OPINION: How SMEs can keep the lights on when the power is out


Operating as a small business is tough at the best of times, but Eskom’s rolling blackouts has really thrown a spanner in the works for entrepreneurs who rely on power to trade.

Consider the business that relies on cold storage – they risk losing all their stock if the power cuts out for too long and don’t have a back-up generator, which is costly. Or the manufacturer who has a team who works with machinery to produce goods. No power means no work.

This could affect turnaround times and client relationships who might not be empathic, not to mention the lost income incurred for paying staff who are rendered incapacitated.

When we’re already under the whip due to the imminent festive season close, this added curve-ball is testing everyone’s patience. Worse, if there is damage to electrical appliances or equipment, even when the lights come back on, the machines might not!

It’s critical that small businesses do everything they can to minimise Eskom’s impact.

Here are six tips to minimise the fallout when the lights go out.


When making use of alternate power sources (generators, candles, gas, batteries), you run the risk of exposing untrained personnel to fire hazards. 

Ensure that you train your staff on back-up solutions and store the fuel and flammables in responsible and safe spaces.


Understanding your equipment loads is essential when deciding which high impact, low load equipment (POS machine, laptop, security doors, reception lights, etc.) should be provided for. 

This, in turn, will determine the minimum size of your back-up energy solution. 

If you ensure that you have calculated correctly, it may also come as a surprise that the capital outlay to keep your business running as usual is not as big as you thought.


Are you only planning to power a few devices for the night, or will you need a daily power source that you can trust for months at a time?

Find out what will work best for your business if you are choosing between an inverter (with battery) and a generator. Consider the pros and cons of both, and consult an expert if necessary.


Downloading a reliable load shedding app can go a long way to assisting you in your resource planning. 

When there are high loads or long uptimes required, it would make business sense (and save a few bucks) to create overtime staff shifts.

Also consider running non-critical processes and machinery (ovens, printers, fridges) in non-load shedding slots.


When sudden load shedding occurs, it often so happens that one loses track of what equipment was switched on. 

Keep a lock-down checklist of equipment that could be adversely affected by load spikes (fridges, TVs, etc.) or result in fires (ovens, heating equipment, open elements, etc.). 

Remember to switch off these appliances or pieces of equipment after use, prior to an expected power outage, or soon after an outage, to minimise the risk of damage.


Once you have deployed your power saving strategy, educate your employees on which non-essential equipment should be unplugged from back-up or UPS power sources to conserve as much power as possible for the next round, or for more critical appliances when the time comes.

The reality is that we live in very uncertain times, and Eskom is just one example of what can go wrong.

It is very important that a small business plan ahead for any eventualities – consider, for instance what the Western Cape had to do when Day Zero was approaching – and has insurance in place for any events that could seriously hamper their business’s productivity and affect it financially. You may not be able to eliminate the impact, but you can, at least, mitigate it.

Karl Westvig is Retail Capital’s CEO. Views expressed are his own.

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