2021 has proven to be the most difficult year for businesses in Zimbabwe and across the world. Not quite the drab and dreary year that 2020 was with its hard lockdowns and pandemic fear but very much a 2020 part two of sorts with third and fourth waves of the pandemic. One could say 2021 was the year that never started whereas 2020 was the year that never ended. What business lessons have we learnt in 2021 that we can use in 2022 and beyond.

Remote work works

Remote working once thought to be a preserve of digital nomads and people with special circumstances has been the true saviour in 2020 and 2021. While the business and the world were not fully prepared for it in 2020 it certainly flourished in 2021 and was better embraced. The extension of the pandemic into a 3rd and now 4th wave certainly had a lot to do with this. Still, many businesses continued to deliver as usual thanks to remote working arrangements.

Meetings need not be physical

I find myself in a quandary about meetings, I fully accept that meetings can be wonderful things but also ground myself in the reality and accept that 9 times out of 10 meetings are waste of time because they are done poorly. This doesn’t get any better when the meetings are conducted virtually or remotely. However, the remote aspect does save time and I’m all for that. Well designed meetings certainly need not be physical to be effective.

Save, save, save

When the coronavirus pandemic hit in 2020, the initial thinking was that it would be with us for 6 to 8 months. I pessimistically thought we should expect it to be with us for 18 months at the very least. Now just shy of 20 months in Africa and 24 the world over we can agree that it has surpassed many estimates for the duration. A lot of businesses took hits in the early days and many simply failed to recover. Businesses must also have savings to enable them to persevere through moments like this.

Diversify but smartly

The fact is not all industries and businesses were affected equally by the pandemic. Where entertainment saw a crash due to the closure of events baking supplies businesses had a moment in the sun that surpassed their wildest dreams. The lesson here is to diversify your business. Having other product lines or parts of your business that are affected by different things can come in handy. However, learn to diversify smartly. Smart diversification makes the best use of resources that already exist without making too many demands on new resources.

Have a plan

Have a plan for your daily operations. A plan for disasters. A plan for the unthinkable and a plan for the impossible. Nobody could’ve seen what was coming but we could’ve all been somewhat prepared for it. No plan would’ve been 100% accurate but having a plan and adjusting is better than not having a plan. This includes knowing where to cut costs where necessary.

Keep up with new ideas

The only thing that is constant in the world is change. One thing that is certainly not constant is the rate of change. Change is happening faster and faster. Look at technology and the years between our biggest discoveries. Understanding what’s new, how it works and what its opportunities are for you makes the difference between being part of the crowd and being at the head of the pack especially in times like this. The point is not to be a part of everything new but rather to learn and understand how it works and how it can be used.

Try new things

There is a lot of opportunity at the cutting edge of things and we owe it to ourselves to try new things. After understanding them of course. New things aren’t necessarily new to the world. They may just be new to you or your industry and that could be enough to make a huge difference in how things work. Challenge the status quo and ask why do we do things this way? Is there a better way?

Learn to use data

Data and data analytics is one of those things that seemed more like a buzzword but is taking centre stage with time. In simple data analytics is used to identify similarities or patterns in consumers and take advantage of that. People also searched for and people who bought this also bought this are good examples of data analytics at work. It’s not a preserve of behemoth businesses in advertising, it is for every single business. Even if you have just one customer, understanding more about that customer is how you land more customers. The banks have always been right, know your customer.


There are many definitions of business I use and one of my favourites is that a business is a community. To put it more appropriately a business is born of a community and serves the community it is in. So in addition to knowing your customer, you should spend some time getting to know your community. If anybody can tell you what to do or where to go in a crisis or fair weather it is the community your business serves. Do not just serve the community, be part of the community.

Don’t stop learning

Learning never stops and so should you. You need to continue to learn to grow. This means combining, formal, informal and didactic learning to fully understand and apply what you learn. I believe that application is part of the learning process for you cannot truly say you have learnt something until you have applied it.

And there you have it! 10 business lessons from the year 2021. Are there any others you could think of?