Melitta Ngalonkulu: The coronavirus is here, and you may think that your business might not be affected by its spread, but there’s a huge possibility that it could be. We’ve got Kim Polley on the line today, the managing partner of Instinctif Partners Africa, who will give us a few tips on how small businesses can be better prepared for the spread of the virus and, should it affect our businesses she’ll give us tips on how to mitigate the risks.
Instinctif Partners Africa is a business communications consultancy with expertise in reputation, influence and communication. Hi Kim. How are you doing?
Kim Polley: I’m good, thank you. Thanks for having me on today.
Melitta Ngalonkulu: So Kim, how can small businesses better mitigate the spread of the coronavirus in their businesses?
Kim Polley: Well, to be honest, in the same way, that big business can. This really is about trying to create resilience in your system as a business. And no matter how big or small you are, the same principles apply. At Instinctif, we recommend that our clients follow a five-step approach to Covid-19.
- The first step is, of course, putting their people first. Businesses need to educate their staff, communicate frequently and implement screening procedures in line with the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NCID) and World Health Organisation (WHO) protocols. It’s not expensive to do so. A small business can very easily implement these. There are stated questions that they can apply, it is temperature taking for any visitors to their business. I would also strongly recommend that businesses who don’t have a lot of employees at least appoint one person as the custodian of all coronavirus-related information that people have a set space and place of contact if there are concerns.
- The next is, no matter what the size of your business, we’re all servicing a particular sector, all our business would have a particular way of working and particular customers and markets that they serve. As a result, they each have a unique set of challenges or risks that they may face because of Covid-19. So they need to do some scenario planning. If they’re not sure on how to do it might be worth investing in a partner who can help them work through that. They also need to look at where the decline [in sales] are. Where, if you are getting a product in from somewhere that adds to your portfolio, you need to ask, are you getting it from, because the red zone for the coronavirus is probably going to see some [interruption] in that supply chain. Is there an opportunity to consider sourcing elsewhere? Maybe sourcing within your own local economy?
- Step three for us is to manage expectations, communicate consistency. Communicate clearly with consistency without panic to your customers and stakeholders. If customers want what they want, when they want it, although communication is important, you may also need to consider how to incentivise customers to stay, through retention strategies around pricing or discounts.
- The next thing that I would recommend is to play your part as a business. You’re in a community. You may be in a better position to assist one or two local schools by buying hand sanitisers or helping with information. I think in South Africa we really are focusing on how we help each other, we have a good sense of community. I think that’s an important part for both you and your employees.
- The last thing is to practice. Think of each scenario [and] practice how your business would respond to it. Make sure that you have money allocated to how you would manage each scenario.
Melitta Ngalonkulu: Kim, should employees have to work at home? What would the best way to keep the communication [going]?
Kim Polley: We already see employees work from home regularly in South Africa. Small businesses often take advantage of mobile working. In fact, even with large businesses, in most workdays, only 40% to 50% of the desk space is utilised. So working from home is an option. If you feel that you are someone who is perhaps immune-compromised, maybe it’s good to self-isolated at home.
However, we do have an issue in my area today of load shedding. My fibre goes down and my cell signal is becoming almost zero, so it’s going to have an impact on the ability of South Africans to work from home. I don’t know if you read the state of the small business reports that World Wide Worx [The Changing Nature of Work] released at the end of last year. They say that while many small businesses do have internet connectivity, more than 43% of them said the connection was not reliable. So if you’re working from home, how are you able to connect with your customers? So there are wider challenges for us [in South Africa].
Melitta Ngalonkulu: So now, businesses do not want to lose out on revenue during this period, so how can they keep it as ‘business as usual’ and make sure that they are not losing out on any form of business?
Kim Polley: I think that there is a unique opportunity for us to consider how we build our own local economies in South Africa.
Traditionally we source externally for cheap goods to sell, especially small businesses. Perhaps there [are] local value chains that we can access or ignite, which will help local economies grow. If you think of Gauteng, and in Soweto, and how large the economy is, so perhaps there are larger traders who you’re able to source parts of your products from rather than going offshore.
Melitta Ngalonkulu: Kim, what can those small businesses that receive stock from China do during this period to ensure that they are not running at a loss?
Kim Polley: My understanding is that many of the factories are now working at 90% capacity. That’s the latest information that we have, so production is starting again. We haven’t been hit by the gaps from the lag in production over the last few weeks. It’s probably going to come to our shore. For small businesses, I’d say they need to practice strategies that look at other parts that they need to ration. Are there particular products that don’t sell as regularly, or that don’t put the parts together to create that product, so that they may save them for other products that sell on more.
It really is just about looking for it – efficiencies in your system, and looking to maximise what you make most margin on and to hold back fulfilling some of the orders for stuff that is less profitable for the business. Just to build some resilience into your operation.
Melitta Ngalonkulu: A big thank you to Kim Polley, managing partner at Instinctif Partners Africa for the much-needed tips during this period.