It will be a year in March since most governments in Africa put in place stringent measures to curtail the spread of COVID-19. These containment measures have led to major losses in many businesses, and left thousands jobless.
According to the United Nations International Labour Organisation (ILO), reduced working hours or job losses as a result of COVID-19 crisis cost the world approximately 255 million jobs in 2020.
Although the full economic impact of the current crisis is still not entirely understood, many people have suffered one blow or another as a result of the pandemic. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates global GDP contraction in 2021 to be 5.2 percent, an uneven and partial recovery from the projected 4.4 percent growth in 2020.
Across the world, people are experiencing lockdown fatigue as a result of being torn between following restrictions or exercising some form of freedom by ignoring certain rules and guidelines.
On the other hand, businesses are still learning to embrace the “new normal” and developing new business plans suited for the current situation. Moreover, it is clear now that some companies are able to gain profit irrespective of the economic downturns, especially the large firms.
The recently launched African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is a great vehicle to propel regional development especially in the manufacturing sector. Launched in 2018, AfCFTA is aimed at “Accelerating intra-African trade and boosting Africa’s trading position in the global market by strengthening the continent’s common voice and policy space in global trade negotiations”.
“It is a new year, and new opportunities are emerging. As manufacturers, traders, farmers, transporters, shippers, women business associations and youths, here is our time. Let us go out there and grab the opportunities. It is time to feed Africa through agriculture, manufacturing and promoting value chains. It is only through a united voice that we can have transformation in Africa,” Dr. Ahmed Mansur, Interim Vice-Chair of the African Business Council commented about the newly launched AfCFTA.
To take advantage of this and many other opportunities in the region, small businesses have been redefining their strategies in its wake to remain relevant in 2021 and beyond.
1. Take your business value online
One of the many businesses affected by the current pandemic is the publishing industry. Print publications can only survive if printers are able to keep producing, distributors are able to drive and drop the hard copies across the identified areas, and newspaper stands at shops and malls are open to allow people to buy or pick up the publication. With the lockdown, this chain was
broken abruptly. This created a challenge for the media industry and rendered most of the people working along the chain jobless. The future does not look bright still.
According to a report by the Wall Street Journal, as early as April 2020, just a month after global lockdown, most publishing companies were already laying off their employees, with many implementing pay cuts to those left. Over the months, many small entities in the industry have been forced to freeze printing. Others have sought for reader donations and support from other well-wishers to help support the companies.
Thus, digital prints have helped media companies to reduce costs associated with printing, vendor fees, as well as the overall distribution costs. These changes will help the companies to keep running, albeit unsteadily.
2. Adapt alternative marketing strategies to increase visibility
With increased strain on businesses, companies are cutting down on marketing expenses to weather the storm. Despite the challenges, companies must not move their businesses away from their consumers. Rather, they should seek new ways to remain visible during the crisis.
One sure way businesses can remain in the frontline is to seek out journalists and media houses and share insider insights on how the pandemic has affected operations in their industry. Alternatively, businesses can create value-added content through e-newsletters that readers can access via email or other social media platforms.
Partnering with local companies in promotions also means that the cost of marketing will be shared among the companies involved.
“As the situation continues to evolve, collaboration and communication has never been more important than it is now,” Robyn de Villiers, BCW Africa told participants at the Africa Women Innovation and Entrepreneurship Forum (AWIEF) online conference last December. She added: “What is coming to light is that companies need to work with their peers and competitors to respond to the pandemic as a unit rather than a separate business entity. As it is now, no one business will be able to respond to the pandemic and its ripple effects on the business environment alone.”
Moreover, rather than just focusing on direct marketing, companies should engage in corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities including volunteering and donating. Although the focus during volunteerism should not be marketing, engaging the community in times of need translates to a visibility opportunity for your business. This could also extend to hosting online workshops to offer career or technical advice to people in your community.
3. Focus on what saves on expenditure
Companies have been forced to cut down on expenses including payroll to redirect the funds to running the business. A few businesses have been able to keep their staff by introducing part-time work or working in shifts. This works both ways as staff members can still receive pay-checks while the business saves money and keeps its top employees. Encouraging workers to work from home also saves the company from spending on utility bills and other related costs.
In more dire circumstances, businesses have reported laying off employees in efforts to save the company. It is sad letting people go at a time when most are struggling to provide for their families. Unfortunately, many people have either been suspended, had a pay cut or lost their jobs altogether and many more will continue to be affected even as the world gears towards global vaccination.
In times of crisis, organisations tend to default to old ways instead of focusing on new approaches to address the current situation. When it comes to positioning the company for the ‘new normal’, businesses must evaluate the way they communicate with their stakeholders, remodel their business plans and only allocate funds to the most important strategies. By so doing, businesses will not only survive the pandemic, but also thrive after the crisis.