By Adrian Albrecht
South Africa was, generally speaking, already navigating through a torrid economic environment before the COVID-19 outbreak was declared a global pandemic. The “Corona crisis” has just been made whole lot more interesting when coupled with the fact that South Africa has been downgraded by all remaining ratings agencies to junk status when you add these elements to the fact that we were already battling electricity generation problems and the fact that when we went into this crisis with an unemployment rate nearing the 60% rate amongst the youth well, all the elements for a horror story are in place for sure.
Yes, I agree South Africa has issues to deal with, a lot of them, but remember – other countries have their own issues too. When looking at some facts you may or may not know like a borrowing indicator like Debt to GDP ratio, South Africa isn’t even in top 10. Countries like Japan, the USA, Spain, Portugal, Greece and Singapore all have national debt ratio of over 100%. That said people shouldn’t underestimate the dual effects of the pandemic and downgrade as the consequences will be far-reaching and dire for a lot of people. How dire? Well, the reality is nobody can say for certain but conservative estimates suggest 5% job losses… that’s 1 in every 20 employed people. Let that sink in a little. Compounding matters, these side effects will most likely last up to 20 months, that’s right, probably 2 years, possibly more.
Now what can you do in your business to best weather the storm you may ask? A saying I love sums up my attitude towards this whole situation “When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.” These pearls of wisdom have been dispensed by both Roosevelt and Lincoln in the past.
In practical terms you must be in the right mindset and not wait for things to happen. Too many people I have conversations with during these times are using phrases like “After lockdown…”, why wait? Start acting now with what you can control. Money, capital, whatever you want to call it is at the top of people’s minds since it pays the bills and fair enough, I agree but the reality is traditional funding like banks generally toughen their lending during tough times and it becomes far more difficult to come by with tougher conditions attached. Other streams and relief streams are very limited in what they can offer and a lot of them may have hidden t&c’s which begs the question as to what else can you do?
So, before we start looking at the business side, I strongly believe that you should make sure you take care of yourself and be kind to yourself after all, if you aren’t at your best the rest will not matter. None of these are new concepts and they’re things you have likely been told numerous times before, but they are still overlooked; eat well, exercise, get enough sleep and family time have a clear mind and manage stress. In situations like this we need rational thinking more than ever. A lot of people make emotional decisions in adverse times which haven’t been thought through. Right, now that you ready, let’s take matters into your own hands by trying to get as close into profit as possible by analysing your business. Firstly, look at every cost you have, to decide whether you need it or whether it can be cut or reduced, get quotes on better prices where possible.
Secondly have a look at your actual product and service offering and how it stacks up. Can you reduce the cost of making it or producing it? Or are you selling it at a reasonable margin? Often, we may be selling far too low but that is a separate article all by itself.
Look at any international purchases like foreign subscriptions to services. They will vary according to the exchange rate which means unexpected costs month on month during volatile times, rather try find a local supplier offering it in local currency which also supports your fellow countrymen.
Speak openly to creditors if you have issues rather than trying to avoid and hide (that’s never a good idea!) believe me they are in the same position as you are in many cases and working together can benefit both parties long term. Always remember that you are talking to people not a company.
Your number one asset in any business is your people, your employees. Find a way to keep them, they can do wonders for you and assist you in your plan. It is always better to discuss options with them should you not be able to afford the staff overhead, but it should be your last resort.
Some of you might still be operating, others have some real down time, in both cases you have freed up time use it wisely catch up on backlog and do a reset on yourself.
Make sure your debtors’ book is managed better. Are your credit limits correct in these times, can clients still afford the limits you have set? If these are unclear why not find out, Cred-it-data can assist with various products and services to help you, use bank codes to check limits.
Your late payments and collections will be on the rise and will impact your cash flow. Remember these 21 days are considered NON business days you cannot use them as notice period for collection. Do you have tools to help you collect that are compliant to the law, Cred-it-data can again assist with this, using our collections tools and services which are all DIY
This pandemic has taught me a lot of things, but a few have been quite refreshing. I always had quite a negative view of online meetings based on previous experience. What this current situation has shown is that even these meetings can work just as effectively as physical meetings as the technology has improved exponentially. The most impactful benefit is the reduction in travel time. On a single day I managed to complete 8 e-meetings which would have taken a few days with normal travel. Oh yes, and my stress levels have decreased, and I was able to achieve everything I needed to from each meeting faster and better by just being right in front on my computer at the time. Just a tip, every meeting should have an agenda beforehand and somebody to run the meeting as a normal meeting has, also having cameras on helps a lot since it gives the ability to see body language and reduces people talking over each other.
The companies that have been able to continue to operate during this period are adopting technology to a larger degree, employing cloud functionality and remote systems to ensure accessibility from anywhere in the world. They also have a large eCommerce business to support traditional models so these channels can still produce income. Make sure you don’t get left behind and adopt technology to your business
So, where to now? In my opinion that question should be up to you. If you are willing to put in extra effort and claw forward one small bit at a time, then I would say you will be going “Onward and Upward”. Even somebody as vastly knowledgeable as Albert Einstein acknowledged “Genius is 1% talent and 99% percent hard work…”