Turning Lemons into Lemonade- Three Business Strategies for Thriving in Challenging Times.


According to World-renowned Futurist and scenario planner Clem Sunter, much of the world, including South Africa is heading into a period of zero or at best, moderate growth. The latest downward revision by the World Bank of our projected GDP growth to only 2% gives further weight to this opinion, creating a scary scenario for many in business.

These are the times that separate the men from the boys. As the clouds gather there are those who will curl up around a warm fire of negativity and share doom and gloom stories with each other, and those who will stick their head in the sand and carry on regardless, as their businesses crumble quietly around them. But there is a third set of business leaders who will tighten their belts, lift their eyes to the future and start planning – knowing with confidence that there is an opportunity in every situation.

These are the entrepreneurs who will find ways not just to survive, but indeed to thrive.

So what key strategies will these survivors be using in a flat economy? Scenario planning is an excellent tool for business and an essential one in an uncertain world, such as the one we currently live in. In Clem Sunter’s book “Think like a Fox” he explains the process of developing future possibilities and crafting business strategies to deal with them. In this way, businesses can imagine ‘living the future’ and plan accordingly.

Scenario planning aside, there are three things that good business owners will be doing right now.

Firstly, wily entrepreneurs will be working hard to contain costs and build resilience, including healthy cash reserves, by increasing pressure on debtors and negotiating harder with creditors. They will be on-the-ball, checking unnecessary expenses and finding ways to curtail running costs – using strategies such as shared rental space, shared services, and outsourced staff. These savings will help to keep prices down, without cutting into profit margins. They will  also be keeping an eye on their competitors and exploit opportunities that come available as others falter.

Secondly, businesses will be building and strengthening their brand, focusing especially on solid customer service and added value to customers. This brand will be consistent all the way from the advertising promise to the delivery van, after-sales service, and even the cleaning lady. It is all about growing customer loyalty and developing long-term relationships with customers.

Lastly, the importance of innovation in a slow economy cannot be over-emphasised. In a stagnant market as a sales volumes drop, it is fresh ideas and new product concepts that open a jaded consumers eyes, and wallet!

Wily entrepreneurs will know that the right questions to ask are “How can we innovate given the tight financial times?”, and ”How can we find the right staff for these new tasks?” The fact is that some local SMEs are managing to do this quite successfully, using the skills of graduate interns.

As a potential business resource, graduate interns make a lot of sense. They are abundant (almost 400,000 unemployed grads in SA and growing). They offer flexibility, diversity, familiarity with social media, energy, willingness to try new things and to learn, low cost relative to full time staff (especially taking advantage of the Youth employment subsidy), and many bring 21st Century ideas and a strong belief in the future. International graduates can also be hired for insight into other countries with high growth rates.

Wily entrepreneurs are increasingly electing to “Grab an intern” to access flexible resources that can be deployed into new areas of the business, to do market research, test new products and services and reach out into new markets.

If a graduate intern sounds like a resource you could use to help grow and solidify your business, I invite you to visit our Graduate Asset Programme site or one of the other internship platforms out there. Thousands of competent, willing and eager SA graduates are waiting for an opportunity to shine, and you should be taking advantage of this.

The spirit of entrepreneurship is to create solutions to challenges and to seek the thrill of new horizons. Now is the time for businesses to look the future squarely in the eye, and start making lemonade.


Feel free to visit the Fetola website for more information.

Catherine Wijnberg

Catherine Wijnberg started Fetola because she loves business and is passionate about helping others reach their full potential. Her vision is to make a difference across Southern Africa by growing the small business sector- for it is here that jobs are created, future success is cultivated and women, youth and rural communities can create self-empowered futures. Catherine has a long history as an entrepreneur, having owned and operated businesses in five different sectors. Self-styled “enterprise activist”Catherine is qualified with a Masters degree in Agriculture and an MBA, and tells it how it is.


  1. What a powerful positive reminder of who we really are and where we came from. With Determination all things are possible. See it, Believe it, know it! Follow your Passion always. Your website is very powerful and informative – Thank you for creating it!

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