Keeping businesses alive (Part three)
EYES WIDE OPEN - Iris Gonzales (The Philippine Star) - October 22, 2020 - 12:00am

One of my favorite pastimes before COVID-19 struck was visiting the friendly neighborhood seamstress. I would often ask her to alter clothes to perfection or turn fabric patches into ornamental coverings, kitchen towels or what-have-you.

Sadly, her shop has closed and now, she is struggling to eke out a living. Many other non-essential businesses near my place have shut down as well – salons, stores and curio shops.

Indeed, many businesses are either dead or dying.

Our authorities have not done enough to keep businesses alive, especially the micro, small and medium enterprises.

Early quarantine guidelines have failed big time. Even the liquor bans seemed useless and only hurt restaurant owners.

The much needed stimulus package, likewise, came too late and has yet to be fully released. Of the latest stimulus package of P140 billion, only around P50 billion has been released for COVID-19 interventions, according to the Department of Budget and Management. Part of this, or P8 billion, has been allotted for displaced workers and P6 billion for livelihood programs.

But these interventions are not enough. Businesses continue to suffer, especially the smaller ones.  Authorities must do more – hasten the release of funds, provide financial assistance and continue to open up the economy.

From closures to mobility restrictions

Ellana Cosmetics, an SME cosmetics brand, had to close brick and mortar stores to manage losses during the early days of lockdown.

“Half of our company is composed of saleswomen... So, half of them basically had no job when we closed our physical shops,” says its founder Theresa Carbonel-Buenaflor.

There were also concerns on mobility and manpower limitations.

Ronaldo Cervantes, owner of R Cervantes Construction Services, had to deal with such problems. Projects were still pouring in, but mobility restrictions remained a challenge.

Ednalyn Regala, owner of Pampanga-based Sweet Aroma One Stop Baking Tools & Supplies, experienced a similar setback. “During the first month of the lockdown, nag-close din talaga ako.”

Sme loans

While some had no choice but to close shop, other SMEs adjusted their operations to stay afloat. Some tapped loans to keep a steady cash flow.

“There’s a lot of adjusting. We repurposed our people to allow them to keep their jobs, despite store closures. We’ve transitioned the retail team to tele-sales...Everybody was contributing to the sales earned from this channel. And during this period, we have actually grown three times,” Ellana Cosmetics’ Buenaflor says.

Buenaflor, Cervantes, and Regala applied for business loans to keep their businesses operating amid the pandemic.

“We had to borrow for cash flow because we were still collecting receivables and we had overhead costs, especially with the mandatory testing and the need to shuttle everyone back and forth. It is very costly for businesses to operate now,” Buenaflor laments.

Sweet Aroma’s Regala says the loan would also help her company expand after COVID-19.

The three SMEs borrowed their loans from Ayala-led BPI. BPI business banking head Eric Luchangco says getting a business loan during these challenging times entails calculated risks, but this can help owners sustain their businesses.

Preparing for a comeback

What’s it like for headhunters or talent acquisition companies in this time of rising unemployment?

I asked my friend and former schoolmate from JASMS, Joao Miranda, how his talent acquisition and managed talent services company TalentumPH is navigating the crisis.

Before the pandemic, TalentumPH was able to build its network and established formal engagements with different enterprises, providing sourcing, recruitment, and organizational development services for clients.

“Suddenly, due to the pandemic, we saw an 80 percent loss in our revenue,” says Joao.

But Joao’s JASMS DNA kept him going. In that school of play and hard knocks, we were taught to live life to the fullest, but also to never give up when the going gets tough.

He was advised to freeze and file a temporary closure.

“This meant that we did not have to pay our dues and obligations. I did not agree and I pushed on. For me, this was the perfect time to keep building and to grow. I honored my contracts... I decided to forego my revenue for the next three quarters and use the revenue from that good start to develop. When everything comes back, I will be ready,” he says.

Joao set his eyes on the goal – on the long-term, post-pandemic future – veering away from being known as just an executive search and recruitment company.

His company repositioned itself and focused on building talent networks composed of highly skilled professionals in technology, finance and life sciences. Now, TalentumPH can design custom and hybrid talent solutions for critical technology and business initiatives for their clients.

“We at TalentumPH want to make sure we continue to provide relentless and innovative customer service for our talent network and clients. We are grateful to have earned their trust and still be in business in this time of adversity,” he shares with me.

Indeed, COVID-19 has affected everyone. Many have lost jobs and layoffs continue as I write this.

The economy is on its knees. I hope the government will see the need for more serious interventions to keep businesses alive. As I said, entrepreneurs need more help – financial assistance, government-supported markets and clearer guidelines on how to proceed with their businesses in these trying times.

These and more are what they need, if only to have that unerring sense that they will make it through this extraordinary crisis.

 

 

Iris Gonzales’ email address is eyesgonzales@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @eyesgonzales. Column archives at eyesgonzales.com

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