Small businesses pivot in response to COVID

The Bigger Backyard campaign launched by Business NSW and Coast Chambers of Commerce encouraged people to buy local

While small businesses in the region have “done it tough” through COVID-19, their innovation has shone through with many businesses changing the way they attract, service and follow up with their customers, says Business NSW Central Coast Regional Director, Paula Martin.

“At the beginning of the crisis, the level of digital activation by small business was three times lower than the state average, with 30 per cent of small business not even having a business UR email,” Martin said.

Supply chains were disrupted and 85 per cent of local business had to quickly pivot their operations to survive.

“Strong local buy campaigns like Bigger Backyard Central Coast helped to highlight the diversity of our local business community and supply chain gaps within our own backyard with only 33 per cent experiencing supply chain disruptions today.

“Additionally, over 600 local businesses have pledged over $28M this year to buy local.

“Whilst 60 per cent of local business have now resumed normal trading conditions, building trades, business services, health and wellbeing and food and beverage are still the highest affected businesses with continued changed service delivery models.

“The level of vulnerability for the Central Coast in 2021 will depend on our ongoing successful management of COVID-19 and the pace of getting our business community operating at full speed.

“We are definitely seeing signs of recovery on the Central Coast with retail in our town centres nearly 40 per cent higher than this time last year and grocery, apparel and restaurant spend up between 20 and 50 per cent in the same period.

“Members are telling me that they are busier than ever and finding staff has become a key challenge for them in the lead up to a busy summer.

“The task ahead of us to create a thriving local economy beyond seasonality traits and without (further) stimulus is large but not insurmountable.

“Currently we have over 11,000 local businesses utilising JobKeeper, accounting for 45 per cent of our business community.

“Whilst Australia’s economic recovery is on track and is slightly ahead of the baseline scenario set out by the RBA and Treasury, the outlook remains uncertain given the lack of clarity around the efficacy and economic impact of potential vaccines.

“A continued focus on economic development to shape our industry opportunities, jobs creation and value proposition as a region is key to our rate of growth.”

Martin’s views are reflected in Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman Kate Carnell’s new Small Business Counts report.

The recently released report provides a statistical overview of small business performance in Australia, using the latest available data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics and other trusted sources.

A feature of this year’s report is a dedicated chapter regarding COVID-19, which reveals 40 per cent of small businesses nationwide changed the way they provided products and services in response to the crisis.

“2020 has been a year like no other and certainly the toughest Australia’s 2.3 million small businesses have ever experienced,” Carnell said.

“While the true toll this year has taken on small businesses – including the mental health impact – won’t be known for some time, our Small Business Counts report shows that many small businesses have pivoted their operations to adapt to the rapidly changing conditions.”

Terry Collins