I am a qualified finance professional with 25 years’ experience. My journey as an entrepreneur began over two decades ago. My dreams were big! I had spent several years working in relentless pursuit of my goals. I was confident that I was on the right path to building a portfolio of SME businesses that would collectively drive innovation and growth to become a leading, trusted and impactful brand in the travel and tourism sector.
And then without much warning, the entire globe was brought to its knees by the dreaded coronavirus pandemic. Being one of the hardest hit sectors, within 48 hours my travel business was obliterated.
Like every other small business owner, I was devastated, anxious, scared and uncertain. My back was against the wall. It ultimately came down to our basic human choice of “fight” or “flight”. Intuitively, I knew that my destiny would be defined by how I responded to this catastrophic situation. I could not give up and relinquish my dreams. I also had a team of people whose livelihoods were at risk. My commitment remained steadfast. I had to channel my energy to redesign my future.
A fundamental belief of mine is that SMEs are the heart of the economy. The engine that can drive job creation, GDP growth and societal change. Surely there was a role to play in addressing this challenge of lives vs livelihoods during this disastrous global pandemic.
I was clear about my intent. I wanted to do something that would navigate us through this crisis, whilst contributing to improving the income earning prospects of South Africans.
I went back to basics, asking myself what is the emerging need in the market that I can fulfill? Within a very short time frame, I had to act with extreme agility and pivot my limited resources from travel and tourism to reinvent a business called SSRE.
SSRE provides #StaySafe locally manufactured products to support the wellbeing of fellow South Africans during COVID-19.
So how did I do it?
First, I want to acknowledge that my corona coaster ride hasn’t been an easy one and it is certainly far from over. In fact, I’m in the “messy middle” right now.
Make no mistake – it isn’t easy. I had to dial in to my inherent resilience and entrepreneurial superpowers to rise up and keep going.
It all begins with your mindset. Let me share some specific practices, which have worked for me.
#1 Find your “WHY”. What drives you to be a successful entrepreneur and what meaning does it bring to you? My primary reason is my infinite love for my family and wanting to give them the best life. Secondly, I have this unrelenting desire to “survive and thrive” through this unprecedented period in our history, as I firmly believe that it will be an extraordinary testament of my true entrepreneurship ability. Do some introspection to deeply understand what fuels your passion. It goes way beyond building a sustainable livelihood. This is going to get you through the difficult days and remind you why failure is not an option.
#2 Fortify your mind. Your thoughts are powerful. Keep your self-talk positive. It will help to grow your belief. Make a daily commitment to listen to, watch or read inspirational articles/videos that will keep you optimistic and motivated. Find those leaders and personal development gurus who resonate with you. A few of my favourite ones are Robin Shama, Simon Sinek and Anthony Robins. Tap into their expertise and success insights through their materials. Make an investment in your individual learning and growth. Your mind will become bulletproof.
#3 Accept that “discomfort is the currency of success”. When you choose to do something significant, there will be obstacles and frustrations. Every day is going to be a struggle. Things will go wrong and there will be setbacks. You will have to “pay your school fees”. Make the decision once – you are going to persist despite the difficulties. Make an effort to celebrate the small wins. When something doesn’t work, bank the learnings and move forward…one day at a time. Remember “NO” = Next Opportunity.
#4 Back yourself with an exceptional work ethic. “No idea works unless you do”. Be prepared to drive the miles and do what it takes to make it work. You will need to put in far more effort to make the same Rand that you did pre-COVID. Take your “A” game to work every day. Strive for excellence in everything that you do. Dedicate yourself to outstanding performance that will “wow” your customers.
#5 Embrace the change. The world is no longer the same. We cannot revert to old business principles. Be prepared to continuously reinvent yourself and your business. Innovation has to be entrenched in our DNA as entrepreneurs of the future. As the environment evolves, there is a necessity to be flexible, adaptable and responsive. The pace of change is going to continue to accelerate.
Remember that you have already taken the bold and courageous step of being an entrepreneur. Use this crisis to reignite your inner creativity, grit and passion to “build back better and stronger”.
I unequivocally believe that collaboration is the cornerstone of the preservation, economic recovery and future sustainability of SMEs. During this period, it is essential to leverage resources through mutually beneficial partnerships, which will enable us to collectively do something of great magnitude and impact. This is a founding principle of my new business, which aims to unlock opportunities for other SMEs, in order to promote local economic growth and development.
So how about we “flip the script” on the negative “C” in coronavirus to:
Imagine a #NewNormal in which, us SMEs: embrace this season of change – to conceptualise new business ideas that can serve our customers – by connecting with each other to collaborate as entrepreneurs – with the goal of co-creating business models for a winning coalition – that can conquer this challenging era – whilst caring for our society. It is time to shine a spotlight on the critical role of SMEs in shaping our country.
I have learnt how to develop an agile business model in an ever- changing landscape.
In my next article, I will share how I entered a sector in which I had no experience and expertise to incubate a new business, in the context of a weakening economy and a deepening pandemic. It is my sincere hope that these specific techniques will also help you, my fellow entrepreneurs, to develop an action plan to safeguard your livelihoods and elevate the contribution of SMEs to our nation.
A final thought…my experience through this process has ignited an ambition to amplify my product offerings to avert another crisis akin to COVID-19. But more on that later…