Recently, I had the privilege of being interviewed by ABC Radio’s Belinda Sanders. We talked about the impacts of COVID on micro and small businesses in our region. It was interesting to pull out details surrounding the personal impacts, as well as the impacts I’ve seen on other businesses within the industries I work a professional photographer. Our business alone has certainly seen a decrease with Covid—we are more than 30% down after the most recent lockdown, even though Toowoomba was not included, which shows how much the surrounding areas impact us. Over the months, this adds up quite quickly, and becomes enough of a stress to keep me awake at night.
I’m very aware, however, that I’m one of the lucky ones—at least I have a spouse bringing in a regular income, so we have a buffer. This doesn’t mean it’s been easy. Far from it. When you’re trying to grow a business, it’s very hard to weather the storms, especially when you’re in the beginning stages, or you’ve got no idea how long the storm will last.
Braving Business in Uncertain Times
I’ve seen it in our Sonny & Kat business. The devastation of our wedding industry due to lockdowns, border closures, and constant regulation changes is huge. We all hear about the obvious impacted businesses, people like photographers, venues, and accommodation. We’ve definitely felt it, but we’re the big guys, really, in the industry. It’s all the little ones, particularly those that can be done yourself to cut costs, like the bonbonniere creators, the florists, the hairdressers, and the makeup artists. They’re the ones that are really suffering. And some of them will never recover because, outside the event market they’ve also lost supplementary business as well.
Making matters worse, many small and micro business owners are having to find part time work on the side just to make ends meet. From an entrepreneur’s perspective, that can be really debilitating, because it takes time away from their business, and an entrepreneur has a drive and a passion to see their dreams and goals be fulfilled. Entrepreneurs are also rarely nine-to-five people. They don’t like to be constrained by the rules and regulations of corporate. I know this first-hand. In the corporate world, I was constantly battling against the norm in questioning how can we do things better. So, it’s really devastating to see the impact, mentally, on many of these vendors.
This is the underlying fear that I have for many of these beautiful humans—they’re not just going to struggle to recover financially, but mentally. I would put it in a similar realm as the mental anguish from historical events such as the Great Depression, or even perhaps war. That may seem a bit extreme, but we need to realise how much this down-time will impact on generations to come. When you’re putting all your eggs in one basket and going for that dream, knowing that in your gut you can do it, it’s already scary. But then you’re impacted by things out of your control, forcing you to change your tack. It’s that feeling of flying blind, which is not a great way to run a business, that makes it especially hard.
Competing Digitally – Micro But Mighty
We also have to remember that many of the businesses hit hardest by Covid were also likely already dealing with sizeable additional competition from online businesses nationally and internationally. Recently I heard Tracy Shane quoting from the CPA Australia report. Apparently in 2020 57.9% of businesses received more than 10% of revenue online, which was an increase from 51% in 2019. That’s apparently the largest increase, ever. This means small and micro business are competing more than ever with online while also being forced to restructure to allow for Covid.
While competing with the world online, we’re also playing a huge roll in supporting the Australian economy. According to the ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics), as of December 2020, micro businesses—that’s those with less than five employees—accounted for 27% of Australian businesses. Medium and big business, or those with 20 employees or more, only accounted for 3% of industry! If we look at the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), that businesses with 20 or fewer employees bring in, even in 2019 that figure was around $418 billion.
These figures mean we, as small and micro businesses, are responsible for a whopping 32% of Australia’s economy. And yet we are not getting the support from the government in terms of the funding, or the grants that are coming out. Quite often, the eligibility requirements negate our ability to apply, which is very disappointing, especially when we are here to support many of the other businesses that are out there.
I spoke with Belinda about this element of financial impact, particularly in relation to availability of support and grants for the small and micro business community. Yes, there has been support offered and grants provided, but much of this has been limited to businesses with employees. Most small or micro businesses are sole traders who work alone, which rules us out immediately. Firstly, we’re ruled out if we’re not GST registered, because most grants require this for application, but then you register and discover that you’re competing with businesses with fifty to one hundred employees. Realistically, we can’t compete on the same stage, because there’s no way our numbers stack up against theirs. And so, we start to feel somewhat forgotten and just work with what we’ve got.
