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Business survival 101 for South Africa’s upcoming election season

Keep your business going despite the political noise.

Article written by Trevor Clark (Business Coach and ActionCOACH Senior Franchise Partner)

As South Africa approaches the 2024 elections, voter concerns are mounting due to the country’s economic slowdown, which stalled at 0.1% in the last quarter of 2023. The latest Quarterly Labour Force Survey also revealed that South Africa’s unemployment rate reached 31.9%. Specifically, in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), 29.5% of the population is unemployed. For business owners, this indicates the onset of further macroeconomic and microeconomic challenges, stemming from infrastructural issues and the country’s routine state of political limbo post-elections.

Choose your circle

Drawing insights from Stephen R. Covey’s book ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’, where he discusses two circles of life — the Circle of Concern and the Circle of Influence — it seems one way forward is to focus your energy on what is actionable right now. People can often be drawn to the negative; it’s important to channel your efforts into what you can impact: your business and immediate environment.

When referring to the Circle of Concern, we look at the broader spectrum of elements such as geopolitical issues, natural disasters, and local political conflicts. While staying informed about these matters is important, they fall outside our control. The Circle of Influence represents a scope where we have some degree of power and where our actions can make an impact. Consider the upcoming elections. If you are worried about the outcome, reflect on how you can make a difference. Actions such as voting and educating your employees on the registration process and the importance of voting are within your reach. It is common for individuals to spend too much of their time fixated on the Circle of Concern without taking any action. Stephen R. Covey encourages us to shift our focus towards the Circle of Influence, dedicating our efforts to areas where we actually can effect change.

“If you’re going through hell, keep going” – Winston Churchill

Many KZN-based business owners are feeling punch drunk as they seem to step from one challenge into another. When adversity strikes, individuals often find themselves moving below what we call the ‘Point of Power’ into a state of powerlessness, and sometimes even paralysis. This often leads to blaming others, making excuses, or denying the problems even exist. We all know the dangers of adopting a ‘victim’ mentality and what good that will do.

So how can business owners regain a sense of empowerment?

When stuck, ask for help. We often forget how good most people actually are and what we are willing to do to support one another. If that doesn’t work, take ownership of the situation. If you can catch yourself slipping below the Point of Power, you can (and must) be accountable and pull yourself back up. Being a leader means remaining conscious of this responsibility. Wallowing in self-pity, negativity, or defeatism, especially in front of your staff, is simply not an option.

Funding reserves are your best friend

For business owners, building a solid financial buffer, or ‘Rainy Day Fund’, is crucial for fiscal discipline, regardless of election seasons. Every business should scrutinise its balance sheet to ensure a cash surplus exists, or having sufficient assets that can be quickly converted into cash. A colleague of mine calls this a ‘GTS (Gone To S**t) Fund’, but whatever you call it, having at least three months’ worth of operating expenses put aside in liquid assets (even in a money market account/investment, etc), – is an incredible discipline.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many prominent businesses quickly found themselves in dire straits, retrenching staff and cutting supplier payments just to survive. This showed us just how many businesses were caught off guard by their lack of cash reserves. As another preparatory measure, apply for credit – even if you don’t need it right now. Having access to lines of credit can save you in more ways than one. It’s a dual-strategy approach: build cash and credit reserves to ensure longevity and leverage in volatile times.

Another’s setback can be your opportunity

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we also saw how businesses with the foresight to maintain liquidity were able to acquire the assets, inventories, and even customer bases at favourable terms from businesses that were not as well prepared and/or failing. This is a clarion call for businesses to stay resilient. Even tough times turn, so make sure you are still in business and ready to capitalise on opportunities that will come up.

Don’t cut your marketing

Against the backdrop of economic downturns, the knee-jerk reaction is often to cut costs in areas like marketing, customer service, and staff development. Yet, it is precisely these areas where investment should be sustained, if not increased. Through effective marketing, exceptional customer service, and a commitment to continuous improvement, businesses can survive and thrive by expanding their market share, even as the overall market contracts.

So, as we head towards the elections, don’t wait for the calm to build your reserves, we know that there will be plenty more challenges down the road and it is our job as entrepreneurs to navigate these things. Don’t freeze in the face of financial planning or halt your marketing efforts. Plan and execute with the future in mind, focusing on what you can influence, and always be ready for the opportunities that change will invariably bring.

ActionCOACH is a proud National Partner of the NSBC

About the author

Trevor Clark is a business and executive coach, educator, speaker, and brand strategist.

Born in Durban and educated in Johannesburg and Europe, Trevor holds diplomas in marketing and business management. Starting his career at ABSA Bank, he moved into marketing and sales in the engineering sector with Babcock. In 2001. Trevor expanded his horizons, serving as a General Manager in Saudi Arabia, and later contributing to Origin Communications Group’s growth by establishing and expanding its Dubai office and Middle Eastern footprint. Following his decade-long term overseas, Trevor returned to South Africa in 2009 after certifying in the United States as an ActionCOACH business coach. Recognised as a top coach, he leverages his vast experience to help businesses grow, embodying a passion for business and empathy towards clients. Trevor is an avid sportsman and father. He enjoys CrossFit training, kitesurfing, travel, and spending time with his children.

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