How to go through challenging business times

You’re a small business out there, things are getting tougher and murkier by the day. While in yesteryears you easily raked in decent revenues on a monthly basis, you now probably get less than half of your previous revenues.

The economy seems to be in hibernation mode, activity is limited, Government is complaining of being broke, people are making less purchases, products and service prices are skyrocketing, basically everything seems to be working against your business.

In most developing countries, small businesses are never given the support they need by their Governments apart from the usual lip service from some politicians. As an example, Local Content policies or laws aimed at promoting Governments doing business with local Small businesses are hardly in place and even where they are, implementation has been ignored.

As a small business, you have to realise that you are largely on your own. The only time the government really cares about you is when it needs to collect its tax.

So here you are, struggling to stay afloat, taking care of overhead costs, meeting the tax man’s demands, as well as growing the business.

What can you do to not only stay afloat but also emerge out of these lean economic times as an even better business?

1. Share with other Entrepreneurs. There is no problem you are going through that others have not experienced. Do not let that challenge swell up inside of you, keeping you frustrated as well as feeling downtrodden. They say, “a problem shared, is a problem halved.”

One thing I have realised is that most business owners are always willing to help out each other especially at an advisory level. Take advantage of this and talk to your circle of friends in business.

2. Be action oriented. William Shakespeare said, “when sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions!” while a common Luganda proverb states, “ekub’omunaku tekya.” These two phrases all refer to the fact that when things start going wrong, more opportunistic incidents add to your sorrow.

Just imagine you have hardly acquired a new client over the past three months, repeat business from existing customers has dropped by 70%, there is no visibility for new business, you’re wondering how the office rent shall be paid over the next quarter, staff salaries haven’t been raised, the bank loan needs servicing and then out of the blue the Revenue Authority slaps you with a Tax request beyond your means. It doesn’t get any worse than this.

Take heart however because where there are problems, there are solutions. Inaction is what you need to avoid. When you do nothing, nothing progressive happens. Start sorting out out these mountains before you one at a time.

3. Critical Analysis. Use this opportunity to critically assess your business in its entirety. Maybe there are things you are doing that need altering. Your processes, products, services, delivery etc may be wanting. Times are changing rapidly thereby putting pressure on those doing business to change at a similar pace.

Some challenges are a warning signal for us to adopt new ways of doing things. A good example is the hair styling industry. With the growing number of affluent people in Kampala, some of them for one reason or another are abandoning going out for a haircut or hair dressing in the public salons. Realising that he was losing out on customers, the proprietor of the salon I patronise introduced mobile services. Today, he has close to thirty upscale clients in this niche.

4. Time to change. The fact that there are some challenges in the business you are running automatically implies that you have to change the way you are doing things. Sticking to the traditional approach you’ve always used might simply push you into further ruin.

A friend of mine had this negativity about Social media preferring to label it as a channel used by gossipers and lewd characters. Despite my efforts to impress upon him how it could be of value, it took a rise in costs of the traditional channels he used in business development for him to seek solace in Social Media. Today you can find him on nearly all common social media channels.

There is something for you to change in that business. Do not be oblivious of this need. Is it the demand for bribes that is slowing down your acquisition of new business? Consider revising your marketing/sales strategy to target opportunities with less tendencies towards bribery.

Are you working from an expensive office yet your customers hardly come over? It’s time you thought about shifting your office to much cheaper locations or even your home and maintain your client visits as usual.

Are salaries an issue? Consider converting staff to a Pay per Job arrangement as opposed to a flat rate salary commitment.

5. Staff. Do you have staff? Assess all of them and find out whether you are indeed getting value for money from each. You need to establish what their tangible contributions are to the business. Go beyond the camaraderie and we are a team mantra to ensure that every coin spent on human resource gives you generous returns.

6. Mentor. Defined as an experienced and trusted advisor, a mentor is a must have. If you do not have one, please start scouting carefully. Just like a goat gives birth to a goat, the same should apply to your choice of a mentor.

If you are planning to scale greater heights in running private business, seek out for a mentor that has excelled in that regard. I came across this young entrepreneur who was seeking mentorship from a gentleman whose claim to fame was being a senior manager in one of the leading banks. It dawned upon me after interacting with him that the mentor had no clue what kind of business support would work for this young man. He was quick to regurgitate advice from textbooks as well as motivational speakers without interfacing it with real life circumstances.

Your mentor should be someone that has proven experience in the kind of trenches you are navigating.

7. Re-Skilling. Lean times demand for a reassessment of your individual self too. Your business success relies on skills that you have. With slow business, consider using that available idle time to acquire new skills.

In 2014 when I made a major decision to transform my career from a purely ICT orientation to integrate Agribusiness, I made a decision to start writing articles. My first attempt definitely wasn’t that good but as time went by, I got better. The results of this move is The Wire Perspective that is now highly read. Today, I have a much more vibrant online presence that is acting as an additional income stream.

What new skill can you add onto your bucket of skills? How can it be of help in terms of growing your business or income? How does it position you for the future?

8. Who do you spend time with? This is coming last but happens to be a very important aspect. The company you keep determines who you are. Our lives, thoughts and actions are shaped by what we see, hear and interact with continuously.

Keep the company of negative minded people and you too shall retreat into that mode and start looking at things from a failure or impossibility point of view. It doesn’t matter how bad the times get, in my view, it’s imperative to always maintain a positive mindset. The Italian designer Domenico Dolce once said, “the worst times can be the best if you think with positive energy.”

If you have read this article to this point, then you definitely resonate with what I just shared. In conclusionI urge you to be as flexible as possible as you navigate the challenging times, you’ll enjoy much bigger success eventually.

It’s always darkest towards dawn.

James Wire is a Business and Technology Consultant based in Kampala, Uganda
Follow @wirejames on Twitter.
Email lunghabo [at] gmail [dot] com

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