How businesses can survive – and thrive – in lockdown
Lockdown has shuttered shops and services around the country. Here’s how small businesses can ride it out
It’s been more than a year since COVID-19 first swept through Australia, and the latest round of restrictions – particularly in New South Wales and Victoria – prove that the crisis is far from over.
For many small business owners, still struggling to gain momentum after a challenging 2020, the latest lockdowns are a devastating blow.
However, financial support is available, and experts agree that if business owners can survive this period financially, then the enforced slowdown can present opportunities, too.
1. Seek financial assistance
A range of government support is available to small business. However, the types of assistance have changed since the last lockdown, and the eligibility criteria and application processes are different according to each state.
The COVID-19 business grant is aimed at businesses with an annual turnover between $75,000 and $50 million that have had to close or have experienced reduced demand. Eligible businesses can apply to receive a grant between $7500 and $15,000.
The COVID-19 micro-business grant is for businesses with an annual turnover of less than $75,000 and consists of a fortnightly payment of $1500.
JobSaver helps businesses maintain their headcount and will deliver eligible enterprises 40 per cent of their weekly payroll.
Businesses that previously received COVID-19 support from the Victorian government in May and June will receive an automatic top-up.
Micro-businesses with a turnover of between $30,000 and $75,000 are encouraged to apply for the federal government’s COVID-19 Disaster Payment, which is $375 or $600 a week and paid to individuals.
For more information, visit Business Victoria.
Businesses affected by the latest lockdowns may be eligible for a $5000 payment. The grant is available to businesses in affected areas with a turnover of between $75,000 and $10m. To find out more visit Business Queensland.
Other grants, including a $10,000 Adaption Grant and special relief for tourism operators, are also available. To find out whether your business is eligible, visit Business Queensland's business assistance finder.
South Australian businesses may be eligible for a $3000 emergency cash grant from the South Australian Government, while sole traders and businesses that don’t employ staff may be eligible for a $1000 payment. For more information, visit the SA Business Information Hub.
All workers who are unable to earn income because they are in a COVID-19 hotspot may be eligible for a one-off payment from the federal government as part of its COVID-19 Disaster Payment scheme.
2. Take your business online
Online shopping surged in the wake of COVID-19 last year, with an Australia Post report revealing that e-commerce sales soared from $32.1 billion in 2019 to $50.46 billion in 2020.
For small business owners, that means that having an online presence is more important than ever. Luckily, websites like Shopify and Wix, which offer templates and easy-to-follow instructions, help to make it simple and cost-efficient to build a website in a matter of days or even hours. You can read more about how to take your bricks-and-mortar store online here.
3. Consider click and collect
COVID-19 has also spurred a rise in click-and-collect services, which allow customers to order online and pick up in-store or petrol stations, etc (sometimes without even leaving their cars).
The convenience of click and collect means that it’s a trend that will continue to remain popular with shoppers, even post-pandemic. You can find out how to offer click and collect here.
4. Look after yourself – and your team
Running a business can be challenging at the best of times, but the pandemic has introduced a new level of pressure.
Cultivate resilience by switching off where possible, being selective about the news you consume, and by planning things to look forward to – including connecting with friends, family and your business network via Zoom or on the phone. Australia has some fantastic resources available 24/7 for mental health, including Beyond Blue, Lifeline, and Kids Helpline.
Invest in the people who invest in you”- Tory Archbold, business coach
Your staff may be feeling a sense of burn out from the ongoing pandemic. “Invest in the people who invest in you,” advises business coach Tory Archbold of Powerful Steps. “If they need a mindset switch to refocus, give them time off.”
Keep up communication with your team, and consider team-building catch-ups or activities to lift morale, whether that’s a weekly online meet-up or virtual yoga sessions.
5. Reach out to your customers
This is a good time to touch base with loyal customers. “Focus on your customer connection,” says Archbold. “This could be calling and letting them know how valuable they are to your business, asking how you can help them, or a simple gift or note of thanks.
