COVID-19's grip on the world forced many small businesses into survival mode. We asked four small-business owners to share their survival tips – digital and otherwise – so that you too can take on another year, which alarmingly looks poised to bring us more of the same, with more confidence.
When the pandemic struck early in 2020, most people used to working in an office or from business premises were not really prepared to operate exclusively from the dining table, and those running a small business and working for themselves were no exception.
But we humans are pretty adaptable creatures, and over the course of our first experience with lockdown and working from home, we all made numerous changes to create a better home office – from buying a more ergonomic swivel chair and untangling cables to creating a slicker workstation and figuring out exactly where the quietest corner in the house is for those never-ending Zoom meetings.
Four of the work-from-homers we spoke to managed to go from surviving to thriving by adjusting their modus operandi to suit the new normal. Here's what they had to say.
Read more: How to Work from Home Better
"We had to rethink our business model several times in 2020," explains Meg Pascoe, owner of confectioner The Counter. "When the first COVID cases were announced and people started to postpone events with us, we launched a frozen-foods service. I don't think we've ever been busier or worked harder, as everyone was panic buying foods and supplies."
Then, she says, lockdown happened and they were closed for six weeks, which is when they wrote and shot a recipe e-book. Once The Counter was permitted to work again, they launched an online confectionery store and also introduced meal boxes. "These were a massive hit," says Meg, "as people were still very wary of going to the shops and the restaurant industry was still very much closed."
According to Storm Corbett, entrepreneur, fitness trainer and owner (along with her husband Gareth) of The Storm Centre in Cape Town, the pandemic triggered a digital transformation for their business – they started offering online classes that quickly became a hit with their fitness-loving clients.
"We went from a local fitness centre to a virtual studio teaching live classes to local and international clients in the space of only two weeks. We aimed to listen, understand and adapt. We offered free classes during the lockdown, understood the uncertainty our clients – and the rest of the world – were feeling and adapted our business to provide certainty in this specific area of our clients' lives."
Good internet was the game-changer for Karen Jeynes, a television writer and producer. "My work means I'm often sending or receiving extremely large files, like those containing footage for approval.
"Add to that two teenagers who are constantly gaming, catching up with friends, and in one case doing high school from home, and it's probably not surprising that I ended up making enquiries with my internet service provider (ISP) during the early part of 2020 to find out exactly what the highest possible fibre package was which they could offer me," she says.
"We used to spend all day in lengthy meetings with clients and potential applicants at hotels, coffee shops and offices," says director at BossJansen Executive Search Jeremy Bossenger, "whereas today we find we can get all the information we need in a short Zoom session. It's made the running of the business more efficient."
He adds that it can be tough for staff members based in certain areas, such as parts of Soweto, where fibre has not yet been installed. But they've worked around this by looking at which data provider gives them the best coverage to ensure all their staff stay up to speed.
"Essentially, we worked really strategically at our ability to stay in touch," says Jeremy, "so working from home didn't result in any breakdown in the working relationships with either valued clients or our colleagues."
Remember, finding a better, faster fibre connection in your area today is as easy as visiting our fibre comparison tool and punching in your home address. We do the rest. It's that simple.
Oh, and one more thing: if 2020 taught us anything, it's that bad things happen. Businesses face all sorts of risks, from fire and theft to employee injury and natural disasters. That's what business insurance is there for.
This article is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as financial, legal or medical advice.