The year 2019 ended with stories of a notorious virus that was spreading around the world which was later declared as a pandemic in March 2020. The virus has disrupted health systems, micro and small businesses, and the economic systems around the world. The people and businesses alike have experienced their share of challenges and opportunities which stemmed from the Covid-19 preventive measures including lockdown and social distancing.
In Malawi, though there was no lockdown, the business sector is still being affected due to other in-country preventive measures and measures like border-closures in other trading countries because Malawi’s economy is heavily dependent on imports. The most notable challenges businesses owners have faced and are facing are high costs of goods and services including transportation, low prices for maize, and inter-border trade difficulties.
This is worrisome in a country where it is reported that most businesses are described as subsistence level businesses. According to FinScope 2019 report, in Malawi, there are 1, 141, 784 businesses that are within the category of Micro, small and medium enterprises in Malawi. The report also indicates that about 74% of these businesses are described as subsistence level businesses, of which about 2/3 of them are run independently by women. In addition, small businesses already face a number of challenges including lack of access to finance, low production capacities, and high business operation costs. These challenges have further been exacerbated by Covid-19 through high inflation which for the most part has been caused by a global disruption of the supply chain.
Recently, I met someone who was introduced to me by my sister at a business start-up function. We are not that close so there was really nothing special to talk about with her. An idea struck me to talk about the recent Covid-19 variant, Omicron. She was quiet for a while before she started asking me about my work as an entrepreneur. But it seems that from everything we spoke about, she was more interested in the business education which I offer to businesswomen to help them grow their businesses. Afterward, she asked me a question.
What should I do?
Laura’s question startled me. But what shocked me the most was her voice. It sounded as if the weight of all the problems in the world were crushing her. I immediately knew that we would need to have a very important discussion and listened attentively as she narrated her story as a business person.
I dropped out of college in my second year due to financial hardships at home following the death of my father. I decided to become a part-time teacher offering after school lessons and complimentary lessons to night students. Everything was going on well and I was able to support myself and my family with little money we got. Then Covid-19 came and schools were closed and I lost my only source of income. We struggled alot and started some small scale farming but things have not been going on. Schools opened again but the country is hit hard by inflation. The money I am making from the part-time lessons and the farming activity can barely feed us. I have no idea what to do now and how to avoid this kind of tragedy in the future. Please, tell me what I should do.
I noted that Laura was offering both products and services and commended her for thinking of having two streams of income. As a small business educator, I encouraged her keep at it, grow her business and look for other income streams to cushion herself from this pandemic and future uncertainties, be it pandemics or disasters. Then I offered her tips that I believe are necessary for the growth of her two businesses and also help her create other streams of income.
Free Yourself From Unnecessary Identity Trap
This seems contradictory in a world where we are encouraged to find ourselves and define ourselves. Nonetheless, the identity trap I am talking about here are statements that limit your potential and act as mental roadblocks. They restrict you from growing and accomplish great things in life. They also imprison you in mobile prisons and demarcate your boundaries in life. They can even push you to death. The most common lethal mental roadblocks for small business operators are ” I am a failure, I am a woman, I am not educated, I don’t have what it takes and what will people say.” Well, I would like you to know that failure doesn’t mean that you cannot win, men are not money favorites, there are many ways to learn, you have everything you need to succeed and people will not always talk no matter what you do.
Master Problem Solving Skills
The times are changing. We will face even more unsettling changes due to pandemics and technological advancements. It is only right to master problem-solving skills. Identify your problems, come up with different solutions, implement the solution that seems best. Always remember that there are always that there will always be risks but try as much as you can to take calculated risks. Make goals and break them into small actionable steps.
What worked for the past years might not work today. Continuously conduct market research and adapt to changes. Regardless of the times, make it a habit to assess your business, identify what is hindering it to grow, and take steps to deal with it. Do not simply copy what others are doing. Do not just complain and wait for the problems to go away. Nothing will change until you do something. When you sit around and simply complain, you will wake up tomorrow morning with the same problems.
Have Passion for Your Business
Always venture into something you are passionate about because passion will give you the strength to go on when things become difficult. Don’t live somebody’s dream or else your life and business will feel like hell. However, passion is not always some magic key you find through exploration. It can also be cultivated it using the right approaches and learning.
Work Hard and Work Smart
There is no substitute for hard work. In life, there is always more we can do and we don’t know how far we can reach until we continue pushing those limits. Work and work and work until you see the results, but most importantly work smart. There is always a smart way to do things and you got to know the tools you need to use. Remember you can still walk a 1550 miles journey but taking a car will help you reach faster and save your time.
Be Patient and Consistent
You need to be patient to build something worthwhile. Come on, you can’t build a house in a day; you need time to follow through all the processes until you can see a well-built house. Don’t quit, keep on doing what you are doing until you get your results. More importantly, monitor your activities so that you know what’s working and what is not working. Sometimes you don’t need to be patient, you need to change strategy and direction.
My dad said to me – Work hard and be patient. It was the best advice he ever gave me. You have to put the hours inSimon Cowell
Keep on Learning
We are living in a fast-changing world. If you don’t keep on learning, you will soon become obsolete.
It doesn’t matter that you are not educated. You can always learn from friends and other courses. Just join Facebook, Whatsapp, and other business groups/cooperatives. The language will not even be a barrier as more and more content is produced in vernacular languages. Use the knowledge and skills you learn to build multiple income streams. Skills you can monetize include web design and development, digital marketing, writing, painting, music, dancing, public speaking, photography, online selling, and many more.
You also need to learn through experience and monitor your external environment. The external environment includes everything outside the business entity with the potential to affect the business. It includes competitors, resources, technology, economic conditions, laws and regulations, pandemics, culture, politics, etc that can affect the business. Learn about all the internal and external factors that can affect your business and build a strong business that can withstand any disasters including pandemics like Covid-19.
Budget, Save and Invest
Don’t spend on things you don’t need, save at least 10% of your income every month and save with a purpose. Invest your savings and time in assets, not liabilities. According to Robert Kiyosaki of Rich Dad Company, an asset is anything that brings money in your pocket and liability is anything that takes money from your pocket. What can be an asset to another business owner might be a liability to another business owner. A car might be a liability or an asset depending on your situation. Assess yourself and your business and identify the right things you can invest in.
Most importantly, protect your money from scammers who come in the name of savings groups or promise you quick huge sums of money. Safeguard your money as your baby.
Your savings and investments will help you in uncertain times when you cannot do business due to health reasons or restrictions.
A healthy life is like a ray of light in a dark path. As long as you are healthy and alive, you can pretty much do anything you want and be whosoever you want in this world.
He who has health has hope; and he who has hope has everythingArabian proverb
The governments have a role to protect and cushion their citizens from the impacts of this pandemic and upcoming pandemics. However, there is a need for individual change and also change in the way we operate our businesses. If we don’t change, then we risk facing extinction and obsoleteness. The small businesses need extra care especially during this pandemic because they already have a number of crippling challenges and Covid-19 might just kill off the businesses altogether.
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