The government of Kenya has, since the announcement of the first case several days ago, announced a suite of measures to contain the spread of the virus and flatten the curve. We anticipate that these measures are going to intensify as more cases are announced and may culminate in a mandatory lockdown or curfew that will severely limit movement of people within the country for a period of 10 days or more. The government of Kenya has been giving three to four-day notices for stringent measures and we anticipate that the lockdown will be given a similar notice period. This scenario is unprecedented and will mean different things to different people.
During the notice period we anticipate that there will be panic buying, upcountry travel and early closing of businesses. The lockdown period may first be characterized by quiet and calm as people remain indoors and attempt to work from home. It is advisable as an entrepreneur to plan for both the notice and lockdown period.
This advisory note is aimed at helping entrepreneurs think about some immediate action points to take to successfully navigate the lockdown notice period and the lockdown itself.
Me (the entrepreneur)
As they say in-flight, put your mask on first before attempting to help others (including your child). As you read this advisory, we hope that you will heed our advice and put on your mask first. Real leaders emerge during a crisis and this is one in which you must rise.
As the leader of your business you need to remain calm and provide direction to all your employees, customers, suppliers, creditors, debtors, investors and other stakeholders. Consider the following points as you think about how to take care of number 1, you.
Take time to reflect, meditate or pray in order to achieve internal central harmony and calm.
Remember to take care of your physical health by resting, hydrating, keeping your hands clean, eating regular meals and staying active.
Reach out to friends, family and other entrepreneurs and talk about your anxieties, challenges, fears, etc. Don’t bottle up your emotions.
You need to take time to think about what options exist for your business during the lockdown period and we have outlined below some areas to consider.
This is a challenging and uncertain time for Africa’s enterprises. Most businesses have been caught up in the challenge of how to continue with business as usual.
As an employer, ensure your team understands the magnitude of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the media being awash with information, ensure that they understand its implications from you. Please sensitize your team on what it means to your business and offer encouragement. Also, make sure your team is well taken care of during this period by making salary payments earlier, where possible, to ensure that they can stock up on what they need.
Once the safety and comfort of your team has been addressed, the question now is how to continue with business as usual in these unusual times. This calls for you to look into how your teams can continue with their daily work obligations in the comfort of their homes and with some flexibility. This can be achieved by embracing technology and equipping them with basic tools as laptops and using the numerous communication applications available to ensure that communication is done conveniently and affordably. Another consideration would be to have set times for meetings to check in on how each member of your team is fairing and agree on deliverables.
Where it cannot be business as usual or where you are not able to work remotely, let this be a time to take paid leave and reflect. Other considerations around leave will depend on how long the lockdown lasts and how that impacts your business revenue.
Please note that the key things are to keep communication open, to be honest and seek ideas from your team. How we handle our teams will have a big impact on our relationship and motivation after we get past COVID-19.
The key to successful customer engagement is empathy. In this period, please reach out to your customers and assure them that you care about and will continue to prioritize their needs. Everyone is looking for information on continuity and how their needs will be met even during the lockdown.
Start by reviewing your customer segments and product offerings and asking yourself whether your services will be needed during the lockdown notice period and during the lockdown itself. If your services will be needed, plan how you will deliver these services and communicate to your customers your plan to ensure that their consumption of your products or services will not be affected. If your services will not be needed, then, inform your customers if you intend to remain closed during the lockdown period and assure them that you will reopen after the lockdown.
First, consider engaging with your customers on your online platforms. Secondly, do a follow up call to check on how they are actually coping with the crisis. You may find that your customers already have solutions to the challenges they are facing around how to handle employees, sales (if they are a business), how to cope at home, etc., but will truly appreciate that you are thinking about them at this time. You may also find that they have a complex matter that they require advice or help in resolving. We bet that your customers will have at least one issue they are grappling with that you can provide insights into how to resolve. Where it is within your expertise and capability to help, consider doing so. Remember that this crisis will pass and like with every crisis, we tend to remember the people who were “there for us” when we needed them.
Be aware that there will be a tendency for your debtors to want to hold on to payments due to you and others, uncertain of what the next few days or weeks will bring. Despite that, encourage them to settle. You may just be surprised that their response is a transfer into your bank account. Where you will not receive payments due to you, consider what plans you’ll need to have in place to continue meeting your obligations in the coming months.
My Sales Response
We are all feeling overwhelmed and might worry about our situation and what we will lose because of this lockdown. But our response should be generosity. See if there is anything you can give to your customers. This is key particularly if that service is key to their business continuity and their personal well being.
