When a person is accused of being a pessimist, the usual answer is something like “I’m not a pessimist, I’m a realist”.
I’m definitely not a pessimist, but I must confess that just like many South African small businessmen, the seemingly poor governance in this country, the failings of our power supply, the lack of economic growth and the violent protests by the impoverished, has made me very concerned about our future.
I have lived in this country for the past 45 years and have no intention of moving, but I do have very close business and family associates in the UK and visit them often. In my discussions with them, I cannot tell you how many times they have thrown that old anecdote at me which describes a frog slowly being boiled alive. The premise is that if a frog is placed in boiling water, it will jump out, but if it is placed in cold water that is slowly heated, it will not perceive the danger and will die.
Whether this is true or not (I’ve never tried it and definitely will not), it does succinctly describe some of the things that we get used to here in South Africa. Just look at crime – is there a family here that has not been affected? My colleagues overseas think we’re all mad to stay here. The truth is that we are used to it, and react accordingly.
So as business people do we run away? No, I think not. The vast majority of us will weather the storm and wait (and certainly hope) for economic change.
But what are we to do in the meantime? We see our turnovers dropping, we see competitors entering our market and eating into our market share, and we see continually rising costs all impacting negatively on our bottom line.
There is, of course, an answer. We have to access new markets – and one of the better markets is the UK. Believe it or not, you can get access to it very easily and with very little cost. Some South African businesses have been selling to buyers in the UK for years, and they are thriving.
The English are not always comfortable buying from a company many miles away – they like to think that there is a local company to complain to if necessary, so it is prudent to open a branch of your business there and it is actually surprisingly easy to do this.