Doing Business during Bad Times

At this time, entrepreneurs and business owners down here in South Africa are doing business during bad times. Indeed, very bad times. South Africa boasts now an official unemployment rate of 29%, the highest since 2008 (FIN24). Replacing the stats with souls, the number of people desperately looking for jobs in South Africa is almost seven million. Apart from losing business because people can’t afford shopping anymore, SMEs may be burdened with higher levels of bad debt.

Doing business during these times usually (and unfortunately) results in many businesses retrenching their workers. Therefore, workers here in South Africa typically react violently and destructively to any austerity measures that are implemented. As a result, mass industrial actions, mainly organized by the government aligned labor unions, cause havoc for both businesses and the community. In fact, unions are under pressure to deliver for members in a brutal employment market, says Ciaran Ryan of Money Web.

So, the jobless people, not having money, still needs food, clothes and shelter – just to live. For that reason, many more rely on social grants. Sadly, some of them will resort to crime – mainly just to survive…

Doing business in South Africa now is doing business during bad times. However, businesses also have a right to survive!

Surviving doing business during bad times

It’s extremely hard for business owners and entrepreneurs to put up a brave face during these turbulent times in South Africa. They really can’t be blamed. After all, news is coming fast and is mostly bad, even depressing. Even more, there’s silence when leaders need to speak and inaction when they must act.

So, if you, as a business leader, plan to stay in this beautiful country of us, then you must find your voice and start acting.

Business leadership during bad times

Nicole Fallon, writing for Business News Daily introduced her piece about leadership during bad times as follows:

“Sales and revenue are falling short. Your company is facing the prospect of downsizing. Your best employee suddenly quits. No matter the circumstances, your team’s morale is at an all-time low, and it’s your job as their manager to lift their spirits and get them back on track”.

Does that sound familiar? Frightening? Thankfully Nicole suggests the following guide for leaders during bad times:

  • Communicate transparently about the situation. Communicate what is happening. Employees need to know, and they should hear it from the most senior leader. Address at least the following in your statement:
    • What happened or is happening
    • What decisions have been made (including the business rationale)
    • Lastly, what the plan is going forward


  • Find the lessons to be learned. Leaders should guard against thinking the missteps that brought your team or company to this point won’t be repeated. Therefore, it is important learn from your mistakes so you can handle similar situations better in the future.


  • Share your vision for the future. You should be certain where your business wants to be in the future. Indeed, being clear and communicative about how the team and company plans to move forward will help part the storm clouds for your employees.

Good leaders will not only see the challenges during tough times, but will recognize the opportunities that comes with it.

Opportunities for business during bad times

Many of the challenges for businesses in South Africa are outside the control of their leaders. However, the leaders should use the strengths of the companies to fend off the challenges. But don’t forget this – doing business during turbulent times renders many opportunities. For example, your business can pick up the ‘lost’ customers of your competitors that have closed down. Also, business sites, labor and advertising can be more affordable when doing business during bad times.

I’ll write a future piece specifically about what strategies to implement during a declining market.


Sometimes, more so nowadays, I’m losing it when I’m bombarded with bad news every minute, every day here in South Africa. I mean – the only political movement that can motivate their followers to make positive things happen in our country – the ANC, is busy destroying itself. Sadly, the opposition parties are not offering a realistic alternative.

How on earth will South Africa pull through with this self-made catastrophe that is confronting us?  We need to start turning it around where it matters – with our people, communities and businesses. Do I see some leaders putting their hands up? Come on, we now need heroes – with guts, vision and integrity.

Doing business during turbulent times in South Africa is already a positive!

Read more: The Challenge of Doing Business in South Africa

A well researched and written Business Plan helps to get your business started the right way.


eBizplan: Picture – Doing business during bad times


Ruptly South Africa: Thousands strike in Johannesburg over job losses

Published by

Douw G Steyn

Management consultant, blog writer, dreamer

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