South Africa’s electricity supply issues are increasingly shocking. Far from being an occasional or periodic occurrence; loadshedding is now a daily reality, with no let-up in in sight. While a longer-term plan to deal with outages is now a business necessity, many SMEs are still grappling with the ‘now’ – for those businesses, here’s a lower tech approach to keep the wheels whirring, despite the dreaded ‘shedding.
But first, a forecast…
According to loadshedding app, Eskom se Push, more than half of 2022 was eaten up by loadshedding (200+ days) – the worst on record. This year is proving worse than that, however, with loadshedding every day of 2023 thus far. In December, Eskom presented its loadshedding outlook for the 2022/23 summer period, with rolling blackouts set to continue through to August 2023.
It’s reported that the cost of this on business can amount to over R4 billion a day – a cost disproportionately felt by the small business sector of the economy.
SMEs make a plan
SMEs are unfortunately the hardest hit, lacking the resources of bigger organisations. However, South Africa’s SMEs are nothing if not resilient. The harsh reality of loadshedding life means that a ‘back to basics’ approach to business can be a smart move. Planning around loadshedding is one way to take back your power:
- Adopt a flexible mindset – As a small business owner, you’re more agile than a larger entity and can adapt quicker and more easily to business unusual.
- Know the schedule – Download a loadshedding app or consult the schedules published online by the major metropolitans.
- Work around it – Consider adjusting working hours to accommodate loadshedding slots.
- Charge up – Make sure that devices like laptops, tablets and mobile phones are charged and ready for use when the power is off.
- Get kitted – Compile a simple loadshedding kit comprising basic items like power banks, and a small countertop gas cooker and stove top kettle to keep your devices and your team fuelled off-grid
- Explore working from a co-working space that has an alternative power source, like a generator.
The power of print
Digital documents aren’t quite as user-friendly when you’re out of battery on the digital devices. These are times when having printed copies of important working documents just makes sense:
- Having printed copies in physical files minimises service disruption by providing you with access to crucial information anytime.
- This maximises your productivity by allowing you to continue reading material and making notes until the power is back on.
- Printed invoice books allow you to continue issuing invoices and receipts while offline.
- Printed copies provide trusty backups of your electronic documents in case of equipment failure due to loadshedding.
Backup your backups?
Did you know that loadshedding can interfere with your data backups? For example, if backups are scheduled to occur during loadshedding, they might not happen as planned. Also, power suddenly being cut to hard drives can lead to data loss or corruption. Don’t assume that everything is proceeding as usual in these unusual times – speak to your IT partner to make sure that you’ve got a rigorous loadshedding-resistant data backup process in place. In the meantime, doing a manual backup of your hard drive to an external drive adds another, simple layer of protection.
Make that call
While millennials may prefer texting over talking, according to the Hiya State of the Call Report, across the globe, consumers and businesses still prefer the phone over all other methods of communication. When you can’t text or email, then, what better time to call up your customers for an old-fashioned chat? Phone calls can:
- Help create feelings of connectedness that people crave – that’s according to a 2020 study by the University of Texas.
- Be more productive than back-and-forth emails, getting you clarity and resolution quickly.
- Keep unread emails in your inbox to a minimum, as you deal with business there and then.
- Help you and your customer make effective use of time while the power is down and you’re offline.
- While you’re chatting, be sure to schedule an in-person meeting for your next touch-base.
See people IRL
The pandemic years saw huge growth in the use of video conferencing platforms to host team or client meetings. After social distancing, people are hungry for human contact, so take advantage of the present power problems to get some face time with your favourite customers or colleagues by meeting in real life (IRL):
- For smaller, shorter meetings, get together at a local coffee shop that has an alternative power source.
- For more lengthy, larger meetings, book a boardroom at a co-working space with the same.
- For active decisions, head outside for a ‘meeting on the run’ or ‘walking meeting’ – research reported in Harvard Business Review shows that such meetings, favoured by entrepreneur ,Richard Branson, and Google boss, Sundar Pichai, boost creativity and problem solving. Says Branson, walking meetings lead to greater focus and faster decisions – something you can’t always get on a video call.
Backup for beginners?
Despite loadshedding’s intensity, South African SMEs have been relatively slow in adopting more permanent alternative power sources like solar PV – likely due to cost. Many businesses have also adopted a ‘wait and see’ attitude, but with the loadshedding forecast not improving any time soon, now is the time to consider affordable backup power solutions to power business essentials as a business investment, rather than an expense:
- Portable, or ‘plug and play’ power stations are a good bet for small businesses that need to power essential devices like laptops and routers while the power is off
- These portable power stations can be described as ‘giant batteries’ – they’re charged via the mains electricity, the energy is stored and can be used later by plugging devices directly into the power station
- There are different sizes, or power outputs, depending on requirements.
Scaling energy solutions
A business’s approach to business continuity during loadshedding is, as Nashua CEO Barry Venter puts it, a journey. Says Venter, investing in alternative energy solutions is ultimately how businesses future-proof. Urging businesses to be proactive, Venter advises to:
- Start with a scalable solution that addresses your immediate needs, for example, with a generator.
- Grow the solution – for example, by adding solar capability, to make it a hybrid solution.
- Move towards an off-grid solution, long-term.