Covid-19 has the potential to cripple small businesses around the world. Early estimates in South Africa suggest the virus could cost the country R200 million and 1,000 jobs– just in the tourism industry.
As pleas to increase social distancing start to sink in, and government lockdowns come into effect around the world, the businesses hardest hit by the Coronavirus are those that, until now, relied almost entirely on face-to-face, offline contact.
But many are rallying to turn their offline offerings into online businesses – that drastically reduce, or remove, any need for physical contact.
This is how some South Africans are doing their best to generate online income owing to the spread of Covid-19.
Creatives selling their skills via online courses
Artists, photographers, and others in the creative industry are facing uncertain times, but some have used the closure of galleries and cancellation of shoots to monetise their skillsets through online courses.
One of the best ways to do this is via online learning platforms like Skillshare, or video sharing websites like YouTube – which either pay commission, or allow users to monetise videos with third-party advertising.
Embroider Danielle Clough, also known as Fiance Knowles, says work has slowed slightly in the face of the pandemic. But she fortuitously shot an entire Skillshare course just weeks before the full impact of Covid-19 took hold.
Clough’s online course teaches hobbyists how to create artworks in a similar style to hers, and she gets paid by Skillshare for this – either for direct referrals, or via a share in subscriptions. And she says her course is starting to generate some passive income while she takes stock of her situation.
“Some teachers make this consistent passive income,” says Clough.
Others see it as a way to top up their bank accounts for certain luxuries or additional expenses. “I know a couple who have a course on making animations, and they use the income they generate as Uber Eats money”.
Creating good online courses is not easy, Clough says, but it’s still within the grasp of anyone who has a unique skill to share. There are creative courses of all types – from animation, music and photography, to marketing and productivity. And in many ways, selling courses via channels like these is an easier way for a creative to start, than by trying to build an audience on sites like YouTube.
There are several platforms that offer similar products, targeting different markets.
Udemy, for example, is an online learning platform with a more academic slant. It allows experts in their fields – from business, to health and fitness – to submit courses and earn money when students purchase them.
Musicians playing home concerts
Big events, like concerts and music festivals, were among the first casualties from the call for social distancing.
But it took only days for musicians to figure out their next moves, and many are now offering online performances – some of them for free, and others on a ticketed basis.
Accomplished South African jazz musician Mandisi Dyanty is streaming living room sessions for R100 a ticket – along with his band he’ll be performing the set they would have played at the cancelled Cape Town International Jazz Festival.
A group of Afrikaans musicians also banded together to perform a live streaming concert called “Afrikaans Gaan Global”, and a long list of international artists are launching similar projects. John Legend and Coldplay’s Chris Martin, for example, recently performed a series of online concerts called “Together at Home”.
Musicians are using a range of conferencing and video calling software to share their concerts, and accepting payments via PayPal or Snapscan. But there are also online services stepping in specifically to fill the void in the entertainment industry.
Busqr, still in its launch phase, was set up by South African musician and industry devotee Jon Savage. It will allow musicians to sign up, sell tickets to live home-based performances, presumably streamed from a living room, and keep 95% of the profits.
Gyms and yoga studios going online
Several gyms and yoga studios have also quickly reinvented themselves with online classes. These are either streamed live in a group setting, or pre-recorded to be practised at any time of the day.
“The Yoga Room is obviously reliant on physical customers – so what we traditionally offer is people getting together into a physical space and doing classes,” says owner Elsa Van Niekerk. “Now we have to convince people that it’s just as nice, easy, and acceptable to do a class in the comfort of their own homes.”
The Yoga Room has decided to offer streamed, rather than recorded, yoga classes. Van Niekerk says this still allows participants the community aspect that attracts many to yoga – and can help people cope during an otherwise difficult time.
“You can interact with people beforehand – and it’s just nice to connect with people that you normally would see around you, so we don’t feel so isolated,” she says. “Yoga at a time like this also really helps – to move, to quieten the mind, and to give yourself some ‘me time’.”
There are some new business positives to come out of this, too – Van Niekerk says people who previously did not feel comfortable attending classes in person are starting to show an interest, and students are logging in from around the world to participate.
Tools like Zoom, previously used in more formal business settings, paired with online payment systems like PayPal and even SnapScan, are the go-to products for most studios.
There are several other studios in South Africa that are doing the same thing, or similar – Ahimsa (streaming), Wild Thing (streaming and pre-recorded), and Unravelled (pre-recorded), were all set up by yoga studios and teaches needing to make an income in the wake of Covid-19 closures.
Online platforms to sell physical objects
Artists and graphic designers who have lost clients due to Covid-19 are finding inventive ways to sell their works – either by selling physical prints via online market places, or placing designs on more accessible objects like cellphone cases and t-shirts.
Casetify lets artists put their works on several tech-related products, and earn a profit for every case sold.
Similarly, Threadless allows artists to put their designs on shirts that customers from around the world can buy.
And there’s also Etsy, which is an online marketplace selling handcrafted, vintage and custom objects direct to the public. Although it will be impossible to ship these during periods of lockdown, these delays can be built into the terms and conditions of the sale.
Freelancers finding new avenues
Although many local freelance jobs have been frozen, companies around the world are still hiring people able to work. Some companies, like a ferret website, and a management consulting company, are also looking for content and skills relating specifically to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Online marketplaces are highly competitive, and will usually pay less than jobs secured from trusted clients. But they can yield dividends to people who are willing and able to produce above average work in high quantities.