“It’s the smallest acts of kindness that keep you top of mind for when they need your product or service next that matter most in times of turmoil,” she adds. “When they do choose to spend, they will remember that connection and that’s how you take others on a life-long journey and commitment to your brand.”
Another way to connect with customers? A content marketing programme.
Content is a great way for brands to connect with customers”- Felicity Robinson, co-founder of content marketing agency studio PRIMER
“With people working remotely and glued to their devices, content – whether that’s video, articles, blog posts or emails – is an important way to stay top of mind among your customers, and also boost engagement, authority and loyalty,” says Felicity Robinson, co-founder of content marketing agency studio PRIMER. “Content is also a great option for brands who typically rely on events to connect with customers.”
6. Focus on social media
Lockdown is a good opportunity to review your social media plan, says strategist Meg Wardrop.
“If you offer a product or service that’s in higher demand while people are stuck at home, it could be a chance for you to make the best of the situation by increasing your media spend to meet the demand.” If not, consider reducing your paid social budget.
Now is the time to get creative”- Meg Wardrop, strategist
Wardrop also suggests using lockdown to brainstorm fresh ways to engage your audience on social media. She recommends creating lockdown-specific messaging and experimenting with newer formats, such as Instagram Live Q&A or LinkedIn polls. “Now is the time to get creative.”
Whatever approach you take, remember to clearly communicate essential information, such as store closures or shipping times and delays, on your social media pages and website.
7. Consider collaborations
Lockdown can be devastating for businesses that rely on local trade. However, one way to reach customers in a new (less locked-down) location is through collaboration, says Jess Ruhfus of Collabosaurus, a platform that connects brands.
“If you’re in Sydney you could team up with a brand in Queensland, for example, and do a really great social media content series or gift with purchase. That way you’re cross-promoting to each other’s audiences, and as a Sydney brand you’re potentially tapping into a Queensland audience.”
Ruhfus says that as countries reopen at different rates, international collaborations are becoming more common. “So, there’s a huge opportunity for Australian brands to reach customers in LA and New York as they are coming out the other side [of COVID-19].”
Struggling to come up with a collaboration idea? Think about non-competitive but adjacent brands, and peg your idea to lockdown or a key calendar event. When Coachella was cancelled, for example, some brands sent packs of beauty products and glitter to mark ‘Couch-ella’. During the first lockdown, The ICONIC also collaborated with the streaming platform Binge to release an ‘Inactivewear’ range of clothing.
8. Upskill yourself or your staff
If you have time on your hands during lockdown, consider upskilling. Not only does Afterpay Access offer a huge range of resources and tools – from in-depth guides on SEO [LINK] and omnichannel retail, to improving customer service – but businesses can also brush-up on their marketing skills with Afterpay’s videos about digital marketing on a shoestring budget or content marketing.
There are plenty of other ways to upskill; Lynda.com offers a range of educational videos that are relevant to small business owners, as does Google Digital Garage (fees may apply).
Consider encouraging your staff to upskill, too. The Australian Retailers Association and Afterpay have recently launched free financial literacy courses for retail staff, which you can learn about here.
9. Refine your strategy
It’s common for business owners to spend so much time working ‘in’ the business, that they rarely have time to work ‘on’ it. That’s why lockdown could be a good opportunity to look at the backend of your business, points out Archbold. “Look at what’s working and what can be improved,” she advises. “Take the time to engage with your suppliers, re-negotiate terms, listen to customer feedback, improve where you need to in your customer-service experience, and be agile in your approach.
This is a brilliant opportunity to streamline your business into a profitable future”- Tory Archbold, business coach, Powerful Steps
“This is a brilliant opportunity to really look at your analytics, get rid of items or services that hold no value, and streamline your business into a profitable future.”
Anna Saunders is a journalist who has worked for a range of newspapers and magazines and the co-founder of studio PRIMER.
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