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Top small business predictions for the rest of 2011

This time last year we were releasing the stress in our shoulders as the GFC doom and gloom appeared to be clearing. We dusted off those expansion plans and thought about spending again. Personally and professionally we were still cautious, but optmistic of what the next 12 months would bring.

In the past 12 months, while there has been some improvement, Australian small businesses are still struggling under global and local economic pressures, with almost a third suffering a profit loss over the past year. Predictions for small business growth for 2011 are wavering between positive and negative. Despite the Australian economy reaching a more stable position and the strong growth of the Australian dollar, the year ahead for Australian small businesses promises no smooth sailing.

Higher interest rates, the strength of the Australian dollar, difficulties in sourcing loans, wage increases and a major skills shortage are to blame for restricting the growth of small firms, states Australian Industry Group and Deloitte Private’s survey, Growth Strategies for Business. Further results of the survey indicate that the hardest hit sectors this past 12 months lie in manufacturing, services and construction. Eighty percent of companies in these sectors reported there was a shortage of skilled workers that was stunting industry growth.

Companies participating in the survey were asked to indicate their priorities in regards to improving specific areas to gain future growth. Strategic planning, process improvement, talent management and human resources were the main areas businesses feel they need to focus on to ensure growth for 2011. Out of these areas of concern, small business said that strategic planning is the area that needs the most external assistance.

So, with the remnants of last year’s economic uncertainty still stubbornly lingering, how will you take your business either back to where it was pre GFC or up to the next level this year? And what will be the buzz in 2011? These are my predictions.


From cloud computing and the NBN to the growing emergence of mobile applications, technology is continuously being developed and improved and reducing costs for small business. Small businesses cannot afford to be left behind. No matter what the size of your business, technology has blurred the boundaries of your traditional workspace location making it a true reality to integrate tech-savvy initiatives into everyday working practices.

Even the simple task of calling a taxi company to book your cab is fast becoming an antiquated action, with people preferring to tap their way to their destination, booking taxis via mobile phone applications. Check out your IT provider for cost saving, productivity gaining initiatives.

Social media should be part of the marketing mix

For many of us, social media is no longer a presence confined to our computer screens at home. It has become so entwined in our lives that it’s difficult to remember life before. From cafes and restaurants on Foursquare, CEOs on Twitter, to the endless stories of Facebook blunders, I believe we have reached the tipping point for social media use in business. It gives us ease of access to those we want to communicate with and a two-way communication platform. Add to this the number of portable technologies now available, and we can expect social networking to become deeply ingrained in our business lives.

Yet, according to the recently released MYOB Business Monitor survey, only 18 percent of small to medium-sized businesses are using social media as part of their marketing mix and only 35 percent have an online presence at all. When you consider that Facebook has nearly 6 million active Australian members (that is almost one third of the entire population) these figures are astoundingly low.

Tim Reed, MYOB CEO, said: “Social media has received a lot of hype in Australia over the last 12 months so it’s quite interesting to see such a low adoption of these online platforms by Australian businesses. Rather than being well established, the results indicate that online marketing is only just emerging in Australia.” Talk to your friends and find out what can work for you.

Customer service

The last few years have seen the face of customer service evolve. New methods of fulfilling your customers’ needs are arriving every month, if not week. Businesses are fast learning  the way to differentiate themselves from their competitors is to raise the bar in the customer service stakes. With economic predictions for 2011 offering only shaky stability, innovative customer service may well be the key to keeping your business comfortably in the black.

There are many tips available online for those looking to overhaul customer service in 2011.

  • Ask customers what they want – Simple and often overlooked. The best people to tell you how you should be treating your customers are your customers.
  • Easy, effective communication – Different customers will want to communicate in different ways. Find the way that works best for the individual.
  • Be proactive – Go above and beyond what your customer expects. Even a short phone call rather than dreaded email to update will make your customer feel more appreciated.
  • Put yourself in your customer’s shoes – Would you be happy with the customer service if you were the customer?
  • Train your staff – Let your staff know what is expected of them in terms of their customer service. 
  • 10 before 10 – Pick up the phone and say hello to your primary clients before 10am. This way you ‘re top of mind to them while they are still getting organised. Ask them what their pain points are and see how you can help. This is a great way to prospect for new business opportunities with current clientele.

Customers today are spoilt for choice when it comes to picking a supplier that suits their needs and wants. To compete with online business and big businesses in your industry, the biggest draw card we, as small business have, is the ability to provide superior and innovative customer service.

Green and sustainable business

If you have been meaning to get to it, 2011 will be the year to make your business sustainable. We can no longer underestimate the future impact that global warming and climate change will have on us as business owners, a topic that promises to move way beyond a straightforward, feel good corporate social responsibility (CSR).  As business owners, we have a responsibility to try and make a difference. Your customers are aware of this and support for environmentally friendly practices is expected to take more of a precedence.

Over the next three years, electricity prices are set to rise by 64 percent, gas prices by 18 percent and water prices are also tipped to increase. Clean living is everywhere from your personal life to business. Target and Aldi are prime examples of business ‘’going green”, no longer supplying plastic bags to their customers and instead charging customers for them.

Despite the financial position of small businesses not improving, finding sustainable options is almost certainly going to be a must. Check out the rebates and schemes offered by the Government encouraging small business to go green. Small businesses with an annual turnover under $2million can claim a tax deduction of up to 50 percent on a solar power system installed in their businesses premises.

All signals say remain cautiously optimistic. There is no joy in talking us into another recession or part-recession. My advice is to tread carefully, plan well, look for new markets, watch cash, use your business advisors and stay on top of sales.

–Sharon Williams of founder and CEO of Taurus Marketing

Twitter: @taurusmarketing

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Sharon Williams

Sharon Williams

Sharon Williams is the founder and CEO of Taurus Marketing. She has founded a number of businesses and organisations and has more than 25 years experience in marketing and PR from the UK and Europe to Asia, and now Australia.

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