The most important people in your sales equation are your salespeople. If your salespeople earn on commission, it is obvious that they are unlikely to sell much during this time. Please be compassionate and if you have the capacity to, ensure that their basic needs are met. It doesn't matter whether they have been great salespeople or not.
My Suppliers and Creditors
Your suppliers (providers of services and products) are partners in your business because they support you in delivering services to your customers. Here we’re thinking about the landlord, cleaning company, your accountant, auditor, consultants you work with, delivery guys, designers, and so on.
What is likely to happen (or is already happening) is that your suppliers will start calling you to find out what you are doing following the announcement of more restrictive measures by the government. They may call to “chase” their outstanding payments, find out what you want them to do about outstanding projects and ongoing contract work and so on. To avoid being inundated with calls, reach out to your suppliers: call them where possible, or write to them, particularly in cases where there is money owed to them or where you have critical projects running or in the pipeline. They may have made commitments to their teams or suppliers in anticipation of supplying to you. Where it is in your capacity, pay for services or products or project milestones they have delivered. Do not put them in the difficult position of being unable to meet their own commitments.
Even where they are not calling, because they are vested in your business, proactively inform them of the actions you’re taking in response to more restrictive measures by the government. Depending on the information you have, tell them about how long you’ll potentially be shut, what that will mean for any activities or projects that are ongoing or orders that are pending, how you will continue working remotely with them if that’s a possibility, what you intend to do about what’s owed to them, who will be their primary contact in your organisation during the crisis, and so on. How long you will potentially be shut may be unknown. For this reason, consider suspending services or contracts that allow for that. Where you do not have a contract or did not include a force majeure clause in your contracts, negotiate. For suppliers like landlords where you cannot use the space, negotiate for a rent holiday or temporary reduction.
You will be chasing competing priorities at this time and are likely to put suppliers on the back burner. So, where you have a team, agree what will be communicated to your suppliers and assign to members of your team the responsibility of reaching out to them. However, for your critical suppliers, do the communication yourself or assign the task to a senior member of your team. Remember that there is nothing as disappointing or as blindsiding as expecting something only to be told, after you inquire, that it will not come as you anticipated. Do not put your key partners in this situation. Remember the relationships you’ve taken months and years to build with them and that you will need them when this crisis has passed.
The words of the song “Rise Up” by Andra Day and Jennifer Decilveo come to mind during this time, and we would like to paint the spirit of that song here.
And I'll rise up
I'll rise like the day
I'll rise up
I'll rise unafraid
I'll rise up
And I'll do it a thousand times again
And I'll rise up
High like the waves
I'll rise up
In spite of the ache
I'll rise up
And I'll do it a thousand times again…
The world will come out of this pandemic stronger, better and more resilient. Look deep into your heart and find your original passion and use it to energize yourself during this period. You are stronger than the circumstances around you. You will overcome this too.
What I can Do for the World / My Neighbours
At SNDBX, we are inspired by stories like the one of a landlord who was last week featured on local news for having waived two months’ rent for his tenants. This action brings to life what it means to live in a village.
The need for humanity to unite and help each other has never been stronger. Governments, corporations and individuals have stepped up. Some governments have stepped with different measures to cushion their economies and their citizens by taking fiscal and monetary policy measures.
In the Philippines, Coca Cola, in a Facebook post, announced that it would be halting its brand advertisements in the Asian country and would instead re-channel $4.2 million to provision of protective equipment, beverage for health workers, delivery of food packs to the most vulnerable families and support for affected small retailers. The post read, "Together, we can make a difference," a message that could be well adopted by many during this time, including by you, dear entrepreneur.
Foundations and philanthropic billionaires have not been left behind in this cause. Jack Ma and the Alibaba Foundation on 23rd March 2020 donated to the Africa Centre of Disease Control a consignment of 1.5 million laboratory diagnostic test kits and 100 tons of infection prevention and control commodities. Kenya received its share of about 20,000 test kits and other commodities on 25th March. This will be a significant boost to the fight against the pandemic. Locally, we have seen banks waive account-to-mobile transfer costs while companies like Safaricom have announced waivers of M-Pesa costs on some transactions. A few examples on social media of employers buying food supplies for their watchmen have been shared.
A simple action could bring much reprieve to someone. Just as the bigger players have done, what can you as a business owner do for someone else, within your capacity?