The Ultimate COVID-19 Survival Guide for SMEs

Updated on 8 April 2020

Subscription Form (#66)


The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and it’s impact on business and the economy, has and will continue to test business owners on every level – operationally, financially and mentally.

“The next few months are going to be brutal for small businesses. As small business owners, we are going to have to take absolute responsibility for every aspect of our businesses,” said Vusi Thembekwayo, CEO of MyGrowthFund.

To help entrepreneurs do just that, we’ve gathered some of the best advice we have heard from Thembekwayo and other local entrepreneurship champions and organisations.

Below is a comprehensive list of tools and resources to help business owners navigate through this tough time.



Some tips as to how you can help support local small businesses and entrepreneurs during COVID-19.

By: Paul Keursten, CEO and Co-Founder of Workshop17

  1. Purchase gift cards for use after this crisis

Some local businesses offer gift cards online for various products and services. Or enquire from your favourite small local business whether they can provide gift cards. By purchasing these online gift cards now, your gesture provides the business with desperately needed cash flow to make it through these hard times. It also provides some hope for the future.

2. Try and reschedule appointments, don’t cancel

While it is uncertain how long the current situation will last, instead of cancelling appointments rather reschedule in an effort to show your loyal support. Having the reassurance that they have business appointments lined-up when the situation ends will go a long way to boost morale.

3. Spread the word

Tell your friends, colleagues, neighbours and family about your favourite small business and their services and products, especially if they are operating remotely during this period. By spreading the word, you can create interest and future support. If possible, share details about your experiences with the business and promote their website, and relevant social media platforms with your network.

4. Share a positive review

Take some time to leave a positive review online of your favourite small business. This will be a boost of confidence for the business owner and help spread the word of the business offering.

5. Communicate and connect

Stay in contact with your favourite small business owners and entrepreneurs that you know well. Check-in on them, offer to listen, or simply say thank you – this can go a long way.


Businesses are having to quickly adapt to the COVID-19 challenge. There are measures, however, that businesses can adopt to ensure that they adopt the necessary skills, resources and strategies to make it through this challenging period.


1. Get close… not literally – Vusi Thembekwayo
Make a list of your top 10 customers, and while maintaining social distancing, go and see them or at the very least get a teleconference. Unscheduled visits, calls, whatever it takes. Get 10 minutes of their time and find out what is important to them right now. Hearing your customer’s most pressing needs will allow you to reposition your services/products/offerings to ensure that you are easing their pain and are top of mind. More importantly, it allows you to discuss invoicing and ensure that money owed will be honoured.

2. Stay in touch with your customers – Facebook
Proactively share important information with your customers using email, your website or social media messaging platforms. You might include information about the measures you’re taking to make your premises or products safe, or how you will handle customer enquiries if there are expected delivery delays.

3. Provide a list of frequently asked questions (FAQs) – Facebook
Prepare a list of responses for questions your customers are likely to ask (COVID-19- related or not) and provide as much detail and reassurance as possible in your answers.

4. Prepare a customer service plan – Facebook
Be responsive and transparent with your customers during these challenging times, prepare for incoming questions and requests. Consider drafting templated responses for your emails or set up instant-reply messages with information you expect your customers will be looking for.


The time to lead is now – Nic Haralambous, entrepreneur, global keynote speaker, and published author
In this time of crisis, you need to lead with conviction and compassion. In these trying times (and from today, always) you must communicate openly and frequently.  You must lead with care and decisiveness.

You must engage on a human level and grasp that people are scared and feel alone. Understanding and patience go much further than aggression and instruction.

You must trust your team to do the right thing at the right time for themselves, for you, your company and their fellow humans. If you don’t think they can do the right thing then you are working or living with the wrong people. Now is the time to figure this out.

Cash flow

5. Manage and conserve cash – Vusi Thembekwayo
The next few months are going to be extremely cash strapped. So, focus on signed contracts and collect on them. Re-look at your invoice terms, invoices issued and due, and start collecting aggressively.

6. Cut costs – Investmint
If you are renting an office space or a hot desk, try and put your rent on hold for a few months.
Host Skype / Google Hangout meetings to save on travel costs and time (we encourage social isolation).


7. Ensure adequate lines of credit – Vusi Thembekwayo
Right now, we need short-term credit facilities, which must be used judiciously, and can tide you over for the next 90 days. Speak with your bank or banker. Extend your overdraft if you must, but know that the next 90 days will be the most critical for your business. Unless you have a 90 day cover – current assets to current liabilities – do the sums, and visit the bank. There is a very difficult time ahead, and banks will become more stringent in their lending criteria in the near future. Do this now.


