The pain of running a small business

Published: May 13, 2010
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The writer owns and runs Lotus Public Relations in Lahore (selina.rashid@tribune.com.pk)

The writer owns and runs Lotus Public Relations in Lahore (selina.rashid@tribune.com.pk)

I usually work very long days — not that I mind the work. In fact, I really enjoy my profession but like many other people I do take umbrage at the many that make it rather unprofessional. From Wapda’s dependably consistent breakdowns to PTCL’s archaic phone lines, working within this erratic maze can sometimes really take a toll on ones quality of work, and mental health. Quite aside from the political and security turmoil we face as a nation, our professionals are fighting another war entirely — the lack of consistency and stability within the basic service economy. From the outset, I would like to state that despite impressions to the contrary, this is neither a rant nor a column propounding pessimism. I am writing to highlight some of the basics the service industry needs to provide, so that the rest of us can get on with our work and deliver a more efficient service in our respective businesses. Indeed, among many other upright denizens, Pakistan’s professionals, and I speak as one of them, are endeavouring to contribute as positively to the country as possible. In order to do so, there are some basic tools of business that one expects.

A steady and uninterrupted internet connection appears a tad much to ask for. The essential problem here is that unless you can pay ridiculously high fees for a custom internet connection from a boutique net service provider, too bad. As the nature of work has become increasingly digital, reliable and affordable internet services and solutions are key to company development.

Tele-marketers and, even worse, telebankers are also an obstruction to one’s work. My phone for instance is the victim of at least ten bogus calls on average in the very midst of my work day, feeding off time that could be given to clients. I give you my example of the RBS credit card team — despite being well away from the designated payment due date, new tele-bankers ring daily to harass me on my office, home and mobile phone.

Other than the fact that this type of behaviour is obstructive to developing secure relationships between businesses and consumers, the lack of trained and courteous staff in our service industry is actually turning people away from availing new services instead of encouraging a new generation to engage with their respective firms and banks. Furthermore, there is not much point in changing banks. As long as banking remains an officially sanctioned cartel, with a spread rate that would make others blush in any developed economy, they have no incentive to provide an efficient and caring service.

Basic consumer communication is generally considered an unnecessary luxury. The other day, I was visiting Karachi when all Blackberry services collapsed. After calling the telecom company’s helpline for two hours on a Sunday morning I was told there were unscheduled maintenance work underway. Is it too much to ask telecom companies to invest in their customer communication, perhaps an SMS before services are withheld or during the breakdown if unplanned, giving their users a basic heads up? So much money is spent turning ordinary phone users into smart phone addicts and not enough in maintaining loyalty and trust in their services.

Even if the internet boffins, the banking gnomes and the mobile linesmen all get their act together, all of it is brought to nought if there is no power. Young entrepreneurs and smaller businesses cannot afford to pay over Rs5,000 a day to keep generators running. With overheads so high and basic infrastructure so lacking, it’s no wonder that fewer young people in Pakistan seek to establish new professional outfits.

Published in the Express Tribune, May 13th, 2010.

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Reader Comments (7)

  • Waqas
    May 13, 2010 - 3:30AM

    Ms. Rashid,

    Don’t we over-rely on the government to provide everything, when will the rich people invest in the land themselves rather than saving their possessions in foreign banks. We reap what we sow?Recommend

  • Selina Rashid
    May 13, 2010 - 2:11PM

    Mr Waqas,

    For me, its not an issue of government or private sector appropriation of blame but rather the issue of reliability/dependability itself. If entrepenuers had a steady supply of electricity for instance, I’m sure our output would increase significantly and our efficieny would improve, thus putting us in a better position to contribute back to the economy rathere than to follow to swiss bank account trend. We should encourage people to pay taxes through precedent and initiative. Not
    stifle potential growth and initiative simply because we have corrupt economic elements in our society.Recommend

  • May 13, 2010 - 3:12PM

    Very well written! Half my day is spent putting out fires, rather than concentrating on my “real” work! Expecting the government to provide BASIC business infrastructure is NOT something we should even have to THINK about! I pay my telephone bills, my internet bills, my electricity and gas bills, the least i expect is that everything is stable! Soon, we will have to start drilling for water and bringing oxygen tanks to work just to SURVIVE! God Save the Queen!Recommend

  • Fatima
    May 13, 2010 - 3:26PM

    Waqas, I don’t see why you should feel anyone is over-relying on the government after reading this article. Telecom companies or banks are not all government run. The article generally addresses the lack of proper services being provided which relates directly to the inefficient and ineffective provision of services by the service industry and not the government. If the government chooses to provide certain services such as internet connections, why should they not be as efficient and effective as any other service providers? As far as the failure of the government to provide electricity is concerned, it is not “over-reliance” to expect that there is uninterrupted power supply. In any event, the “rich people” can’t all set up their private power plants to sustain businesses or build the infrastructure needed in the country that the government is essentially supposed to provide. People most likely rely on the government as a last resort, over-reliance is out of the question. And the service industry needs to get its act together. Great article Ms. Rashid. Recommend

  • haroun
    May 13, 2010 - 5:40PM

    The author has summarised well just some of the daily frustrations experienced by ordinary citizens simply trying to do their jobs. Frankly I dont see what Mr Waqas is on about. The only Government service that the article lambasts is the power sector which the Government chooses willfully to retain as a state-owned monopoly. So who should she criticise? Rich people? Doesnt make sense. Recommend

  • Zarene Malik
    May 16, 2010 - 2:21AM

    A good article indeed. Ms. Rashid has highlighted what all of us young entrepreneurs face on a daily basis. Perhaps more articles such as this one, will put some pressure on service providers etc. and raise the standards of service delivery.Recommend

  • Kamran
    Jun 8, 2010 - 11:18PM

    Hi Friends
    It’s good to point out problems; but it would be more helpful if you suggest the solutions also. May be someone at some place might be interested in your solution; and your suggested solution might solve the problems of many. Recommend

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