I actually don’t even know where to start with this post. I want to put into writing what I’m faced with right now as a small business owner in South Africa in the middle of a national crisis but there’s not much of a linear or flowing story to tell, but rather a very confusing multi-dimensional mixture of influences, articles, unknowns and possibilities that I haven’t even quite worked out in my own head yet.
Nevertheless, here we go…
I have owned and run a small business based in Cape Town for 10 years now. It’s my baby and the 8 people who I employ are like my family. We manufacture product for the hospitality industry from our factory in the Southern Suburbs in Cape Town.
Currently, my business has been forced to close because of lockdown. Was it an easy decision to make? Well, we didn’t have a choice, let’s put it that way. On the afternoon of Wednesday 25th March, we (and by we, I mean my staff as I was stuck at home in quarantine) prepared the stock, machinery and office for lockdown and closed up shop. I gave my staff Thursday 26th March (day of lockdown) off to go to the shops and prepare.
At the time, I didn’t really think beyond lockdown. I think I was too concerned about my staff getting home safely, getting their last shopping done and I was still in my “Corona fog” focusing on getting my family well. But aside from those things, I think that every single person in the country was dealing with enough change, concern and unknown that few could really digest more than the lockdown itself at that stage.
I think that every single person in the country was dealing with enough change, concern and unknown that few could really digest more than the lockdown itself at that stage.
That has passed and now I’m leaning into… what happens when the lockdown is lifted? What will the economic landscape look like for my business? Will we have orders? Will there be work? How will we survive? How will I pay my employees?
In pondering over these questions and sitting down multiple times trying to make some sort of decision, I can liken the experience to one of those really big items on your to-do list that just seem far too scary, difficult and make your brain hurt just considering the thought of tackling. Even in trying to write this blog post, I’m realising that the answers are beyond my pay-grade or qualifications. This is the tough side of being an entrepreneur that so many don’t see – the difficult decisions, the unknown, the “I have no clue what I’m doing” side of running a business.
Nevertheless, while I’m writing this, I can feel myself going into survival mode and emotion somehow switches off and practicality switches on as I ramp up to triage the situation backed by the non-acceptance of the possibility of closing our doors.
The biggest issue that we face is that the hospitality industry has come to a grinding halt at the front line of the impact of this crisis and as with every “non-essential” industry, it’s going to take time it to rebuild itself and consequently demand for our products and services. It’s not nearly as simple as being released from lockdown and everything going back to normal. Far from it, as we all know!
We don’t currently have any orders and we don’t know when the next order will come in. What I’m seeing unfold before me is a single-celled organism, single-handedly shutting down our client list and robbing us of our income before we even had a chance to realise what was going on. The Coronavirus is literally threatening my (our) livelihood and life as I (we) know it.
a single-celled organism, single-handedly shutting down our client list and robbing us of our income before we even had a chance to realise what was going on.
“Unprecedented times” – we’ve heard this term a lot and we know that things are going to get worse before they get better. But what does “worse” really mean? and how bad is it going to get? and how long will it take to get better? and what does “better” look like?
So many unknowns! No one is built to handle what is going on, no countries or governments seem to be completely handling or containing the Coronavirus, the whole world is just doing what it can.
Anyways, I could labor on about the problems we face but that’s not my job. My job is to figure out what we’re going to do. So, after chats with my Dad and brother who also own small businesses both in manufacturing and both directly and severely affected by the Coronavirus, I’ve determined the following:
My strategy is:
- Plan for the worst and hope of the best
- Put the business first in every decision
The survival of the business has to be my primary concern, which seems obvious, but my initial worry was actually the well-being of my staff and that they would be ok through this whole thing.
My staff have treated my business like their own and they do not deserve to lose their jobs. No one deserves to lose their jobs! Did we “deserve” the Coronavirus? Well, it depends on how deep you go into answering that but on the surface, no one deserves what we’re going through.
Although I’m concerned, I definitely get the sense that the government (and some independents) are doing a lot to support SMME’s and employees through this, which is incredible and gives me such a sense of pride in our country, hope and huge gratitude.
I’m very grateful and proud to say that my business is completely tax compliant enabling my staff to benefit from the various funds and financial support available to us but I will say that figuring out which funds we can access and how and whether we are eligible is a project all on its own. More unknown! Less qualified! Wonderful!
Today is a few days after I started writing this post simply because I’ve struggled to put this thought process into words. Inevitably, our future is dependent on sales coming in and sales depend on when and whether hotels and guest houses reopen, which depends on whether they get bookings and that’s going to depend on people getting out of their homes, having money to travel and releasing their Corona fear.
So basically, our future is extremely unclear and rides on the economy returning to its former glory and until then, we’ve got a rocky road ahead.
Of course we can innovate or develop our market, both of which we will certainly do where we can but I’m first digesting all of the above and once I’ve finalized the way forward for my staff, we’ll shift into the next gear.
A bucket full of unknowns! A recipe for a nervous breakdown but to avoid that, I’m focusing on acceptance and faith that we are going to be ok. Whatever “ok” might be.
... we are going to be ok. Whatever “ok” might be.
Update post coming soon...