Recently, the government of Uganda (a country in East Africa) switched off the internet as the country headed into their presidential elections for 2021. The internet shutdown was attributed to a possible security threat that could only be stopped by having a country wide internet blackout.
However, as a digitopreneur, I looked at the far-reaching effects that this has had on different businesses and what they can do to mitigate the impact in case it happens again.
Let us face facts, in a young democracy, such drastic steps will always arise whenever there is an election so before we look at how you can prepare yourself, let us explore how a week-long internet shutdown can affect businesses.
- Immeasurable loss for the telecom companies/ internet providers
I can’t even begin to imagine the millions of dollars that internet providers have lost in the week-long shutdown.
We are at a stage where the internet has become a major driving force in people’s daily lives. We use internet for work, internet, meetings, entertainment, learning and so much more. All that costs data. Data calls have replaced voice calls. Needless to say, telecom providers are making more money through selling data than selling talk time.
Shutting down internet for over a week reduces the interaction with the phone by over 98% which is not the case when people have internet access.
- Web based meetings were immediately cut off.
In the age of the pandemic, most businesses had resorted to a virtual modal of operations. Work, meetings, workshops and learning were done virtually using platforms line zoom, google meet, Cisco webex to mention a few. Such meetings are almost impossible to conduct over the usual voice calls for two major reason:
- It would be too costly
- It wouldn’t deliver the same experience
In other words, meetings, conferences and any business that required any kind of congregating was cut off for a week.
- E-commerce came to standstill
Retail business is moving online and so many people are becoming accustomed to the convenience of online purchasing. Uganda’s population has quickly adapted to making their retail purchases online using platforms such as Jumia, Kikuonline, Bazebo, Amazon and many other small scale online shops.
Shutting down internet for a week has led to losses of over a million dollars in revenue for all e-commerce shops in the country. It is also a big blow to the trust and confidence that Ugandans had in e-commerce never mind the fact that it has taken years to cultivate said trust and confidence.
- Marketing and Prospecting has been greatly affected
Any online business person knows that the game is now global. Every entrepreneur is fighting for visibility on an international level.
Platforms like Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn among others have given entrepreneurs avenues with which they can market and promote their products to a much bigger market online.
Much as these platforms give you a wider reach, they are very competitive. Therefore, if an entrepreneur has no access to internet of a week, they quickly lose visibility on the international market and will have to work extra hard and invest much more to eventually catchup with the ever-fast-moving online market.
- E-registrations have obviously been halted.
In a bid to simplify registrations, filing for tax returns, and many other functions that require a business owner to go to a government office, a lot of services were moved online.
This means that companies can now submit a company resolution online, file their taxes online, apply for licenses online. This has made most of these processes efficient and reduced corruption in public offices.
Well, for any business that urgently needed to do any of the above, they had to wait for the internet to be switched back on.
Think of the lost tenders or business contracts just because a document was stuck at a public office.
- A new geographic disadvantage/uncertainty for Online businesses
This is not the first time that internet has been affected in Uganda because of elections. In the 2016 elections, social media was switched off for over 3 days.
Many prolific social media users also noticed that whenever Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine (a major opposition politician) was doing an online public address, internet in the country was drastically slowed down.
It has therefore become apparent that every time the Ugandan government feels uncertain of the security, messing with the internet is their go-to solution.
So, what does this mean for a digital entrepreneur in Uganda. Well, whenever there is political uncertainty, your business will obviously come to a standstill.
Knowing all the above effects of an internet shutdown, what can a digital entrepreneur do to improve their chances of business continuity?
- Automate your online business/sales funnel
I have talked to many entrepreneurs who have online shops/e-commerce shops but haven’t set automated funnels. This ensures that you continue to make sales even when you are offline. It doesn’t matter whether internet is on or not. So long as you already set up your sales funnel, the system takes over while you focus on other vocations.
Below is a general view of a winning sales funnel
You can always adjust it to fit your business model however, we have found this to be very effective
- Get external partners across the globe.
I dove deeper into this in one of my articles on how to scale your business but in this case, let us look at it from the angle of surviving.
In your endeavors as a digital entrepreneur, I want to assume that you have connected with many people in similar businesses around the world. You can begin to nurture a mutually beneficial relationship so that as time goes on, they are willing to help you reach clients even when you are offline. This can be at a fee or for free depending on the mutual agreement between you and your external partner
- Set up a foreign branch office
This is a slightly more expensive alternative since it will involve registration fees, and running costs in the foreign country. However, with the looming uncertainty of internet availability in the country, it may become a pragmatic way of ensuring uninterrupted continuity for your online business. Think of a situation where internet is switched off for a month! That would drastically set your business back
- Get Virtual Private Network (VPN) software
In cases where only social media is turned off, you can then switch to using VPN software to keep your social media presence going. A lot of Ugandans discovered VPN software during the 2016 elections when government only switched off social media.
This time round, VPN was useless since it was a total internet blackout.
I hope the few solutions shared in this article can help entrepreneurs going forward. I know for that this will not be the last internet shutdown in Uganda but what will you do as a business person when it rears its ugly head.
Feel free to share your recommendations in the comments section below.