8. Discuss possible outcomes with your staff – Vusi Thembekwayo
Steady and calm their nerves. There’s an excellent handbook created by 1mg, which small business owners can share: We will see liquidations and retrenchments in the coming months. Talk to your people now, first, about the implications of the virus, and how to curb its spread in the workplace. Ensure you have the right cleaning products available, and meet with our cleaning staff and impress on them the importance of using these products correctly and frequently. My staff are rightfully concerned about using public transport. Discussing flexible work hours, or working from home where possible, are necessary precautions at this time. Many small businesses simply cannot afford to have their staff work from home, so flexibility is key.

9. Be open and honest – Seraj Toefy, Custodian of Entrepreneurship at the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB)
Remind your clients that you are still operational, offer help and support. Your staff will be anxious, so help them through this time by being as open and honest with them as you can. It is ok to be vulnerable; you may be surprised by how much support you receive. There have been several cases of companies where staff are choosing reduced hours and pay instead of laying people off at this time.


By: Denise Broady, COO at WorkForce Software

10. Have a daily schedule and priorities 
This includes a to-do list of daily activities and priorities, plan your day as  if you are going into an office, plan social and dedicated breaks.

11. Plan your day as you if you are going into an office
Get dressed, plan lunch meals, minimize distractions – use the video camera to stay focused and plan for unexpected or lack of child care support (especially for parents with young kids).

Website Design for Entrepreneurs – Beyond Colours and Copy


By: Thomas Vollrath, 1-Grid CEO

12. Enhance your website content. Keep your website content fresh and ensure that it provides enough information for the reader to understand your business and the need that you satisfy. Catering to these fundamentals are paramount to building a strong relationship with your visitors and potential customers. Dedicating the time here isn’t easy, so consider outsourcing this essential requirement to a professional web design agency.

13. Call to Action (CTA). A CTA encourages your customer to perform an action on your site. Prompt customers to browse freely by providing them with CTA’s. These will improve the overall interactions on your websites as customers are selecting where they want to be.

14. Online Contact Forms. Keep your forms short and simple, this will encourage users to complete them. Eliminate the unnecessary requests of information, you can get that from the customer once you have contacted them. And please… contact the customer.

15. Reviews and testimonials. Reassure the stability you provide to customers and prove your trustworthiness to them. Include customer testimonials on your website to motivate new customers as to why they should choose you instead of your competitor.

Online events

16. Try hosting online events – Facebook
In case you need to postpone or cancel any planned events as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, connect with your customers directly on their phone with an online webinar, organise live sessions using social channels, record videos and podcasts, and leverage social media posts and instant messaging.

17. Engage attendees – Marang Marekimane, founder, Business Processes Mechanics
Make sure the platform you use can grow with you to support a large audience and has chat features. ClickMeeting works very well for this. The chat function is so the speaker can answer questions at the end of the presentation.
For the ambience, set a dress code or a theme. For example, a virtual dinner party where all the attendees sat at a dinner table to have their meal, a glass of their favourite drink and engaging conversation.


18. Practice co-opetition – Seraj Toefy, Custodian of Entrepreneurship at the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB)
Co-opetition is when you cooperate with your competition. Now is not the time to try and beat one’s competition, but to reach out and see if one could share workloads, share knowledge and work together to try and survive this. “Rising tides lift all ships, and never before have we needed ships to be lifted as much as now.”


19. Read and study – Seraj Toefy, Custodian of Entrepreneurship at the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB)
As an entrepreneur, your single biggest asset is you. Use this time to work on yourself. Read books or study online. There are several short courses that one could do while in isolation.

Cyber threats

20. Minimise cyber threats – Mark Gilroy, CEO of Fornetix
• Be suspicious of any emails asking people to check or renew their passwords and login credentials.
• Be suspicious of emails from people you don’t know
• Ensure your Wi-Fi connection is secure

Full List of Free or Inexpensive Online Courses for Small Business Owners


With many businesses slowing down or closing because of COVID-19 and the lock down, entrepreneurs are being encouraged to re-look  their skills and to up their knowledge. Online courses offer multiple opportunities for training in various fields, from financial management and basic coding skills to digital marketing and design. 

21. Digital Skills for Africa – Google Digital Garage
Learn: Online advertising, mobile advertising, content marketing, search engine marketing, productivity, coding, basics of machine learning, networking, business communication, etc.

22. LinkedIn Learning
Learn: Content marketing, SEO, social media marketing, email marketing, lead generation, project management, data analysis, accounting, etc.

23. Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) Network
Learn: Grant writing, effective communication, networking, public speaking, pitching, creating a business plan, developing a business model, etc.

24. Hubspot Academy
Learn: Social media marketing, inbound sales, inbound marketing, content marketing, video marketing, search engine optimization, brand engagement, business blogging, graphic design, etc.

