The shutdown that characterised the country last week seems to be behind us now. However, the losses that businesses and individuals suffered still linger on. They will not be overturned easily. Destruction of property and looting left a great number of businesses limping. In the midst of the violence and uncertainty, there are a number of lessons to be learnt by the business community. We look into some of these lessons below.
Insure your assets / business
Most businesses in the country consider insurance to be an unwanted and unnecessary cost. This is because our country rarely faces many natural occurrences like flooding and heavy winds. This view is not only misleading but it is also unsustainable. In the unfortunate event of looting and damage to property as was the case last week, an insurance policy becomes the only viable fall back position. With losses running into millions of dollars, a company without a comprehensive insurance cover will not easily get back on its feet. Stocks needs to be bought again. Assets need to be repaired or replaced. Insurance cover is the only suitable option.
Invest in sound back-up systems
At the height of massive violence and looting, government decided to shut down the internet. Needless to say, many companies rely on the internet to do their business. Even the banking system was left reeling. In such times, businesses need to have Plan B. You need some kind of back up system that allows you to continue working in the face of internet interruptions. The use of VPNs is an example of a back up plan that many never thought of until disaster struck. VPN stands for virtual private network. In essence, you will be working from an unidentified network with no clear IP address when you use a VPN. For companies that handle highly sensitive information like banks, VPNs may not be very ideal but their usefulness cannot be ignored for smaller businesses that rely on WhatsApp and emails. For many businesses whose clients are in different countries, the need to stay online is always important.
Be proactive and flexible
No one can claim that they never saw the shutdown coming. Maybe the violence was unexpected but conditions in the country have been deteriorating leading to disgruntlement all round. Most civil servants are still negotiating for more money, threatening to stop reporting for work. Anger has been simmering for months now. While we do not condone violence, our view is that businesses need to be proactive rather than reactive. It is a plausible fact that most of the companies which were looted were open during the time violence broke. Surely, the cost of closing shop would have been less than that of now starting to rebuild and restock after looting. Business should try as much as possible to stay out of danger. There is no point in insisting on opening shop when the environment dictates otherwise. Be flexible, close shop temporarily if you have to.
Value your employees
In these tough economic times, employees still want to feel valued. As prices of basic commodities keep rising and some commodities are scarce, find a way to cushion your most prized possession, your employees. Some companies procure basic commodities like cooking oil and give them to employees for free or at subsidised rates. Others have already started paying salaries in US Dollars. Whatever you do, strive to make your employees happy and they wont dessert you when things are tough. Happy employees will treat your assets like their own. In good and bad times, they will remain productive.
Avoid mixing business with politics
It is worthwhile to note that some businesses were attacked because they are believed to be aligned to certain political parties. A good example is Choppies Supermarket in which Former Vice President Phelekezela Mphoko is a shareholder. About 7 of their shops were looted while bigger retail outlets like OK, TM and Pick ‘n Pay did not suffer the same fate. Again, while we are against all forms pf vandalism and theft, the point must be made, it is possible that Choppies was targeted because of its perceived ties with the Mphoko. As a business lesson, a politician who is in business needs to distinguish the two at all times. Try as much as possible to run your business professionally enough that there’s no need for it to be associated with your political office. Do not make political decisions because these may be your downfall. Although this sounds like a big ask, if you can, consider using others as the face of your business to avoid problems.
There are many more lessons to be drawn from the recent shutdown and we have touched on some of them which we feel are critical. The key is to ensure that minimum damage is done to your business in desperate times like shutdowns. Your business must not shut down for good. It must rise with even more vigour after the shutdown.