As the world, our country and economy face unprecedented times as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Osidon CEO Hennie Ferreira reflects on online business opportunities for entrepreneurs and small businesses in South Africa.
- What online business opportunities can we capitalise on at the moment?
For small businesses in South Africa, the opportunities have always outweighed the doom and gloom. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced business owners to rethink how they do business. In the difficult economic situation we face now, the problems may seem overwhelming, but entrepreneurs are built to solve problems.
Now, more than ever, local entrepreneurs have to identify problems and challenge themselves to find solutions and build online businesses.
We are facing an inevitable, unavoidable and permanent transition to an online business community. People have been forced into isolation, to work remotely and to conduct their business on the internet, social media platforms and on e-commerce sites.
To ensure the survival of the South African economy, entrepreneurs and small business owners have to embrace this transition now by coming up with new and innovative ways of doing business, using technology solutions and other online tools. Even after COVID-19 has passed, the business landscape will remain forever changed.
If business owners and entrepreneurs do not recognise how crucial tech and online solutions are for their businesses, they will no longer have a competitive edge and may have a problem staying open.
- Businesses are struggling. How can they join the transition to online? Where can they look for success stories?
South Africa has no shortage of success stories. Many businesses have embraced the recent changes and have used these changes to take their businesses to the next level. We have world-class tech and online companies – just look at online shopping services such as OneCart and Takealot, South Africa’s first digital business bank, SASFIN, or TymeBank, which is also fully digital.
Both Johannesburg and Cape Town are hubs for the tech industry and there are numerous tech companies providing cutting edge products and services. In the field of innovation, I have no doubt South Africa can compete at the international level.
Our country has consistently produced many exceptional and well-known entrepreneurs and the entrepreneurial spirit in South Africa remains strong and vibrant. We will see many more online and tech companies popping up in the near future.
- How can the transition to a more online world change the current economic situation in South Africa? Does South Africa have the capacity for a more online economy?
As I mentioned, challenges offer opportunities. Entrepreneurs look at problems, find solutions and build businesses to provide those solutions. These businesses in turn, grow the South African economy and create jobs.
Even with the COVID-19 pandemic, South Africa remains an environment of opportunity and offers a space for entrepreneurs to flourish. In the transition to online business, entrepreneurs and business owners must change their mindset and search for problems to solve.
The interest in and number of online sales in South Africa has shot through the roof recently. Many people have now experienced the comfort and ease of doing business online. There is no going back from here.
I believe there is a huge scope for further developing the online business environment in South Africa. This transition has been forced on people and now that people have realised the benefits, there is an unstoppable wave of change.
- What are the cost implications for businesses wanting to have an online presence?
I have found that, often, an online business presence is more affordable than a physical business presence. Going online can save companies hundreds of thousands of rands in expenses, such as rent and utilities.
In many cases the problem is that business owners and employees are scared of operating outside their comfort zone. This can be mitigated by online tools, such as Workplace and Slack, that help teams stay connected even though they work remotely.
An online presence, such as a website and social media profiles, has not been optional for many years. If you have not yet embraced these tools, you are probably not competitive in your industry. It is easy to implement these technologies, most of which are free of charge, in your existing business to ensure you have an active online presence as well as a competitive edge.
- What advice do you have for entrepreneurs in this time?
We are undoubtedly facing unprecedented times, a first for most of the world. However, this time of crisis is a paradise for entrepreneurs – an opportunity to solve problems.
The entire business world is shifting permanently. My advice to entrepreneurs is to use this time to gather new skills that will help them to adapt to this new world of business.
Even under Level 3, many businesses do not operate at full capacity and some do not operate at all. Business owners and entrepreneurs should use this time to equip themselves and their employees with new skills – skill sets such as digital marketing, social media management and website development are critical now. This does not have to cost exorbitant amounts of money and it is not necessary for a formal degree or qualification. There are many free online resources you can access.
Business will never be the same. This is the time for entrepreneurs to shake things up.