The small business owner’s guide to surviving load shedding
In the business world, productivity is everything and load shedding makes it difficult to plan ahead. Consumers can light candles or order a pizza but for small business owners, these interruptions can seriously affect business productivity and profit.
Eskom has predicted heavy load shedding for the months of February, March and April 2015 in order to carry out essential maintenance work. It's a fact that we can't change but thinking ahead will mean the difference between losing revenue and doing business as usual. We've put together some practical advice to make you aware of the right information, the risks to watch out for and which investments to make to lighten the impact of load shedding.
Be prepared: know your schedule
Make a note of the latest load shedding schedules* for your area to give you a better idea of when load shedding can possibly affect your business:
- If you are an Eskom customer, you can access the official Eskom Load Shedding website here, where you can search for your local area or suburb. There is also an advanced search option to search by municipality.
- This article by News24 lists links to some of the main municipalities in the country, from Kimberley to Tshwane.
- Follow @Eskom_SA and #Loadshedding on Twitter for real-time updates.
*Please note these are guidelines only. Santam cannot be held responsible for the accuracy of these schedules.
Risks of load shedding for the small business owner
Depending on the type of business you run, whether you're a guesthouse owner, plumber or franchisee, here are some of the top risk areas associated with load shedding:
- Theft and burglary: Remember that criminals also study load shedding schedules to work out which areas are vulnerable at which times. Tripped and false alarms are great opportunities for opportunistic burglars. Make sure that your alarm system has a working back-up battery, try and keep as little cash on your premises as possible and be extra vigilant about access to your premises and securing your perimeter.
- Stock spoiling: It's important to always leave your freezer and refrigerator doors closed to preserve the cold temperature inside. A full freezer should keep food safe for up to two days and a refrigerator for 4-6 hours.
- Production halting: If your production relies on machinery, and staff cannot put in additional hours on weekends or evenings, perhaps then consider buying or hiring a back-up generator.
- Battery life: If your laptop is your life, make sure your battery is fully charged and invest in a portable modem with sufficient data.
- Lighting: If your business requires good lighting in order to perform intricate work (e.g. medical professionals), it is very important that you familiarise yourself with the schedules and plan ahead as load shedding can have a direct impact on your business.
- Damage to electronics and machinery: Surges or spikes - caused by the electrical supply being switched on and off - can cause damage to electronic equipment and machinery. If your business relies heavily on electrical equipment and machinery, you might want to look into surge protection plugs, back-up batteries or UPS (see more on this below).
6 things that can minimise the impact of load shedding*
- Generator: The size of generator you'll need depends on your electrical requirements. For, example if you need to power three computers, a kettle and lights, a 2KW generator (approx. R2000-R5000) should be sufficient. If you have a shop with fridges, air conditioning and a till, you'll need at least a 5KW one (approx. R8000) and if you have a guesthouse with 10 rooms, you'll need a 10KW (approx. R20 000). Generators can be mobile or fixed (like an air-conditioning unit). Mobile units can be bought at most home or building stores - just be sure to phone around ahead of time as demand might be high. Take an inventory of your most vital electrical appliances when you speak to an expert so that they can suggest the right option for your business.
- UPS: An Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) works both as a back-up battery for your computer and regulates the amount of power it receives. As soon as the power switches off, the UPS switches on. In short, it makes sure that your equipment performs a proper shutdown until you then connect to a generator, preventing, for example, data corruption.
- Surge protection: There are various devices available to protect your electrical equipment from surges - when the supply voltage fluctuates. The most cost effective ones look like multi-plugs and let you plug multiple components into one power outlet. Look into this in particular if you live in a rural area where the quality of supply is unpredictable. As mentioned previously large fluctuations in supply voltage can damage electronic equipment.
- Back up your data: If your business is computer-based, it's crucial to back up your data often and to put measures in place to keep your data safe. The last thing you want is to lose files or work you've done during this time. This Santam article shares tips on safely backing up your data.
- Back-up batteries: Be sure to keep your laptop and smartphone charged before the power goes off. Alternatively, invest in battery packs or even solar-powered charging solutions, which brings us to:
- Solar-powered solutions: There are many solar-powered options to power your electrical gate, charge your cellphone and laptop or provide much-needed lighting click here for more ideas. You could also go off the grid completely by swapping electrical power for solar power. However this can be a costly exercise and might not be suitable to all businesses.
It is recommended that you have the above installed by a professional as an inaccurate installation could pose a risk to your business and have insurance implications. Remember to notify your insurer of the installation and specify whether the equipment/device is portable or fixed to your business premises.