Times are tough and over-indebted consumers are pulling back on buying, leading to entrepreneurs facing increasingly challenging circumstances.
A whopping 90% of entrepreneurs surveyed in a new report said that business was tough. Others said they were having to take pay cuts just to survive.
The Retail Capital Roll with the Punches report surveyed over 700 entrepreneurs.
According to the report, SMEs must work smart and make changes if need be, because it is not "business as usual".
About 90% of the entrepreneurs surveyed said they were experiencing tough business conditions. Related to this, 58% of respondents said during tough times they were forced to take no salary at all, or else a or a reduced salary, in order to pay overheads.
It was not only the business owners who suffered. A total of 17% reduced staff hours or pay and 10% retrenched some staff.
About 58% of respondents said they found banks to be "unsupportive".
Furthermore, 40% of respondents said they had no insurance at all. Just 19% feel they are adequately covered; while 13% said they cannot afford their premiums.
Entrepreneurs also said they were battling external factors. About 55% of respondents said demand is shrinking due to people not buying as much. A total of 58% said rising operating costs were a threat to their business, while 15% said they are affected by strikes and labour laws.
Some 29% said they are affected by theft or fraud.
"There is no doubt that this is one of the most brutal operating environments that we have experienced in a long time, and which is significantly affecting our SMEs' ability to trade, grow, employ and contribute to the economy," commented Karl Westvig, CEO of Retail Capital.
However, he encouraged business owners to stick it out if possible.
"While I appreciate how hard it is, entrepreneurs need to see through the curve: what happens now doesn't mean it will happen in six months' time.
"Stay the course and dig deep, there are no shortcuts. It's going to be tough but put in the time and ride it out until you come through on the other side."
* Compiled by Carin Smith