South Africa’s workspace provider introduces ‘online blind dating’ for SMMEs as it calls for greater public support

Following the introduction of online blind dating sessions for struggling small businesses, leading Johannesburg workspace provider, Workshop17, shares ideas on how to support SMMEs during the COVID-19 lockdown.

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With several offices in the Western Cape and one in Maboneng, downtown Johannesburg, the flexible workspace provider recently launched a virtual hub to connect and support entrepreneurs struggling to cope during COVID-19 lockdown as many were forced to reduce business operations or shut down completely.

Small, medium and micro enterprises form a critical backbone of the South African economy, creating close to 50 percent of the country’s employment opportunities.

As the National Development Plan optimistically anticipates for SMEs to contribute to about 90% of new jobs in South Africa by 2030, the survival of small businesses is more than ever of paramount importance. 

Passionate about entrepreneurship, Paul Keursten, CEO of Workshop17 said the global COVID-19 crisis has far-reaching implications as it is not only rapidly changing the way we live and work, but “threatens the health of our people”. 

Speaking exclusively to NOWinSA about some of the key issues facing local SMMEs and how Worskshop17 is assisting them, Keursten said: 

“Our view is that the most pressing concern for most businesses right now is business continuity in the face of decreased or completely paused trade during the lockdown period. With reduced or no revenue, overhead expenses are one of the key areas keeping business owners up at night.”

Open for business: Workshop17 is now open to guests and clients with level 4 clearance

To support their clients during this trying times, even though the space was temporarily closed and is now open to guests with level 4 clearance, Workshop17 is offering the following relief, among others, to current members for May 2020:

·       No rental increases (effective July each year) until end 2020 for current paid up members 
·       Rental discounts for certain months.
·       A number of free credits for use at Workshop17 cafe’s, for paid up members. This is also to support the cafes trading on our premises (also SMMEs) when they re-open.

·       An open door policy to negotiate further relief for entrepreneurs that are really struggling. 

The above mentioned measures have been put in place in addition to the company’s Entrepreneur Toolbox, which provides members access to useful resources such as apps, relevant webinars, podcasts, motivational playlists as well as tips on how to be productive when working from home.

The company also provides support sessions and have introduced ‘online blind dating’ where it matches members from the same industries and let them blind network without having previously met. 

In addition to various WhatsApp groups, these sessions are aimed at bringing a real sense of community and support during this stressful time.

“We’ll also be using our Entrepreneur Toolbox and other virtual resources to remind our community that situations such as these provide an opportunity for innovation,” added Keurstent.

“It’s clear that this disruptive period in the long term will change the way businesses operate in the future. Those businesses that can meet the needs of the public in a changing world will find a way to thrive in the uncertain economic future.”

Cognizant that even more people will need to put on their entrepreneurial hat in order to survive post COVID-19, the company is also looking at how the pandemic and some of the forced changes it introduces will impact the workspace of the future.

“We are embracing this chance and preparing for the work life of the future.” 

Passionate about entrepreneurship; Paul Keursten, CEO of Workshop17

Tips to help support small businesses during COVID-19 

Workshop17 is well-known for its passion for entrepreneurs. The company’s first working space opened in 2012 in Maboneng, Johannesburg.

These days the company offers an extensive portfolio of high-quality, collaborative workspaces across the country with 1 700 member capacity to SMEs, freelancers and nomadic workers.

The company has put together the following ideas on how South Africans can continue to support small local businesses during the lockdown period:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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. 
  • 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.
  • 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.

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