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NSW lockdown: Survival strategies from SME owners

The resurgence of COVID-19 cases and general uncertainty has prompted concerns among small businesses, who are once again at risk of disruptions and further cash burn. Last week, New South Wales imposed a two-week lockdown for greater Sydney, the Central Coast, the Blue Mountains, and Wollongong, which will end at midnight on July 9.

Dynamic Business spoke with eight business owners based in NSW about their continuity plans and their survival strategies for the latest lockdown:

Neil Pollock, CEO of FirstWave Cloud Technology

FirstWave Cloud Technology is a SaaS platform founded in the early 2000s that provides cloud security.

“In the last two years, we’ve seen businesses of all sizes and industries disrupted. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely this disruption and level of business uncertainty are going to abate any time soon.

“Consequently, it’s important for businesses to stay focused on their core business and eliminate as many distractions and additional disruptions as possible.

“This is what we’ve been dedicated to at FirstWave throughout this period. We’ve had international partnerships, global product launches, and new team members join us across the world.

“For small businesses looking ahead during this time, I’d recommend staying focused on controlling what you can, forging forward with activities that will keep your business agile and relevant in the years to come, and mitigate distractions.

“The latter has to include a conscious approach to mitigating cyber risk, one of the few but very likely things that can completely turn a small business upside down in a matter of minutes.

“We’ve seen cyber threats and attacks increase throughout the pandemic, particularly during lockdowns, and it is critical for small business owners to have cybersecurity prevention methods and technology that are a match for the increasingly sophisticated crime syndicates and bad actors targeting our businesses.”

Weh Yeoh, CEO and Co-Founder of Umbo

Umbo was founded as a social enterprise in 2018 to provide quality speech and occupational therapy services to families in Australia

“It feels a bit like Deja Vu going into lockdown. And yet, as a Sydney resident, having avoided lockdown for over 12 months in a global pandemic, we have had a good run.

“For our team at Umbo, being an entirely online provider of healthcare to people in rural Australia, working online and remotely is nothing new. Our clinicians are dotted all around Australia so that we can get people in regional Australia access to vital healthcare.

“For a small business, it’s important to keep the team connected, so daily stand up meetings are even more important than ever. And as expectations are shifted, the focus is even more important, and doing the things that really matter.”

Ian Yip, CEO of Avertro

Avertro is a venture-backed global cybersecurity software company founded in 2019.

“We need to be philosophical about the fresh lockdown restrictions, as it’s not something we haven’t been through before. The difference is that this time around, we understand what it feels like, and know that we’ll get through it.

“As a technology business, we’ve been adapting over the past year to be able to function normally with a remote-only mode of working.

“From a business standpoint, the main difference between now and this time last year is that our customers have not “shut up shop” so we’re still able to have commercial discussions, albeit still at a much slower pace than pre-pandemic norms.

“A major consideration for businesses like ours is more around team dynamics and mental health. Leaders must be acutely aware that all team members will be feeling more disconnected and may feel like they are literally trapped.

“We need to find more frequent and deliberate opportunities for team members to communicate and connect.

“For example, the business world sometimes laments situations where meetings are held to discuss items that could be handled via written communications.

“Under the current circumstances, it may be prudent to think differently and hold more meetings to allow for the type of connections that written communication cannot replace.”

Sarah Britz, Co-Founder of Spend with Us, Buy from a Bush Business

Image Credit: spendwithus.com.au

Spend with Us, Buy from a Bush Business online shopping marketplace and directory for rural and regional small businesses. The website was created in January 2020.

“Small businesses across rural and regional areas of Australia are anxiously putting in strategies and plans to get through the coming weeks of lockdown restrictions. 