Locals Celebrating Locals
On a more positive note, Belinda and I discussed the awareness that some of our local governing bodies such as our Darling Downs representative for Regional Development Australia, Trudy Bartlett and the Toowoomba Chamber of Commerce. Right now they are really stepping up and being the voice for our sole traders and micro businesses. In fact, this year’s Business Excellence Awards has, for the first time, a sole trader and micro business category, which is fantastic. It shows us that at least our local Darling Downs governing bodies haven’t forgotten us, and that’s something for the region to applaud.
Before I left the interview, I was able to provide some tips I feel can help businesses to survive this uncertain time and thrive into the future.
- Online Presence is Pivotal
First of these is seeking out and adding your business to any and every directory that offers a free listing. Toowoomba Darling Downs, for instance, has a free listing for small and micro businesses, which is an invaluable form of exposure.
Don’t stick just to directories though, join digital business groups, find free online business events, and participate in digital campaigns that appeal to you or your passions. If you can’t go to networking events, bring the networking events to you. And be sure to participate as much as you’re able, you never know where your next customer might be lurking online.
- Create Quality Branding
Secondly, branding is everything. Especially right now, while we can’t be nomadic, because we’re reliant on our e-commerce and online presence so much more. The way you are perceived online and the way you present yourself across all your digital platforms—your digital footprint—that’s key to making online work for you. Do a digital audit and check that your website aligns with your Facebook, aligns with your Instagram, aligns with your LinkedIn, aligns with any other platform you’re represented on. If you’re sending the same message across platforms, you create transparency and trust with your clients or potential customers.
This is where professional photos come in, because images are the currency of the internet. Having the highest quality images you can possibly afford is the best way to ensure that what you’re putting out there is not just being seen, but wanted….craved by customers. It’s one of those expenses that’s an investment in your long-term success, but one that can make all the difference in an increasingly digital world.
- Don’t Get Bored, Get Better ?
Thirdly, during lockdown or during a turndown, educate yourself on things that you have a gap in. Maybe it’s your systems, or your processes, or your business acumen—It’s a perfect time to upskill. I have helped so many clients during their downtime to really lift their game, so that when they can get back into work, they’re so much more efficient and they’re working at a better rate with better outcomes.
There’s amazing short-courses out there for learning about better budgeting, marketing workshops, and plenty of business groups that support each other to grow and learn in hard times. If Instagram snaps is something you want to get better at, Foodie Shots has photography workshops that run both in-person and online. This feeds into by second tip as well, because if you’re taking better photos they’re going to match up better with the professional shots and give your brand a more cohesive look overall.
- Don’t Just Be Ready, Be One Step Ahead
Finally, mindset is so important. Often in life, and in business, we get into a rut of just doing the same thing day in day out. Quite often we become complacent. At the moment, change is constantly happening around us, and there is no certainty to when or what normality will be, especially within industry. This endless cycle of change can be confronting, because it takes away that comfortable complacency and forces us to look at things in a different way. But our mindset can help to ensure that change becomes a positive, rather than a negative.
Try taking on a mindset of “how can I?” rather than looking at the things that we can’t do, or the things that are not in our control. The negatives do nothing but upset us and cause anxiety, which is not good for our bodies or our businesses. When we get those moments of disappointment acknowledge them, yes. They are hurtful and disappointing. But then, very quickly, go right to asking “how can I use this opportunity to better myself,” or “how can I make money out of this situation so that I don’t have to feel as though I’m not contributing to the family”.
By making this change in thought-process you don’t have wait for opportunities to come your way. You are finding those opportunities and embracing the opportunity of change. Flip your mindset from one of defence to attack. Not only will this set you on a path of affirmative growth, it gives you control of the change. Embrace this opportunity to make changes and to roll with those changes. Make Covid your businesses pivotal turning point to success.