South Africa has once again been hit by a large scale rollout of load shedding. All across the country, we’ve had to adapt in one way or another in order to ensure that we are able to make food, go shopping, have warm water and more. Business is also suffering the brunt of Eskom’s lack of capacity.

Small, medium and micro-enterprises (SMMEs) are the economic lifeblood of the country. The sector is providing employment to more than eight million South Africans spread across close to five million formal and informal SMMEs, contributing 40% turnover of all enterprises in the country.

“The reality is that many small business owners cannot afford to buy generators to keep the lights on during the rolling blackouts. For them, three or four hours without electricity will have a significant negative financial impact,” says David Seinker, CEO and Founder of The Business Exchange.

Without power, the small business owner is rendered helpless, losing thousands of rands with each instance of load shedding. Here are five ways that small businesses are hit hard by load shedding:

  1. WiFi goes down: WiFi relies on electricity and if businesses aren’t able to log on to the network, do their work and access their emails, there is the potential of missing important information or not being able to deliver on a job.
  2. ATMs don’t always work: Many shopping centres don’t have back-up generators and, as a result, shops are only able to trade in cash. However, if ATMs  in the same centre are offline and without power due to load shedding, then customers aren’t able to withdraw cash for their purchases, meaning that they would have to end up not buying anything.
  3. Restaurants aren’t able to trade: Restaurants are still very reliant on electricity. Without this vital resource available to them, they aren’t able to adequately serve their customers.
  4. It compounds traffic issues: Traffic lights go out when there’s no electricity. This means that there are more traffic jams and the potential for more accidents. The result of this could be a missed meeting, arriving late at work, or goods not being delivered on time.
  5. Security is compromised: When the power shuts down, many security systems don’t operate at optimal levels. This leaves businesses vulnerable to theft and other forms of crime.

Without the contribution of these small businesses, the economy will be considerably worse off than what it is already. Given how load shedding will likely be a reality for the foreseeable future, what can entrepreneurs and small business owners do to survive?

Seinker recommends that on a most basic level, the load shedding schedule should become integrated into their daily calendars, but that while it might be worthwhile planning meetings during such ‘down time’ or other administrative tasks, this is not really a sustainable, long-term solution.

“Co-working spaces, such as those provided by The Business Exchange, are growing in popularity for the innovative ways in which they empower entrepreneurs and small business owners, including combating load shedding by keeping the lights on for those who need to work from a desk,” explains Seinker.

He believes that these flexible workspaces are designed to foster a dynamic ecosystem where people can work together and network with other businesses they might not ordinarily have been exposed to.

“Fundamentally, these co-working environments provide small businesses with access to much larger infrastructure they would not necessarily have been able to afford on their own.”

When load shedding becomes untenable

Working from home or from a stand-alone office places pressure on the small business to ensure that all the required infrastructure is in place. And while in ideal operating conditions, it might be possible to do so cost-effectively, the reality of load shedding means it becomes untenable.

Instead of having to invest in backup power or alternative options, using a co-working environment alleviates that pressure as the vital infrastructure is provided. At face value, small businesses not only get beautifully designed office spaces in central locations, but also access to infrastructure including meeting rooms and internet connectivity.

From fibre to video conferencing facilities, communal kitchens, to secure access and parking, co-working environments are becoming a vital component to ensuring the longevity of small businesses in these challenging times.

The convenience and confidence of being able to work during load shedding makes them worth their proverbial weight in gold alone in our already flailing economy.

Providing business owners with the peace of mind that they can remain focused on doing what they do, instead of worrying about what will happen when the lights go out, mean co-working spaces will grow in popularity and be a key enabler of the growth of the SMME sector in South Africa.

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