The CEO’s Last Word - “The Way Forward”

With most small businesses still trying to recover from the deleterious impact of the first national lockdown caused by COVID-19, there is no doubt in my mind that the effects of the second lockdown have felt like a kick to the head while already down, for the small business sector. 

This was proven in a recent exploratory survey conducted by the association where 62% of participantstated that they had seen a significant decline in the performance of their business since the last lockdown in April 2020. With the second lockdown further compounding this issue, 76% of respondents believed that they would be unable to satisfy their operational costs in the next three months due to a loss in revenue caused by the prolonged closure of their businesses.

Such a significant loss would also have other ripple effects mentioned by participants including increased staff lay-offs and in some cases, a total closure of the business.

It is also quite clear that even with the new vaccine, the COVID-19 virus will be with us for a long time and potentially will become a normal part of human life, similar to the common cold and flu. If this is the case, it is my firm belief that the country, the region and indeed the world should be seeking to find innovative ways to stay functional in the months to come. We must develop new business models and operational strategies which seek to revolutionise and completely digitalise the way we work and do business so that livelihoods can be saved. 

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Additionally, further health and safety measures should be legislated for the workplace to ensure the safety of those who cannot work remotely such as chefs at restaurants, business supply firms and retailers, to name a few. Curbside pickups and delivery services should also become the standard approach for businesses across the board. This must be the way forward, as the chances of the world returning to a pre-COVID work and shopping environment in the near future are slim, and any further lockdowns could spell the complete demise for the small business sector. 

Lastly, improvement in business facilitation will be critical to an enabling environment for firms to function as they emerge from the national lockdown. While the provision of working capital for businesses is welcomed in the area of stimulus support for micro firms, much more must be done in the provision of government services. Timely payment of VAT refunds, the ability of firms to register and pay for government services online, costly clearance of goods from ports of entry, and access to market intelligence & certification for exported goods, are some of the areas to be improved upon to facilitate growth going froward. Those state agencies involved in standards and certification, export development and the provision of licenses for a range of business operations, must be transformed to a more entrepreneurial culture to work with the private sector to enable the competitiveness of firms to develop and be sustainable. Afterall, it is not Government that trades, but it does influence the environment where trade happens. 

Hard work, adaptability and innovation are intrinsic characteristics of small business owners and despite the hardships currently faced, I still believe that if given the proper tools to rebuild, they will without a doubt, be the driving force to pull the economy out of the current crisis. This sector can be relied on to create jobs, earn and/or save foreign exchange and contribute positively to social development. As a result, lockdowns can no longer be the answer if the small business sector and by extension, the economy is to survive.