When a global pandemic creates a potential small business abyss, agile business culture resting on a solid technology foundation will maximise your chances of survival if you’re on the edge. If you’re not, the culture-technology combination might see you thrive.
That’s the word from Iain Wardhaugh, owner of Virgonomics, a small but well-established tax, accounting and advisory company that offers business services to local and international clients — both individual and corporate.
Says Wardhaugh: “When you’re facing possible calamity, you really need a solid foundation. That means an absolutely clear understanding of your business’s financial state. It’s very difficult to know how to respond to turbulence if you don’t know for certain where you stand. If you get that right, you can figure out what you really need and what you can do to avoid the edge.”
Wardhaugh uses Sage software to create transparency into the state of his own business. Sage technology gives Wardhaugh the visibility, flexibility and efficiency he needs to manage finances, operations and people with minimum effort.
“The Sage software we use is all in the cloud. I can chat to you online to let you know what I’ve done and what you need to do on your side to complete the transaction. It really helped us to transition to remote services without a hitch, keeping our clients running and compliant with Sars, UIF and all the rest of it. A server-based system would have required us to dial in and, had the server gone down, it would have meant major downtime for our clients and us. That’s the kind of headache we are happy to avoid,” Wardhaugh explains.
Technology is necessary, but it’s no guarantee
In nature, animals that rely solely on instinct suffer when there’s a natural disaster and they don’t adjust. In an economic crisis, small businesses lacking agile culture and an entrepreneurial spirit might also find themselves in trouble. The change usually causes some short-term pain, but longer-term survival is more important.
“Many have been able to employ technology to keep afloat, but the real constant among survivors is culture,” Wardhaugh says. “Covid-19 has forced small businesses to adjust. It’s taught us the art of the possible.”
This is where small businesses need a culture of flexibility and to think about the possibility of doing things differently.
If we need to adapt to make sure they have what they need despite our team unexpectedly having to work remotely, then that’s what we do
“In our case, clients need things immediately to keep them trading and compliant with tax legislation. It’s like working with live ammo – time is of the essence. If we need to adapt to make sure they have what they need despite our team unexpectedly having to work remotely, then that’s what we do. Remember, we weren’t given much notice, we were told we’re going into lockdown a week beforehand.”
Technology is a given when you move to working remotely, because the ability to function online is an obvious necessity. But that doesn’t negate the need to account for human factors. A culture of cohesion and support remains critical. It’s not just about working remotely – it’s about trying something new to make sure you do what needs to be done.
Entrepreneurial, can-do spirit
Wardhaugh says those who have succeeded despite the pandemic have generally been owner-managed businesses with the entrepreneurial know-how to adjust on the fly. In his experience with his clients, the effects of Covid-19 and South Africa’s July riots were quite varied. Some adjustments were common across industries, and some were industry specific. Essential services thrived through lockdown, while many others nearly collapsed. A lot of people already had remote working facilities, but many others had to make last minute plans if they were to survive, Wardhaugh says.
“When you need to feed your family, you simply can’t let the business fail. There’s no other option, and many of our clients have exhibited this can-do spirit. The post-pandemic era will require further flexibility. As the pandemic starts to wane, we need to figure out which of those changes remain relevant and appropriate.”
Visibility, flexibility and efficiency are vital tools when you have to ask yourself how many employees you really need or how much paper you really need. Wardhaugh himself helps organisations get a clear view of their necessities, and when sustainability is in question, the ability to drill down fast is a survival necessity.
The small business crisis survival toolkit
Wardhaugh’s experiences with clients have left him with some specific ideas on how to avoid the small business abyss in a crisis:
- Do we need to say it again? Make sure you have a solid technology foundation that gives you insight into the state of your business at any moment in time.
- Instil a culture of flexibility into your management style and the way your employees work.
- Keep your service levels up. People are angry and frustrated. As soon as you give suboptimal service, you will poke the bear. Many companies have gone over the edge in all industries, but some have managed to maintain and even exceed normal service levels. Every crisis is an opportunity.
- Communicate! Communicate with your staff, suppliers and with clients. If you need to make payment arrangements with creditors, speak up early. Do the same with debtors. Ask them to pay early if they can so that the entire value chain remains afloat. Let your staff know if you’re facing lean times, and discuss options with them.
- Stay up to date and compliant. With payments, pay a portion of your debt if you can, even the bare minimum. Wardhaugh says many businesses have gone into the abyss because their owners throw up their hands and say, “I can’t pay one creditor, so I won’t pay any of them,” and within a few months it’s all over as the bills mount up.
Explore more Sage content here.
- This promoted content was paid for by the party concerned