity developed - community is fundamental to our survival.

Continue to upskill

Ensure you are upskilling yourself and your staff. If you have access to educational platforms, use them for all they are worth. If not, get access. The last thing you want is to turn down a golden opportunity because it is outside your business’s skillset. Remember, there are jobs of tomorrow we cannot even imagine now - we cannot remain stagnant.

Consider funding to invest in growth

If your business has hit a glass ceiling and the only way to get through it is by growing, find a reputable funder whose conditions are not onerous and unrealistic, and make that investment. One of the biggest obstacles to the growth of small businesses is access to funding.

We’re in this together

SMEs drive about a third of our country’s GDP and are most likely the best answer to lowering this country’s unacceptably high unemployment rate. However, they need to succeed and grow for this to happen. Retail Capital calls on everyone, from government to lobby groups, from industry representatives to individual entrepreneurs, to do everything in their power to support this vital sector.

Together we can overcome the paralysis of fear and uncertainty and replace it with the courage to unleash South Africa’s potential.

Karl Westvig is the CEO of Retail Capital


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