“In the past year, many have seen the importance of having an online presence. During this time of uncertainty, here are some of our top tips on sustainable survival for small businesses:

  • Get online: If your business does not have a website or e-commerce option where consumers can view and purchase your products or services, this is the time to get one!
  • It doesn’t have to cost a fortune: there are many free, low cost or DIY options out there to help you get an online store. Explore online marketplaces as a cost-effective e-commerce platform. 
  • Don’t stop marketing: Marketing isn’t a tap to be turned off and on. Although lockdowns, lack of foot traffic or google traffic is hard to reckon with personally, turning off from your audience who know, love and trust you, is not a good choice for your branding or marketing moving forward.
  • Tell your story, especially via social media: Sharing your story during this time can help create a connection with consumers that no other piece of marketing can do. According to Statista, there has been an increase in people spending time on social media of up to 21% in past lockdowns.”

John Saadie, Founder at Order Up 

Image Credit: LinkedIn

Order Up! is an online ordering platform that offers custom online ordering solutions. It was founded in 2010.

“The hospitality industry has been crippled by the pandemic. For the industry to survive, the government needs to step in.

“The most crucial key to survival is going digital. The digitization of the hospitality industry is not new, it’s been happening for a while, however, there are some businesses that still don’t have the capabilities.

“The government needs to provide Sydney businesses with a ‘digital grant’, much like they did in Victoria, so businesses are able to inject some cash into innovating their businesses.

“We also need to consider employees in the hospitality industry. With Superannuation set to increase on July 1st, this will cripple businesses even more. The government needs to put a hold on this or provide an exemption for this to the hospitality industry.

“It’s no secret that the way we do business has changed forever. To survive, we need to adapt quickly and make our businesses more agile to change and improve technology as quickly as possible.”

Amanda Rose, Founder of Small Business Women Australia

Image Credit: smallbusinesswomenaustralia.com.au

Amanda Rose is also the managing director at Amanda Rose Consulting and founding director of Western Sydney Women.

“There needs to be a mix of financial and non-financial assistance provided in an orderly and easy to access way to ensure our small business community can survive and stay afloat moving forward. 

“A majority of women are being impacted purely because they are more likely to be working in industries that are customer-facing including cafes and the events industry.

“These female business owners have shown their resilience and determination and continue to push for their recovery as well as that of our economy.

“By filling the gaps for them, we are concreting their path and ensuring that their chances of success are increased. Recovery requires more than their resilience, it requires action.”

“We also need more government-funded mentoring programs for women in ‘recovery’ and ‘building a resilient business. The Government needs to not just invest in these women’s businesses, but invest in the women themselves.

“A continued focus on providing women with the tools and strategies to grow their businesses means they are more likely to succeed as government funding and support is wound back.”

Marjorie Tenchavez, Founder at Welcome Merchant

Welcome Merchant, founded in 2020, is the liaison between refugee entrepreneurs and the wider community in Australia

“As a small social enterprise whose mission is to elevate refugee-powered businesses in Australia, we have a responsibility to our entrepreneurs in ensuring that they will be able to manage during the lockdown, particularly the hospitality businesses that had to pivot to takeaway.

“Our main source of income is derived from its Curated Dining Experiences. The new lockdown forced us to cancel three events, but instead of offering refunds to the patrons right away, we chose the rescheduling option, to limit the potential loss of income.

“We are also working with our chefs to see if they can offer takeaway options, to sustain their own businesses during the lockdown.

“My advice is to continue engaging with your audience digitally, refocus your content marketing and seek help from your networks and post updates as much as you can.

“Welcome Merchant developed a “Sydney Lockdown Guide”, listing the WM-affiliated entrepreneurs that are still operational and this post attracted huge engagement.”

Kheang Ly, CEO and Co-Founder of OWNA

OWNA, founded in 2016, is a childcare platform that focuses on building software solutions

“As a software company, we will continue to operate since childcare centres are considered essential and will operate during any lockdown period.

“We will rotate our staff around and have some working from home on certain days and then in the office on others. We will adhere to the COVID safe workplace guideline to ensure the safety of our staff is not compromised.

“Lockdown can sometimes mean quieter periods and during this time, if you can, try and catch up on things that you have put off during the busy period.

“As a software company, we aim to use this time to continue to innovate and build features that will help our clients so they feel supported by us during this difficult phase.

“Depending on your field of business, lockdown can sometimes be a blessing in disguise. So, if you can use this time wisely you can reap the benefits which are what we have been able to do.”

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