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Sri Lankan Entrepreneurs facing COVID-19 By Dr. Thesara Jayawardane

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Social distancing and lengthy lockdown periods imposed by the government has left the entrepreneurs no choice but to operate distantly with minimal staff working from home or online. Entertainment, event planning, hospitality, automotive, tourism, bridal, retail, restaurant and transportation are some of the most affected industries due to COVID-19. A recent study identified that female entrepreneurs experienced a higher revenue loss compared to their male counterparts as female entrepreneurs work in industries which faced most severe impact from COVID-19.

Sri Lankan government tried to implement many measures to assist the entrepreneurs during this unexpected time by facilitating periods of interest free loan repayments and providing monthly allowances and subsidiaries for entrepreneurs and small business owners. The main intention was to ensure the entrepreneurial ventures would remain open and retain their employees on the payroll but it was an impractical process for the government to continue.

Findings from a recent survey done on Sri Lankan entrepreneurs recognized that the challenges they faced during COVID-19 include obtaining new clients/customers, getting financial support and funds, retaining existing clients/customers, increasing shareholder monetary support, uncertainty and personal doubt. Even in spite of facing these challenges many Sri Lankan entrepreneurs have come up with new inventions amidst the pandemic and made novel and innovative ideas in to entrepreneurial ventures. Some of these innovative and novel findings have assisted the general public invaluably during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The heated humidified oxygen therapy units by Sri Lanka Air Force, the robot which provides COVID-19 related medical advice, pedestal hand washer, hygiene door opening handle, and disinfectant face shield by SLINTEC are some of the machinery and equipment invented du——ring the pandemic. Similarly novel computer applications were innovated to accurately track and predict COVID-19 spread, identify the operating Covid-19 vaccination centers, find the available quarantine facilities and hotels, as well as educational applications to assist students to learn through online mode.

Entrepreneurs in Focus

The entrepreneurs have no choice but to adjust their business methods in order to sustain in this global pandemic. The successful entrepreneurs are the ones who transformed their ventures in to online mode. It is a known fact that the entrepreneurs are comparatively braver in facing uncertainties and risks and, this pandemic has proven such extraordinary skills of Sri Lankan entrepreneurs who fought the COVID-19 crisis. Many Sri Lankan entrepreneurs transferred their full time employees in to part time or contractual workers and, majority of entrepreneurs opened up online delivery of goods as a subdivision to their main business. Some service based entrepreneurs who faced reduction in cash flow has started new business ideas in to ventures or even joined new employments. The pandemic has created an emerging type of “no-meeting-face-to-face” type of entrepreneurial ventures.

The Sri Lankan entrepreneurs can start adjusting to this new normal situation and conquer by confronting the challenge. The first step in surviving the crisis is accepting it as it is. Once the situation is accepted, the obstacles can be identified and dealt with wisely. First and foremost it is important to understand that every crisis will have its’ expiry date and this COVID-19 too shall pass.

Covid19 Challenges and Solutions

Many entrepreneurs have claimed to have lost their will or the drive during the pandemic. This is a testing time to cultivate mental strength and be a successful entrepreneur amidst the economic downturn. It is essential that you continuously remind yourself of the reasons for the startup and must believe in the first novel idea which you invented to make a business venture.

Your 5 year plan along with the vison and mission can be read frequently for self-inspiration. Believe in the futuristic goals you set for yourself and the objectives you listed at the start. Continue without giving up and failing your employees, your clients/customers, your investors, your family and most importantly yourself. The contingency plans that were outlined in the Business Plan should come in to practice at a time like this.

Minimise all unnecessary expenses and be very critical and thrifty with finances. Even one’s own salary can be minimized and, ensure to priorities the payments accordingly which includes the basic salaries of the employees. Importance must be upon customer retention and their satisfaction which will bring success once the crisis is over. Analyse the capabilities of the human resources from the top management to the bottom in line and delegate and re structure duties and responsibilities to suit the new pandemic environment. Safety and well-being of the employees must be given priority in order to groom loyal workers throughout the venture, even after the pandemic. Identify and provide the requirements if they work from home and, constantly communicate with them for morale boosting during the uncertain times. Being flexible and honest will be a virtue to adapt that will bring success and allegiance, in return.

The lockdown and working from home would take a toll on anyone and, allowing time for easing off physically and mentally is important. Delegate and share the work load and give priority to the tasks that require your personal attention. Plan weekly and daily schedules allowing the mental and physical wellbeing of both yourself and your employees taken in to consideration. Identify the best time of the day you are productive and plan the high work load for that period. It is important to make time for relaxing, breathing fresh air and exercising.

The negative thoughts could bring anyone down and social distancing and periodical lockdowns are certainly not helpful. Make time for a hobby, listening to relaxing music and even meditation if the mind needs peace and quiet. Mental and physical health should be given utmost importance as the virus can affect anyone. Look after yourself and the immediate family and ensure their health and wellbeing is assured.

As the future is unpredictable, it is high time to come up with a flexible entrepreneurial model that would be suitable to withstand the crisis in a hybrid manner. The reality is that having multiple contingency plans would be ideal. Diversifying your customer bases and their needs would be the immediate step to take. Attracting various demographic groups with different requirements and catering to them successfully would ensure a durable venture.

New marketing and promotional campaigns can be incorporated using free of charge social media and other digital platforms. This will attract consumers from outside Sri Lanka who could become potential customers in the future. Efficient and intelligent use of technology would be the success factor which distinguishes your business from the rest.

Entrepreneurs should always be alert and mindful of their competitors. Even during the pandemic it should not get lost from your sight. Identify the competitive businesses that are successful amidst the COVID-19 and analyse their success factors. Similarly keeping a watchful eye out for indirect competitors, substitutes and newly emerging competitive businesses is a must for survival. Ensure your entrepreneurial venture stands for what you claim for and maintain consistency in quality, customer care and delivery which will in return safeguard your continuance.

This pandemic could be the best time to tie up new alliances and start making collaborations. Identify areas where you can join hands with another venture or a business where both parties could benefit and, initiate the coalition. This could even benefit when working against a common competitor and, would in return bring recognition, gain customer base and increase revenue gradually.

This is a time to activate the innovator in you. Look at all the situations as a problem solver and come up with novel ideas as business solutions. While many business people act clueless and helpless during the COVID-19, it is time for the entrepreneurial minds to shine with bright and new ideas to resolve necessities arising all around.

Way-Forward

Effects of COVID-19 will remain around the world for a long period of time and this would open up new needs and requirements for the new normal way of living. It will present many opportunities for entrepreneurs to introduce innovative products and services and succeed the market. In order to support the growing economy and blossoming industries, the government must provide appropriate support and guidance to cultivate these entrepreneurs. Even though the pandemic has brought a lot of failures upon entrepreneurial activities, it has also flourished many more new entrepreneurial ventures and taught us the importance of innovativeness.

According to history, many accomplished entrepreneurial ventures have started during diastral times, thus, this pandemic should not be seen as an obstacle but in fact an opportunity to develop and grow. Entrepreneurs who are generally expected to come across obstacles and difficulties frequently, should treat COVID-19 as the same. Practice the same courageous attitude you would use approaching any challenge you normally face and bring the successful entrepreneur in you to fight back.

How the entrepreneurs give priority to innovation and value the new systems will determine the success and the survival of their entrepreneurial venture.

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