25. Coursera
Learn: Machine learning, software development, data management, cloud computing, business administration, mobile and web development, etc.

26. Udemy
Learn: Cyber security, network hacking, programming, accounting, forex trading, analytics, data science, sales techniques, social media marketing, copywriting, Google ads, etc.

27. Skillshare
Learn: Thousands of free classes for career, passions and interests. Topics include design, business, marketing, technology, photography, film, fashion, music, gaming, cooking, writing, DIY.


SME South Africa has compiled a list of South African podcasts that you can listen to during the COVID-19 lock down. Whether for leisure purposes or to upskill yourself, here is a list of amazing and informative South African podcasts.


28. Mashstartup

Mashstartup is a podcast hosted by Mashudu Modau, a platform created to encourage, empower and educate young people in Africa on entrepreneurship and business. Mashudu interviews African entrepreneurs and gathers insights about everything from partnerships, challenges, failure to the landscape of entrepreneurship in Africa. Guests range from Luyanda Jafta of the People’s Fund to Katlego Maphai of YOCO.

29. Making SMEs Matter

Marnus Broodryk, author, entrepreneur and former SharkTankSA judge, shares some intimate conversations with top South African entrepreneurs about how you can make your business better. He interviews South African business moguls from music legend turned businessman, DJ Sbu, to Sorbet’s Ian Fuhr. Educational, inspirational and insightful, it’s definitely worth a listen.

Joe Human of Pioneers VS Pretenders podcast.

30. The Expansive

The Expansive is a podcast hosted by John Sanei and Erik Kruger that aims to help you to expand your personal reality, business and your perceptions of what is possible. In one of the episodes John and Erik reflect on a letter that John received that had him questioning what he is projecting. There are some valuable takeaways in that episode and many others. They are funny and informative, definitely a podcast to listen to if you are an entrepreneur.

Marketing and Branding

31. Lessons With Lion

Lessons with Lion podcast is hosted by the voice of marketing in South Africa, entrepreneur and  social media strategist Lebo Lion. Her podcast is strictly dedicated to marketing, digital and entrepreneurship for African people. Her passion and love for the SME sector translates in her podcasts, educating small businesses on everything from customer relations to growth strategies for small businesses.

32. Pioneers VS Pretenders

Joe Human – an industry thought leader known famously for his informative marketing and branding threads on Twitter – is the host of this podcast and its nothing shy of the branding personality we have all grown to know. His podcast is progressive. He leads impactful conversations around creative culture, digital entrepreneurship and the life of African creatives. He has interviewed Austin Malema, Tshepo Mohlala (Tshepo the JeanMaker), Sibu Mpanza, Dillion S Phiri, and many more.

33. The Brain and Brand

The Brain and Brand show is hosted by Timothy Maurice, a four times, bestselling author. The show looks at understanding the relationship between human and brand behaviour. You definitely need to listen to this if you are an entrepreneur and would like to understand human behaviour and how people respond to brands. In his recent episode, Timothy interviews people about their meaning of happiness.


34. Optimizing- Leading Africa’s Digital Future

An inter-generational conversation between Professor Barry Dwolatzky and Kerryn Gammie. Professor Dwolatzky is the head of Wits University’s Joburg Centre for Software Engineering (JCSE) and founder of the Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct, while Karryn is a newcomer in the world of digital technology. The aim of the podcast is to share the wisdom and experiences of the South African and African digital community. Definitely worth listening to if you are keen to understand the world of technology.


35. She Brigade

If you’re looking for something both empowering and motivational, Pelontle Mosimege’s She Brigade podcast is the podcast for you. Pelontle talks to amazing, inspirational women across South Africa, from corporate professionals to entrepreneurs. She digs deep, asks all the right questions to uncover the journey that has led them to being the women they are today. Famously, at the very end she asks the question “What would you tell your younger self?” and the answers are amazing. It’s worth a listen.

36. Conversations with Mpoomy and Yolz

Conversation with Mpoomy and Yolz is hosted by influencers, entrepreneurs and YouTubers Nompumelelo Ledwaba and Yolenda Jawe. The duo tap into insightful and inspirational conversations, bringing positive energy and light to current affairs. They talk about all things from empowerment to mentorship.

37. The Office Podcast

 The Office podcast is hosted by Lelo B, Keagile and Lyton. The trio aim to help their listeners to navigate through the world of work. They use their extensive years of experience in corporate South Africa to discuss career related issues. Their podcast is filled with laughter and tons of information about the workplace.

Get Weekly 5-Minutes Business Advice

Subscribe to receive actionable business tips and resources.

Subscription Form (#66)

Feeling Stuck?