101s for small businesses in Sri Lanka- The Pandemic Version
  • Jun 21, 2020
  • -
  • Bhagya Iddamalgoda

101s for small businesses in Sri Lanka- The Pandemic Version

Covid-19 or Coronavirus- an unexpected turn of events that intersected our timeline, and our lives with such impact, that left us in a new state of normal for our future. As I write this, the total number of Covid positive cases worldwide are exceeding 3.9 million with deaths counting upwards 270,000. (*Although, the article was composed in May 2020, the following data have been updated to reflect the numbers as at June 21st 2020; positive cases- 8.9 million and deaths exceeding 450,000)

Sri Lanka imposed a curfew since 20th March 2020 and movements of any kind were completely halted except for essential workers. As we groggily navigate through these uncertain times, we are able to see the first hand impact of this pandemic on small businesses like us. Young start-ups have had a sharp decline in sales in the past couple of weeks, cutting down salaries, letting employees go, temporarily closing doors in addition to the fear of how to sustain the business while waiting for the virus to die down. While I say start-ups here, this has been true for most businesses, big or small. Everyone is struggling.

The data on how this virus is going to affect small businesses in Sri Lanka is almost non-existent at this point however; it does not take too much outside information to realize that we will not be doing well in the coming months. The expected economic downturn due to the Covid-19 outbreak is analyzed through the graph below. Based on the Asian Development Bank’s analysis, the Sri Lankan economy is expected to grow at 2.2% in 2020, a stark downturn from the prediction of 4.5 to 5% growth rate earlier.

As entrepreneurs we are resilient and while opportunities are scarce during an unprecedented time like this, it is important to be encouraged to see the silver lining.

But first things first- our well-being.

The priority has to always be our health and those around us, ensuring that everyone is safe and well having their basic needs met is the most important task we have at hand.

Keeping this in mind, here are a few questions to ask ourselves;

· How do we mitigate losses our businesses are facing?

· How do we adapt to this new quarantined lifestyle and make it work?

· How do we find opportunities in a seemingly chaotic environment of uncertainty

Get creative!

As a creative and someone in the creative business, this is how I would like to word it.

There is no doubt that this recession will glare at our faces for months post Covid. This is the nature of the beast. Let's be real! We have to accept that. But not all is lost! What should be reassuring is many businesses have weathered the storm of economic recession many times before!

For example most iconic businesses such as Airbnb and Uber started right in the middle of them. If we are to keep our businesses afloat, we need to take the reins to get creative.

In order to keep cash flowing in, it is important to alter business models and find new ways to offer products and services and create new ones that were not there to begin with.

A great story that comes to mind is Yoho Bed, much like Airbnb, this is a business offering accommodation. It strategically adapted to serving consumers with everyday groceries and essentials branding itself ‘Yoho Mart’ when the pandemic hit Sri Lanka. Door-to-door delivery of groceries was certainly not part of their business model I’m sure, however, it worked wonderfully to stay afloat during this crisis.

Of course, not everyone can adjust their business models however, the time has come to think of different methods of offering products and services.

This brings us to our next point: creative marketing strategies

This is going to get us through the next couple of months.

So, let’s go back to the basics;

-Word-of-mouth:

What a great time to remind your friends and family and everyone else that we need to spread the word!

-Organic social media reach:

Communicate with your niche! Bash your minds together to think of promotions that will benefit all of us. For example, share each other’s posts, stories, engage in comments and stay active as a unit. Altruism is a good thing, folks!

-Creative PR plans:

Engage with, and get to know your customers, launch that website you wanted to, come up with ad strategies, increase your PR through online discussions, and anything that can benefit your business right now.

- Discounts:

A great idea to tighten your budget-belt would be to do promotions, discounts, and bundle offers on your inventory (if this applies to you).

-Customer service

Go the extra mile for your customer! For example, Pick-me (a transportation solutions provider on a digital platform, similar to Uber) is tracking the individual temperature of their delivery force on a daily basis, and making it available for anyone using their service.

The game plan for small businesses has to be to prioritize survival through this crisis first before dominating and excelling in the market. This is where the fundamentals of running a business will come to play.

Help each other out. Collaborate!

Small businesses are hit the hardest at a time like this as halting operations puts a strain on daily cash cycles, employees, and day-to-day activities but the silver lining is that small businesses / start-ups in Sri Lanka are closely knit. It is vital for everyone of us who owns a small business to pitch in with our ideas, collaborate and lend a helping hand to help the ecosystem. This will be a great stepping stone to building moral support and sharing an audience with one another in order to pull ourselves out of this crisis. Together. In unity.

Stay up-to-date!

Because this is a global crisis, many government leaders are proposing stimulus/rescue packages and loan opportunities for small businesses to make use of. Since this is just the beginning, and as of yet we have only heard of such options to come, at this point we must stay informed and follow-up on any information regarding these financial incentives. Talk to your peers, and communicate to others about it as well. Don’t be afraid to tap into resources made available for you.

Consumer perspective

While we are all getting used to this “new normal” and dealing with our own obstacles, not just as small businesses but as consumers ourselves, it is important to do our part and support local businesses in any way we can. Small businesses are one of the major drivers in the growth of our economy and pivotal in sustaining a healthy and diverse environment for all of us to thrive in[1].

We could all use some support and encouragement to get through this challenging time! We understand that it might not be as straightforward to execute most of these tips, and every solution you come up with will be unique to you and your business. Do what you can! This is the time to stay connected and nurture our minds for us to be more prepared in our field of business when things settle.

Stay safe!

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[1] Ministry of Industry and Commerce, p. 3. More information is found at industry.gov.lk