COVID-19 Survival Guide for Nigerian MSMEs
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As the number of confirmed novel Corona Virus (COVID-19) cases continue to rise and individuals and institutions across the country are restricting their movements and activities, the economic impact of this pandemic is gradually being felt. Most businesses (apart from those with essential and critical products or services) will have to close or significantly wind down operations.
As entrepreneurs have to face the uneasy task of reviewing their strategy plans and operations, we are sharing this guideline of 10 steps to consider as they navigate what is likely to be a financially and economically difficult period.
- Health and Safety First Above All Else: As the popular saying goes, “when there is life, there is hope”. You cannot develop a business repositioning strategy or revision your business if you, your loved ones and team members become at risk of falling ill. The Nigeria Center for Disease Control (NCDC) has a COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) video and also a Step by Step Guide on preventive and care measures to take. It is important to implement all the suggested protective health and sanitary measures to contain and prevent the spread of the virus and we all have personal responsibilities to do that.
- Plan for the Worst, Hope for the Best: The reality is that the economy and our businesses are likely to be hit very hard with potential effects in the mid to long term. The global management consulting firm, Mckinsey in its March 16 Briefing Note, highlighted possible economic scenarios for businesses. We recommend you to read it. It may take a couple of months for the virus to be controlled and a few quarters or even years for our local and global economies to recover. As a matter of urgency, you need to carry out the following:
- Do a Scenario Mapping:
- What are your best and worst case scenarios?
- Will your incomes reduce? If yes, when and how long can you continue to survive?
- What is the state of your cashflow?
- Draw up a Business Continuity Plan: Here is a checklist to guide you:
- Identify your essential personnel: With the possibility of reduced operations, you need to identify key personnel aside from you the CEO; define/upgrade responsibility protocols; and properly inform all employees, customers and other stakeholders.
- Allocate these critical roles: Ensure these critical roles are manned and your customers/clients are aware of these changes. If your business provides critical care products/services, ensure that the employees who may not be able to self isolate at this time are given the right communication, training, resources, tools and equipment to protect themselves.
- Keep employees and stakeholders well informed using all media such as emails, instant messaging and texts.
- Be Remote Ready.
- Constantly review your plan on a daily and weekly basis as the situation continues to evolve.
- Do a Scenario Mapping:
- Assess Your Liquidity and Prepare a Cashflow Forecast:
- What is your level of cash at the moment?
- At what point would you require a major inflow of cash to keep your business afloat?
- Draw up a 6 to 12 month cashflow forecast anticipating there may be a potential drop in revenues and looking at key expenditure areas that are crucial to keeping you in business.
- Identify Cost Reduction Strategies: Based on your cashflow forecast:
- Outline areas where you can reduce costs.
- Would you need to fully shut down your operations for a while? This applies to both physical and virtual options.
- Some of us may need to lay off staff. What are the key indicators for this timing so that you can properly inform and prepare your staff for this.
- Renegotiate terms of contracts and debt. Call your loan providers to discuss options for deferring interest payments or renegotiating terms.
- Communicate, Communicate, Communicate: Now more than ever is when your team and stakeholders need to hear from you. Emotional Intelligence and Compassion should serve as your compass and guide. There will likely be sacrifices to be made and your team, customers and stakeholders will be watching to see what you do and how and when you do it. Use every available channel to communicate to your stakeholders including your employees, customers, funders etc. Typically, in a time of crisis, there is often confusion and misinformation. Be careful to choose your words clearly in explaining the situation, and focusing on the strategies and steps to overcome the situation. Always ask for feedback to be sure that what you intended to say is what has been received. Also, do not forget to communicate changes in operations and times using your social media channels and also make sure your social media pages on Google/Facebook/Instagram reflected the right contact number, emails and details.
- Develop Telecommuting and Remote/Virtual Working Options: A number of businesses have already started exploring remote work options. Except you are an essential service such as a hospital, pharmacy, agribusiness or retail store, it is important to set up remote working systems at this time.
- Set Up Daily Check–Ins: WhatsApp groups and Slack are easy to use to manage your team as a whole or at departmental/unit levels to agree on daily reporting formats, collaborate, share documents/files also receive feedback.
- Explore visual interphase options: Platforms with video options make the off-site connection easier. While you may not be able to do all-video conversations given internet quality limitations, this format helps when you need to have difficult conversations that may be harder to communicate in a written or audio-only format. Zoom is typically a popular platform for conference calls and meetings but this link here provides a review of other options to explore.
- Provide data support: If you are expecting your team members to be available virtually, you may need to augment their internetdata spend for the period and also ensure they have the devices (i.e. laptops or phones) to use.
- Explore available financing Opportunities: Apply for available MSME or Small Business financing opportunities particularly special loans set up to support small and growing businesses at this time. Also explore private sector grant programs such as the Tony Elumelu Foundation grant application which closes on the 31st of March. Facebook announced last week that it would offer $100 million in grants to small businesses and we will be sure to provide details on these and any more opportunities that are sure to come up.
- Review Your Supply Chain: The World Economic Forum recommends these strategies for reviewing your supply chain at this time:
- Develop visibility to the entire value chain across primary, secondary, and even tertiary players. Who makes critical parts? Are there alternate sources?
- What is the supplier’s inventory status? Dual-source critical parts of the value chain, or increase inventory buffers to insulate against vulnerabilities.
- Aggressively evaluate near-shore options to shorten supply chains and increase proximity to customers.
- Leverage advanced manufacturing technologies to become more resilient by improving sensing and pivoting capabilities.
- Deploy scenario-planning techniques to systematically evaluate the end-to-end value chain, establish action plans and be able to deploy rapidly.
- Keep Your Mental Health in Check: Staying mentally healthy at this time is very important. Uncontrollable and unpredictable situations like this may bring about lethargy, irritability, deep sadness, tiredness, anxiety, racing thoughts, insomnia and even gastro intestinal problems. Just as this article was being up together, Jacek Kolacz, as Assistant Research Scientist at the Kinsey Institute for Traumatic Stress Research Consortium of Indiana University shared the following stress reduction strategies on CNN:
- Do breathing and mediation exercises;
- Reach out to people virtually by voice or video calls who may help you to feel calm;
- Create a structured daily plan to help to reduce unpredictability in your life;
- Constant social media reviews may also cause anxiety so you may want to limit message alerts or the time you spend on social media;
- Exercise, eat well and drink a lot of water;
- Read a book that you have put aside to read or watch a feel good movie; and
- If the stress gets really high, you may want to explore online mental health support platforms.
- Learn Something New: One good opportunity at a time like this is to use it to learn a new skill or subject. You probably had an online course you had planned to take as part of your new year resolutions. Online learning platforms like Coursera are opening up more programmes for free or at significantly discounted rates. ACCA X has a range of courses you can also take like. Now is the time to improve your financial and digital literacy knowledge.
While this is not going to be an easy period, we hope these 10 steps provide more clarity in helping you manage yourself, team, stakeholders and business at this time.