Business in a time of crisis


Written by Edz Payawal. Business consultant & strategist, market researcher, entrepreneur, and director of Surf 2 School (a non-profit organization)

“What is a good business to get into?” is a frequent question I encounter in my line of work. Tasked with monitoring market trends, making assessments and developing creative strategies – business is a language I speak well. For the past 8 years at least, economic indicators were on our side. Forecasts were rosy. Entrepreneurs were armed with optimism and had a good appetite for risk.

But now the question on everyone’s mind is: “Will we survive this corona crisis”?

There is nothing more fitting than the word crisis to describe the current state of the country and the world. The morbid details are well documented and blasted on social media. But what does this mean for business owners? As Thomas Paine puts it, “These are the times that try men’s souls”.

Large companies are expected to show heart. They are called to set aside profitability, prioritise their employees, and demonstrate care for the consumers who feed their top-line.

Headlines read “Conglomerates donate to fight coronavirus”. Multinationals and big brands, such as Nestlé, Ligo, Jollibee, PLDT, Meralco and SMART, are funding employee welfare – providing full month salaries, advancing 13th month pays, allowing flexible working arrangements and reallocating advertising budgets to donate to COVID-19 relief and response efforts. Commercial real estate giants like Ayala Malls, SM Group, Robinsons Land, Megaworld and Filinvest are waiving rental fees amid the lockdown. Meanwhile, Financial institutions and utility companies are delaying due dates. We take our hats off to them and their very deep pockets.

But most businesses remain in limbo. Torn between wanting to do what is needed and what they can actually afford. Cash is king. Unfortunately for us, he is in quarantine.

Treading water, we attempt to maintain some form of normalcy. Fortifying counters with plastic covers we usually use to cover textbooks, arming ourselves with bottles of alcohol and cloth masks, or dispatching delivery services to keep the cash flowing.

We are in a crisis. Businesses are in a crisis. With restricted activities and regulated consumption that is further crippled by distress and uncertainty, cash inflows will slow to a glacial pace. Even more alarming could be the aftershock of this crisis on consumer behaviour.

The business landscape as we know it will never be the same again. But amid the makings of a nightmare – characterised by closures, delays and lay-offs; CRISIS can also mean OPPORTUNITY. It is times like this that pave the way for inspired work and innovative thinking.

It’s back to basics. Fundamentals. Look carefully, and re-examine your space in the marketplace. Get a sense of how your customers’ demands have adapted to the new normal that was shaped by this coronavirus crisis.

Hotels, hostels, tourist transportation, travel agencies, tourism retailers, tour guides and individuals who depend on tourism activities, account for one of the hardest hit industries. Sources say that it could take up to 10 months for the tourism industry to recover as restrictions and paranoia abound. Trips will be postponed, if not cancelled, due to the social demonetisation of travel.

But if we have learned anything from the past, living does not stop with one crisis. Tourists may have fled, but they can eventually return in larger numbers. There is no certainty. The only thing we can control is our response to this unprecedented situation.

We need to ask ourselves, WHY is Siargao one of the “world’s best holiday destinations?” The beaches, waves, parties, friendliness of locals, and good food – are simply generic features that can be claimed by almost any other place. We have to know what lies beneath. What truly makes for a unique Siargao experience? And how can we effectively and collectively use it to compete with other destinations?

Photo by Fernando Sepe

Commercial spaces, retailers, services and food establishments will also feel the pinch. Their prognosis is dim in a world of social distancing. Bars, restaurants, venues, spas, salons, and event coordinators that rely so heavily on person-to-person contact and a high volume of traffic will face tough decisions.

Shift gears. Adapt. That’s the only way to fare this turbulent weather. And though we may receive support from our local community, business owners and those who are self-employed must find new spaces or opportunities beyond the traditional. Online retail, for example, will continue to take over as more customers spend less time in public. Supply chains and vendor relations need to be fortified against a potential slowdown.

Photo by Fernando Sepe

At the other end of the spectrum, we have micro-businesses, along with full-time, daily and non-salaried workers feeling the full weight of this economic sledgehammer. Finding alternative ways to stay afloat will not be easy.

Though we can’t determine the full consequence of the coronavirus crisis, a general slowdown of various other industries will keep people on a tight budget for some time. Even households that depend on Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) remittances will need to brace themselves for the global impact of this pandemic.

Vulnerable members of society, low-income families and MSMEs are all at the mercy of the government’s compassion and efficiency. As calamity funds are released and national budgets are “realigned”, we only hope that help truly finds its way into the hands of those who need it the most (and not into the pockets of those who are just chilling and directing).

A crisis represents both danger and opportunity. And by all accounts, this one is unprecedented. There is no telling how this will change tomorrow. Every business and everyone needs to stretch and be as elastic as possible. Have the courage to overcome change and go further. Better days are ahead.

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