It’s tough out there! 3 reasons I’m hopeful about small business in South Africa

It’s tough out there! 3 reasons I’m hopeful about small business in South Africa

Stagflation is being bandied around a lot! In my mind… fair play. It is a jolly tough operating environment. But, where there is pain, there is also opportunity.


Prices are up. Here we can blame COVID, China, and Putin. COVID for the supply shortages and logistics challenges resulting from 2-years of global lockdowns. China for totally overreacting to the recent COVID outbreak and locking its citizens and companies down, kicking and screaming (literally). Putin for marching into the Ukraine, disrupting a pretty important source of global food commodities, and driving rocketing oil prices thanks to Europe rejecting Russian oil (a noble and necessary short-term pain).

Unemployment is up. Our unemployment stats are a disaster at the best of times. Post COVID it is an apocalypse. Each time I open Facebook, I am confronted with another emigrating family recommending their domestic helpers for employment. It reminds me that if there were similar Facebook posts for businesses, I would see even more delightful, capable, and deserving people losing their jobs. Heart breaking.

Economic growth is flat. Here in South Africa, we’ve struggled for a long time to pick our economic growth levels up. Our local operating environment generally doesn’t favour excellence, innovation, and investment. As a result, we bumble along trying our best but not achieving greatness (and growth) as a nation.

And yet, as bleak as this picture may be, I am hopeful and believe there remains great opportunity for small business to grow and make a difference.


Be excellent and stand out.

Because there is so much mediocrity around us, we have it easier here. The market is smaller, but the competition is smaller too. We often aren’t competing with large numbers of other businesses that are working as hard as we are to win.

And so if we dedicate ourselves to excellence, there is great opportunity to stand out. If we do something, we must do it well. We must take satisfaction from continually learning, from perfecting our craft, and from holding ourselves to the highest standards. Because if we can hold ourselves to the highest standards even while things around us fall apart, we will stand out like a beacon. And if there are enough beacons, then we can collectively make a difference regardless of the factors outside our control.

Just do it.

The national characteristic (forgive me for generalising) that I am most proud of as a South African, is our collective will to make things happen. To get things done. There is always a lot to complain about, and often fairly so. But generally, we shrug our shoulders, comment that there’s not much we can do about it and roll up our sleeves.

There are some great examples of this in South African business. Outsurance is directing traffic at faulty traffic lights. Discovery is out repairing potholes. Yellowwoods Venture Investments founded and grew Harambee into a public-private partnership that is having great impact addressing youth unemployment. The examples are numerous and inspiring. When we seize the opportunities that are often hidden in our difficult operating environment, it gives us the chance to contribute and to grow – often beyond our wildest expectations.

Nurture the greatness.

While so much of what is around us is mediocre, there is also greatness. I’ve recently begun working with a young man called Lourence. Lourence grew up near Brits, lost both his parents before he finished school, was supported by his grandmother until she died, contracted and was set back by tuberculosis, is studying mathematics and physics at Unisa, and founded and runs a professionally organised tutoring business to support himself. He has no experience running a small business, but he knows what his students need to succeed, and he provides it at the highest standard.

Without undermining Lourence’s greatness and uniqueness, there are many, many, many more individuals like him. As small businesses, we can identify these individuals, nurture and develop them, and give them the opportunities to succeed – whether in our business, another business, or their own business. The more successful small businesses we have, the greater the opportunity for all of us.