Many Zimbabweans are only just now coming to terms with the realisation that COVID-19 is not going away anytime soon. That initial sets of lockdowns which came with expiry dates gave many the impression that these (and hopefully the disease that made them necessary) would be short-lived. People, businesses and even governments, at first chose to treat these interruptions like particularly long public holidays and their survival strategies amounted to nothing more sophisticated than waiting them out.
Zimbabwe, which is already under a lockdown of indefinite length, recently saw a spike in its number of confirmed COVID-19 cases. Local businesses and businesses must confront the new reality that we now find ourselves in head-on. This means that there is no longer anything “temporary” about the measures that business owners must come up with to ensure the survival of their enterprises. To survive the “new normal” businesses must try to overhaul their structures and processes until their cashbooks start showing healthy life signs.
In business management, there is a strategy called Business Process Redesign. In this strategy, a company’s core processes are overhauled to achieve things like lower costs, improved quality of service and profits. The said processes which can be improved are usually anything from manufacturing and production to sales and customer service. The textbook BPR is quite a complicated and involved strategy for the kinds of businesses which are in most trouble right now; however, this does not mean they cannot take inspiration and conduct their redesigns in the same spirit. Let us explore how local businesses can go about this.
Rewrite business plans
Businesses must analyse every facet of their operations and see how they can be modified to be more suited to the current environment. In some cases, this may require the complete rewriting of their business plans and then essentially “restarting” these ventures from scratch. New businesses which are better adapted to the current circumstances must be built on what may soon be the ashes of the companies that are already finding the going difficult. Of course for some industries there is no adapt at the moment—owners can only either wait it out and see how long their businesses can survive being in limbo or they can write off these ventures and start new ones which are better suited to the situation.
With fewer people going outside and less traffic being on our roads, outdoor advertising is becoming less effective with each passing day. Some might think that there are things more important than advertising at the moment but no matter how you feel about it, marketing drives all of commerce. All that this means is that the days of posters and billboards are over (at least for the time being). Businesses must invest more in television, radio, mail, SMS and social media advertising to reach their now less mobile customers. The same goes for all those firms which used to depend on the signs outside of their premises to draw customers in.
Redesign how you reach customers
Businesses located in the CBDs used to enjoy vastly more business than their counterparts in the suburbs. Nowadays the tables are turning fast as most of those people are being forced to shop nearer to their homes (or risk running into overzealous cops). Many consumer-facing businesses with locations in CBDs are finding the going difficult, even after being allowed to resume operations, since city-centres are no longer the bustles of activity they used to be. New ways of reaching customers must be found—not just advertising to them but also receiving and fulfilling orders.
A lot has been written about online retailing but companies can also interact with (and take orders from) customers via social media, telephone and messaging platforms like Whatsapp. The modern business is spoilt for choice when it comes to communication tools, not to mention the number of remote payment methods which are also available. Bots can be used to automate this communication and take orders where necessary. Some companies can also introduce home deliveries.
Rethink how you work
There are many jobs out there that could be done from home but this is not happening in many cases because some people and their employers are still finding the idea of working from home too outlandish. If you are one of the people who are still finding the concept of working from home too strange, just reassure yourself by remembering that there is nothing normal about the times we are currently living in so you might just as well embrace the change if you want your business to survive.
Change your market
Some businesses can also change the kind of customers they pursue since many are finding that their target markets are no longer what they used to be. Find a new niche which you can serve, new ones are opening up practically every day. For example, you can switch from serving individuals to serving businesses or vice versa. For example, there are many farmers and horticultural producers out there who used to rely on hotels and restaurants to take their products off their hands, now they have to join their peers in selling to household kitchens.