No going back

Almost half way into lock down, most of us are getting cranky and dreaming of the day when life can go back to normal. Walks on the beach, braais with friends, concerts, festivals, and sporting events. But the reality that most experts are warning about is that there won’t be any going back to normal anytime soon. And that is a very scary thought.

If the emotional and social strain hasn’t been enough, the economic impact is even more worrying. There are huge industries built around leisure, sport and entertainment that employ hundreds and thousands of people from all socioeconomic backgrounds. And even if you don’t operate in those sectors, there are very few businesses that have not been impacted by covid-19. And if there’s no going back to normal, what hope is there for the future economy of our country?

When I think of South Africa in global terms, I think of Trump’s reference to it being another shithole country. Not that what he thinks matters in the least, but it’s a reflection of what many of the populace of so called first world countries believe about South Africa. Aside from the travel brochures that promote Cape Town’s stunning beauty and the bushveld’s African wildlife, South Africa is seen as a country that is crime ridden and corrupt, has huge inflation and interest rates, massive debt, skyrocketing unemployment and low economic growth.

In fact just as covid-19 snapped her jaws on our shores, Moody’s downgraded South Africa to junk status – as if things weren’t bad enough. And now businesses that were already struggling to keep cash flow up enough to pay their employees’ salaries have been ordered to close. It may feel like a death sentence…. or from another perspective, it’s the perfect opportunity to adapt and build a more resilient business.

But how? You say…

Here’s something to think about. Everyone says that these are unprecedented times. Indeed the past two generations haven’t had to live through a global crisis where life as we know it changed suddenly and never went back to normal. The last time that happened was WW2. Yet these same generations have lived through some of the most disruptive changes in the marketplace. Anyone under the age of 20 years old doesn’t know a world without personal computers, the internet or instant messaging, yet 50 years ago they didn’t exist. Now tell me again people and businesses don’t know how to adapt.

Sure these are unprecedented times, but so it every new day or month. Every day people are creating and leveraging new technologies and ideas that are disrupting life as we know it. We just live under the illusion that because we have dreams and goals, that’s how life will pan out, until it doesn’t. Globally catastrophic climate events such as floods and wildfires are also disrupting life. In South Africa we’re also familiar with strikes and civil unrest bringing things to a halt.

These are all things that no business owners asks for, yet have to navigate nonetheless. And I believe that South African’s are far better equipped to face current challenges because we are no strangers to adversity, being the underdogs, or being at a disadvantage. Now while few of these events are as big or as sudden as the disruption of covid-19, they are disruptions none the less. Disruptions that businesses have to adapt to or be left behind. Tell me again these are unprecedented times.

Yes it may be unprecedented in that you haven’t chosen to close your business, but you can choose how you respond to the crisis. Option A – You can give up, deciding you’ll look for a job when it’s all over. As if that’ll be easy with all the additional newly unemployed people and constrained budgets that surviving companies will have. Or Option B – you can start to consider ways to adapt your operations, product or service offerings and reinvent your business, or start a new one. If distilleries can go from manufacturing gin to producing hand sanitiser in a week, you too can radically reinvent your business.

Here are some starting points from someone who has been through the process several times in her working career.

• What do you have? Forget trying to get a loan, forget thinking that if you had access to this or that, everything will be okay. What you don’t have is of no use to you right now. That’s a reality most of us have learnt during lockdown. Focus on what you do have. What skills, what resources, what connections, what access to opportunities? That’s all you have right now. Use it, leverage it and build on it.

• What do people need? This is where opportunities come to the fore, because people are different and they need different things. It’s not just about high demand or finding the golden goose that’ll make you an instant millionaire – if there even is such a thing, This is about finding an opportunity that’ll help you start generating cash flow once again. A stepping stone that gets you one step further along the road to recovery.

• What tools and resources are available? What can you use to connect what you have with what people need? We are fortunate that technology offers many tools that can help you do everything from creating a new logo to speaking to a group of people or sending an email campaign and many have starter packages that are free. How can you take what you have, combine with the tools and resources available to create something new?

This is not the end, it’s the start of something new

Forget the notion that one day things will go back to normal, one day you’ll wake up and this’ll just be a bad dream. Yes you may eventually be able to enjoy ice cream on the beach again and even braai with your friends, but the business landscape is going to be forever changed. The only normal to aim for is building a business or career that is adaptable, agile and able to leverage opportunities in any economic climate because in reality disruptions happen, change is inevitable and resilience is the only thing that’ll help you survive.

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