Far too many small business owners in South Africa are familiar with the excruciating experience of the internet cutting out. And you can bet it’ll happen right in the middle of something important.
While some may enjoy the endless T-Rex game that Chrome provides when you’re booted offline, most find it a huge frustration. It disrupts the flow of business, hurts productivity and in the long term it can even affect business growth.
A nationwide problem
Research conducted by Xero and World Wide Worx found that almost half of South African small businesses struggle with internet connectivity at work. In addition, over two-thirds (66%) suffered severe issues for up to three days every month, and just under a third, battle internet outages for between five and ten days per month.
Once you equate this time lost with costs incurred by your business, irrespective of whether work is getting done (including staff pay, overtime and office rental) the outlook is far from ideal. A lack of connectivity can have a serious impact on a business’ productivity and profitability.
The web plays a crucial role in nearly every facet of our daily lives; some would argue that it has become a critical infrastructure. Wherever your company is located, and whatever your industry is, reliable connectivity is likely business critical.
The political push for better connectivity
If you’re passionate about getting South Africa online, get to know Alan Knott-Craig (jr). The social entrepreneur is serious about giving the broader population access to the internet. He founded Project Isizwe – a non-profit that is managing the deployment of South Africa’s largest free Wi-Fi network.
It’s already delivering on its promise to bring good connectivity to the masses and is available in municipal buildings around the country. Alan wants the government to see Wi-Fi as a utility – insisting that it can’t be crowdsourced, but must instead be a complete effort by the government together with communities.
During the recent SONA on February 16th, President Cyril Ramaphosa promised to establish a Digital Industrial Revolution Commission – highlighting how “the drive towards the digital industrial revolution will be underpinned by the availability of efficient networks”.
If the president makes good on his promise to upgrade and improve IT infrastructure, small businesses will certainly benefit. If small businesses join forces to apply pressure as Alan suggests, this should speed up the process of securing vital improvements.
Top tips for getting back online
It’s a given that business owners can’t sit around and wait for change. When faced with repeated or extended periods of bad connectivity, there are some (albeit temporary) things you can do to keep things running as smoothly as possible.
Firstly, there’s no reason to be tied to your desk. According to our research, nearly three-quarters of small business owners are laptop users. If you’re among them, take advantage of your increased mobility. With a laptop in hand, you can go straight to a public place with free Wi-Fi.
Libraries, for example, tend to have good Wi-Fi connections, and they’re also great places to focus and get more work done. If you’re in Johannesburg, you have a good selection to choose from, including the City Library, which extended its opening hours so you can get more work done outside of the standard nine to five.
Many coffee shops also provide free Wi-Fi access, so find your favourite, local barista and get connected for the price of a latte. It can also be a great opportunity to network and meet up with other local entrepreneurs or simply enjoy the refreshing contrast of a new environment.
If you’re in Cape Town, for example, head to the Wi-Fi Lounge at the Table Mountain Cableway – you’ll be able to enjoy an amazing view while you work.
Connectivity problems can cause time, money and productivity loss for your business. With the issue gaining greater political prominence, hopefully all businesses will soon be able to consistently connect and avoid problems caused by internet outages. In the meantime, however, small business owners should take control and do everything they can to stay online.