Small business owners innovating to survive

Pre-pandemic, small businesses represented almost 98 per cent of all companies in Australia. They employed 44 per cent of all Australians, and contributed 35 per cent to the nation’s economic output. They were, and remain, critical to the health of the nation’s economy.

Small business owners are a resilient bunch. They need to be.

Many small business owners have made considerable personal sacrifices, often over many years, to get to where they are today.

Small businesses have the ability to be agile, to pivot and adapt in challenging times. They are also able to successfully innovate and bring new products and services to market in a timely manner.

This trait has never been more important than it is today.

COVID-19 brought the global economy to a crashing halt. Some small businesses – especially those in retail and hospitality – took a huge hit, which had a catastrophic impact on the Australian economy.

Pre-pandemic, small businesses represented almost 98 per cent of all companies in Australia. They employed 44 per cent of all Australians, and contributed 35 per cent to the nation’s economic output.

But, when the coronavirus pandemic sent the nation into lockdown, many small businesses were forced to shut-up shop.

Others were able to adapt and re-think the way they do business in order to meet the stringent COVID restrictions.

Peter, from Kennedy’s Auto Repairs, is one small business owner who adapted his business quickly to meet the changing and challenging environment.

After 45 years in business, Peter was forced to rethink his processes. He introduced contactless car pick-ups and drop-offs in order to meet the COVID restrictions. He also changed the way he manages his cash flow. Peter now checks his cash flow position daily, and has spoken with some larger customers who agreed to shorten the payment window from 30 to 7 days to better manage his books.

Peter’s story isn’t unique. At Commonwealth Bank, we’ve heard many different stories from our customers about how they have adapted to the challenging market conditions and the new normal of ‘social distancing.’

We’ve seen small businesses fundamentally change their approach to businesses, advertising in different markets and changing their models to embrace online. Some small business have transitioned to a fully online model, others have split their workforce or moved to a complete ‘work from home’ operation.

Some have had to divide stock between warehouses and get creative to reduce expenses, change supplier terms, or change their entire supply chain.

For some, these changes have resulted in a significant uplift in sales volumes and they are flourishing in this new environment.

Australian small businesses help bring much-needed social stability, innovation and dynamism to the communities where they operate. And their agility could help economies recover. But they can’t do it on their own.

We know CBA has an important role to play in their recovery. We know small businesses want access to funds quickly and when they need it. They want proactive contact and personalised support. They want to operate securely, and with innovation.

At Commonwealth Bank, we’re committed to supporting our customers in ways that meet their needs. Since the start of the pandemic, we have introduced a range of measures and changes to help better support our customers.

We’ve more than doubled our business banker in branch footprint, introducing 180 new local business bankers across the country. Almost half of these business bankers have already started and they will join more than 2,500 business bankers and specialists across 240 metro and regional sites, as part of CBA’s ongoing commitment to improve its small business support, and maintain Australia’s largest regional branch network.

We’ve also continued to invest in our digital and technology platforms to ensure small business customers have quick access to cash flow, to keep them going, innovating and investing in their futures. This investment includes a new digital BizExpress Online product (available through Netbank and the CommBank app) which will offer eligible CBA small business customers access to funding up to $100,000 in as little as 15 minutes.

Our Australian based business banking contact centre remains available 24/7, because we realise no small business owner works regular hours.

Lastly, we have introduced a new support hub to help our small business customers. CommBank Connects features business owners from across Australia sharing their firsthand solutions to common challenges experienced this year.

Through CommBank Connects, small business owners can find common ground and useful information on everything from financial support and managing cash flow, to wellbeing or navigating new customer behaviours and workplace changes.

One small business owner to share their business experiences during the pandemic is Nip. Nip owns GG’s Flowers and Hampers, a seven-year old Canberra-based business that is a recognised National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) employer.

At the beginning of the pandemic, state border closures and restrictions on people gatherings helped Nip’s business to flourish, as family members sought to send flowers to those they couldn’t visit in person.

While Nip was experiencing increased business demand, she faced an employee challenge. Many of Nip’s employees felt uncomfortable because of the pandemic, so Nip had to adapt her business to ensure her staff had a safe, compassionate and caring workplace. For them, this meant contactless deliveries and training sessions every month on personal development and self-care.

There were also fewer flower options due to supply issues. So Nip had to show customers the business could be trusted to utilise the stock available to create beautiful floral arrangements.

Nip is just one of the business owners to share their experience on the CommBank Connects Hub. At Commonwealth Bank, we understand how beneficial sharing best practice measures and advice from like-minded individuals can be.

The more businesses can see their way through the current challenges, the faster our economy will recover and the stronger our nation will be.

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