The COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped the business landscape in unprecedented ways. Small businesses have encountered immense challenges and had to rapidly adapt to the changing circumstances. Between lock-ups, the need for additional precautions, staffing issues, supply issues … well, the hurdles have been substantial. I thought it was time to review what the impacts actually have been for Aussie small businesses. I’ve been doing SWOT analysis with my business coaching clients for decades, but I will say in all that time, interestingly, not one single client ever listed ‘global pandemic’ as a threat.
The Impact of COVID-19 on Small Businesses
1. Financial Struggles and Recovery Efforts
The COVID-19 pandemic rocked the financial foundations of many small businesses in Australia. With lockdowns (I call them lock-ups), restrictions, and reduced consumer spending, revenue streams were severely impacted. Businesses faced challenges such as halted operations, decreased foot traffic, and the inability to maintain pre-pandemic levels of sales. For clients who were in certain industries (like hospitality or tourism) the impact was even greater.
Small businesses were compelled to adopt various survival strategies to keep their doors open. These included applying for government assistance packages like JobKeeper, taking out emergency loans or grants, negotiating with suppliers and landlords for rent relief, and implementing cost-cutting measures. Establishing an online presence through e-commerce platforms also became critical, allowing businesses to pivot towards digital sales and reach a broader customer base, including those customers who were locked up at home.
2. Digital Transformation and E-commerce Opportunities
The pandemic accelerated the shift towards online business models and highlighted the importance of a strong digital presence. Businesses that already had a substantial online presence were at an advantage, while those lacking digital capabilities faced significant challenges.
Small business owners have learned the value of investing in technology and digital assets to ensure survival during these challenging times. From creating e-commerce websites and implementing contactless transactions to leveraging social media and digital marketing, digital transformation has become a necessity rather than an option.
There was a silver lining, however. The public generally accepted online sales more (reducing the need for expensive shop fronts and real estate) and myself, I found far more people were willing to meet with me on Zoom, alleviating the need for face-to-face meetings and expanding my client base to every state within Australia. Just as it helped me become a nationwide business coach, so many other businesses expanded their presence.
3. Evolving Workforce and Remote Operations
COVID-19 necessitated a rapid shift towards remote work and highlighted the importance of flexible work arrangements. Previously, some bosses thought staff would not work well from home, but on the whole, the Australian workforce proved them wrong. In fact, some staff were now working even longer hours, creating problems of burnout. To action working from home, many small businesses had to grapple with equipping their employees with the necessary tools and technology to work effectively. It was more than ‘take the laptop home’, you had to ensure a suitable workplace, manage cyber security and keep team engaged whilst in isolation.
4. Supply Chain Disruptions
Small businesses heavily rely on suppliers for inventory and raw materials. The global nature of the pandemic has resulted in widespread disruptions to supply chains, causing delays and increased costs. With border restrictions and reduced transportation options, small businesses have had to find alternative suppliers or face inventory shortages. Some have even shifted their focus to local sourcing and production to mitigate these challenges.
5. Shift in Consumer Behavior
The pandemic has significantly affected consumer behavior, whereby online, or home-based services became more popular as did products which catered to a more isolated lifestyle. Some businesses boomed; everyone seemed to be hitting the local hardware store, alcohol consumption went up and so did puppy sales. Even my doctor, who refused to offer telehealth in the beginning, now strongly encourages it. However, other businesses didn’t do so well. I know I certainly didn’t need any footwear for some time; no-one sees my feet on Zoom!
6. Mental Health and Well-being of Business Owners
The stress and uncertainty brought about by the pandemic have taken a toll on the mental health and well-being of small business owners as well as a good number of their staff. The pressures of financial instability, the responsibility of managing employees, and the constant need to adapt and make difficult decisions have resulted in increased stress levels. One of the reasons I completed my Mental Health First Aid Accreditation was due to the growing number of business owners communicating their distress to me. Self-care certainly needed to become a priority very quickly.
7. Shift in Work-Life Balance
The pandemic has blurred the lines between work and personal life, as many small business owners were forced to work from home and juggle multiple responsibilities. Balancing work, family, and personal well-being has become increasingly challenging. Business owners (and their staff) have had to establish boundaries, set realistic expectations, and find ways to recharge and prioritise self-care amidst the demands of running a business, or holding a job.
8. Government Support and Policy Changes
Throughout the pandemic, the Morrison government introduced numerous support programs and policy changes to assist small businesses. These included grants, tax relief, wage subsidies, and loan schemes. Understanding and accessing these initiatives has required small business owners to keep up with changing regulations, seek professional advice, and adapt their financial strategies accordingly.
However, throughout all this, one thing which became apparent is that Aussie’s are resilient, able to pivot and have demonstrated that where there is a will, there is a way.
Today and Tomorrow
Today we face a people shortage where Aussie business owners are seriously struggling to find team. Supply chains are still challenging and pricing has definitely gone up substantially. However, it must be said that the resilience and adaptability demonstrated by Aussie business owners deserve recognition. Despite all the challenges, as a whole, we have persevered and some even have thrived.
As we move forward, small businesses are encouraged to stay agile, leveraging the lessons learned during the pandemic to build a more resilient future. Be ready for anything! By investing in digital capabilities, embracing innovation, and fostering a supportive business ecosystem, Australian small businesses can thrive in the face of adversity.
How a Business Coach Can Assist Business Owners
Since COVID-19, as an expert business coach, I’ve been busier than ever. Businesses know they need to do well and cannot simply ‘cruise’ or ‘sit back on their laurels’. Business in Australia today has to be smart, resilient, intelligent, flexible and conscious. We need to see what’s coming and be prepared for it. We need to be adaptable and know what’s happening around us; whether relating to suppliers, team or customers. A business coach helps you in many ways:
- Devising effective strategies and plans – for good times and not so good
- Valuable insights into options, new concepts and different solutions
- A sounding board for ideas – with straight-forward and relevant advice
- Accountability coupled with both practical and emotional support – you’re not in this alone
- Other soft skills, like motivation, time management, decision making and much more.
One of the important things I believe I do is anticipate where problems may occur and eliminate (or reduce) them before they even become a problem. It’s ideal to see what could go wrong and prepare and plan to mitigate that potential risk. If you’d like to know more about my business coaching services, whether you’re in Adelaide, Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne or Perth (or anywhere in Australia) reach out to me here.