16 November 2021

What’s it like to run a business through a pandemic?

As published in Daily Maverick (DM168) – July 2021

Firstly, it’s frustrating. It’s often two steps forward and one step back – or sometimes even worse and its vice versa. It’s like trying to change a car tyre while the car is in motion. The issues pile up like parking fines for a vehicle you want to license, but you can’t because the traffic department website is down. Then just when its back up you run out of data, or load shedding hits. Staff need work, staff have too much work. Suppliers want work, suppliers can’t meet deadlines. You find the app to solve all your remote-working problems, only to find their unmanageable pricing-plan which kicks in just as you’ve gotten settled. Classic Alanis.

Its heart wrenching. They say business isn’t personal, but I’m yet to find anything more personal in my life. Me getting up every morning and doing my best is all that stands between several people putting food on their tables. There are dreams, aspirations, holidays, school fees, dentil bills and that new car someone deserves directly reliant on me doing my job. You show me anything more personal than managing an employee who you no longer need but has no other job prospects… Business is very personal.

It fills you with anger. You just wish it was easier. It is in the movies… It is where interest rates don’t make borrowing a life-sentence or where the barrier to own your own home doesn’t require you to pay more than you earn in a year on transfer duties or on lawyer’s fees. You wish it would just work out like you wrote it on your business plan, but it rarely does. So, you misplace your anger – you shout at your intern for ‘messing up’ (because lord knows they had the training they deserved), you snub the homeless guy outside your office who has nowhere to go but has also made your staff scared to come to work. You hate the vicious online warriors who carelessly comment on your business, without a care for your sincerity or the damage they cause. You do everything you can to blame whatever or whoever is out there and will take it.

Its hard. Man, it’s so hard. No one taught you how to run a business. Honestly, if it were my choice, I’m not sure I would be running a business! I would take one of those well-paid jobs which your staff that you’ve invested in so heavily get offered by the companies only too happy to take them. It’s hard to know that the buck actually does stop at you. And the buck really is a piece of s***. It’s the decision to fire, to pivot, it’s the task at the bottom of a to-do list that no one, especially you, wants to do. The buck is apologizing, groveling, cheating or whatever else you need to do to cross this thing off your list. The buck bloody sucks.

So why do it? Well, because I guess someone has to. If we didn’t then we don’t eat. We do it because we’ve got those eyes staring at us wanting to know – “what’s next?”. We do it because this country needs 10 million jobs or 2 million entrepreneurs. We do it because we have dreams and aspirations of our own and we want to squeeze that little extra from life, so while you may not always have time, when you do, it’s your time. We do it because the feeling of doing hard things and getting them right is rewarding. We do it for those 15 long minutes when at the end of a month, when all bills are paid and your staff are home cooking dinner with their families, you get to look around and realize, you did it. You do it because you have no other choice and it’s just a part of you. You do it for the lessons you can give your kids and the stories to your grandchildren.

Running a business in a pandemic is tough, but we do it anyway.

Eitan Stern

Managing Director at Legalese

Eitan Stern is the founder and director of Legalese. He is a lawyer with a background in commercial and entertainment law, and tech entrepreneurship. Eitan has worked with sectors across the board, from creative, advertising and media, to educational, non-profit and technology. He is an established lawyer, public speaker, mediator and DJ.   



Insta: @lawyersoflegalese

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