While business, in general, has suffered from the impact of COVID-19 and lockdown, no businesses have suffered more than small, startup and informal businesses. The lockdown has been harshest on the smallest of businesses when these businesses are in their greatest hour of need. With all due respect to the government of Zimbabwe, they have really left these businesses out to dry. We understand that these are unprecedented times and no set measures were ever going to be perfect. Beyond their handling of the situation let’s look at 5 questions you need to ask yourself about your business.
Can we continue like this?
Nobody knew how long this was going to last as we went into it. The lowest of murmurs warned that the current set of measures could be with us for up to 18 months. The problem for Zimbabwean small and informal businesses is that they may not be allowed to go back to operating. Even if they are it may not be as normal. An example of this is the government’s offer to private commuter omnibus operators to join ZUPCO. The operators are caught in between a rock and a hard place with assets so far unutilised for 6 weeks. Some businesses may simply not be allowed to operate others may not be allowed to operate the way they used to. Are you ready for that?
How will profitability be affected if it persists?
Those businesses fortunate enough to continue operating may not be able to operate with normal conditions. Social distancing requirements may impact businesses such as restaurants with dining facilities. Consider being asked to half the number of seats in a restaurant, this obviously impacts profitability. Doubling the cleaning schedule and providing sanitizer and PPE will certainly ramp up business costs. How will your business adapt to this reality?
What can we change?
You’ve been doing what you the way you do it for so long you’ve never questioned if theres another way of doing it. Or maybe you have but just considered that it was not worth the trouble as everything was fine the way it is. Well things are not fine anymore for many businesses and this is a question I encourage many to revisit. There are so many brilliant examples of Zimbabwean entrepreneurs who asked themself this question and found an answer. Thumeza started offering grocery deliveries. 160 HydroFarm puts its hydroponic farming course online. South African alcohol delivery service Bottles started offering grocery deliveries as that countries lockdown law prohibited the sale of alcohol. So what can you change about your business?
What cant we change?
It’s great advice to tell everyone to sell online or embrace technology but that may not always be applicable. In a group discussion, one dressmaker spoke of how her initial measurement of a client was the most important part of how she delivered bespoke clothing to her clients and how she could not cut this out of her process. For her, this means looking at increasing hygiene measures around these measurement sessions. The point is there are certain parts of certain businesses that just cannot be changed. These have to be managed.
What new opportunities has this opened up?
I already spoke of how logistics startup Thumeza took advantage of its assets and turned them to provide grocery deliveries since the start of lockdown. In Shona we say “kuipa kwechinwe kunaka kwechimwe” which means the same as “one door closes, another opens”. It may not look like it right now. Your business may have been forced out of operation because of lockdown but there may be a new opportunity that has opened up to you. Those in the garment and textile business found a new opportunity with cloth mask manufacturing. Some times it’s not that simple and straight forward but there are opportunities opening up for your business that you may not even be aware of yet.
The answers to these questions are not easy, nor are they meant to be. It is not underselling it to say we may be witnessing the biggest shift of our lifetimes and that includes those who have seen wars and many other pivotal moments in history. If we ask ourselves the right questions we can find meaningful answers.