Bill Gibson – Make Money in the dark

Bill Gibson reveals how to keep your business afloat during the power cuts

Succeed Magazine – – March 2008 Issue

There is no getting around it: the power cuts are a major blow to South African businesses. And unfortunately, among the hardest hit are the little guys running small and medium enterprises. “We need to get real about this,” says Bill Gibson, chairperson of Knowledge Brokers International. “If your company is barely breaking even every month, the power cuts could put you out of business. Even if you are turning a profit, you need to prepare for the possibility of lean times ahead.”

By nature, smaller businesses are more agile than large corporations. This is the time to exercise your flexibility and out manoeuvre your bigger competition. “Do not wait around for Eskom, the government or your landlord to give you a hand. The truth is that you have to help yourself,” says Gibson.

Analyse your business’s needs and gather as much information as quickly as possible. This empowers you to take action. Businesses that have moved swiftly are capitalising.

“There is a steakhouse in Sandton that was the first to get a generator. While other restaurants are in the dark, it is scrambling to seat the people queuing out the door.” The secret to making money in any economy, good or bad, is to keep your business lean and keen. In other words, determine how you can keep your overheads down and direct your energies into growing your core business. “Getting lean is one thing but staying keen requires hard work psychologically,” says Gibson. “The market is still there – even if it is smaller.”

Many companies tend to withdraw and stop advertising in tough times. Never do this. Redouble your efforts. Make more calls and be proactive. Now is the time to advertise because everyone else is pulling back and it is easier to get above the noise level.

There are a number of aspects to managing your people effectively during a crisis. The first and most important is keeping morale up. “We all need outlets for our frustration and anger. The trick is not to get bogged down in the negatives,” says Gibson. “Look for good news and make sure you tell your staff. Set aside a certain part of the day for complaining and then concentrate on making the most of every opportunity.” He adds that in some ways the power cuts have helped to stimulate much-needed dialogue in companies. It has forced people to hold impromptu meetings and to talk about issues that are otherwise side-lined. Gibson says that losing good people is not an option. He suggests that you work closely with your staff and be upfront about the state of the company. Involve them and listen to their suggestions. “Try to be fair when it comes to reimbursement. Instead of letting people go, try to find an agreement where you cut back working hours equally. Consider going onto an hourly rate of pay but institute half a day’s pay as the minimum.” During tough times, the survival instinct kicks in and people tend to look after their own interests. According to Gibson, it is more effective to pool resources and work together with others, especially if you run a small or medium enterprise. A restaurant in Sandton is scrambling to seat customers because it was the first to get a generator. “Try splitting the cost of a generator with other small businesses in your building. It can be a huge expense for one company alone but together it is manageable.”

Dealing with the power crisis may mean adjusting the way you do business. For instance, working hours may need to be revised. Once there is a schedule in place, work around the power cuts or go in on weekends. Try to arrange that activities that do not require power take place during load shedding times, like meetings or training sessions.

If a large part of your business is about calling for sales, print out hardcopies of your client database. Plan your calls in advance and divert landlines to cell phones so that you are able to take calls wherever you are. Better planning with regards to petty cash and petrol is a necessity. Retailers may have to consider processing credit cards manually. Gibson admits that this is risky but says that it is better than not being able to make any sales at all.

Lastly, consider investing in technology to alleviate the power crunch. Laptops and cell phones work on batteries and can give you a few extra hours. Buy extra batteries and keep them charged. Investigate 3G connectivity for laptops and uninterrupted power supply for other computers. Realise that although you are not in control of the situation, you can control your reaction to it. “In any given situation you have three choices,” says Gibson. “You can speak out. You can accept it. Or you can exit.”

For many people who own businesses, exiting now is not an option because of the time and money they have invested to grow their enterprises. And because there is only so much talking to be done, it seems that adapting to the circumstances is the most sensible route. Gibson says that adapting means you have to get real about where the country and your business are. He adds that while disbelief is a normal reaction under stressful circumstances, you cannot stick your head in the sand and pretend that all is well. “Power cuts are a reality. The sooner you believe it, the quicker you can do something about it.”

Now is the time to advertise because everyone else is pulling back and it is easier to get above the noise level

Avoid the blame game

There are many possible reasons why the country is experiencing an electricity supply crisis. And while it is important to figure out the cause, the truth is that pointing fingers is counterproductive. Looking for someone to blame is energy sapping and prevents you from moving forward. “South Africa is not Zimbabwe, but it is not a fully functioning first world country either. At least now we know what we are up against and this gives us a basis from which we can operate. We are not the only country in the world experiencing an energy problem. China, Brazil and Cuba have found solutions and we can too,” says Bill Gibson.

Amid the disappointment and the outrage, business owners need to adopt a rational approach if they are to keep on top of the situation. Although it is not possible for the average person to solve the country’s problems, they can solve the challenges facing their own companies. With the right attitude and through honing your tactics, you may even find ways to increase your sales.

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