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    The year ahead: 5 key opportunities for small businesses

    Bill Lang
    Executive Director of Small Business Australia

    Bill Lang is the Executive Director of Small Business Australia. He is a business educator, coach and advisor. He has co-founded several technology, training and marketing services businesses that operate globally.

    Bill Lang
    Executive Director of Small Business Australia

    Bill Lang is the Executive Director of Small Business Australia. He is a business educator, coach and advisor. He has co-founded several technology, training and marketing services businesses that operate globally.

    In the second article from Telstra’s partnership series with Small Business Australia, Executive Director Bill Lang shares his take on the key opportunities for small businesses in 2021.

    Waitress on phone taking order

    As we learn to live with the impacts of COVID-19, there are opportunities for businesses to improve the way they operate in the year ahead. Let’s take a look at the five areas that should be at the top of your list.

    Improve your digital marketing

    COVID-19 has forced many small businesses to get online if they weren’t before, and even those that were online have needed to up their game. In the year ahead, you have the opportunity to make your online presence work better for you. The Telstra Business Intelligence report on Digital Marketing found that 1 in 5 consumers will stop considering a small business they haven’t used before if it doesn’t have a website. So, if you're not on the screen, you can't be seen.

    Start with the basics like a Google My Business listing, where your business details can easily be found. If customers need to do more work to access information about you, they might give up and look elsewhere instead – and if you're not online at all, they might start seeing ads from your competitors or other websites that are in your area or business category.

    Create a clear strategy of your target market and look at how that group or segment go about researching, evaluating and selecting a business to buy from. Then you need an attractive message to land at their fingertips on the screen – on the sites and the platforms that those customers are using. If you have the means, consider hiring a digital marketing expert to assist.

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    Prioritise digital capabilities

    Your digital capabilities come down to the platforms and tools that you use, from Facebook to Zoom to a booking app. If you’re able to deliver a service or trade online, consider how you can improve the experience for your customers. It could be something as simple as letting customers order their coffee through an app before arriving at your café. If you adopted a Band-Aid digital solution to get through COVID-19 lockdowns last year, it’s time to look at how you can create a seamless experience that will make your product or service more digitally accessible. Small Business Australia offers its members access to loads of content that can help you work through the key digital foundations and the processes for selecting a good supplier (if you’re outsourcing), platforms and more.

    Make the most of the local movement – especially online

    As outlined in the Telstra Business Intelligence report on Customer Experience, a recent Venture Insights survey found that 70% of all respondents said they now consciously support local businesses. But on the flip side, 70% also said they were restricted in doing so by the limited online presence of many small businesses.

    The local movement isn’t limited to face-to-face interactions; it also encompasses online spending. But for customers to consider your business, they need to be able to find you in the first place, which is why your online visibility is crucial. Keep your business information up to date online, like your business address, contact details and opening hours (especially around public holidays). Then make sure you reinforce the message that you are a small, local business in your communications, like in your social media marketing.

    Take advantage of support initiatives

    There are a number of federal budget measures that may affect small business. The Australian Government has set aside $1.2 billion for Boosting Apprenticeship Commencements to help businesses hire up to 100,000 new employees, irrespective of their ages and level of qualifications. Eligible businesses can access up to $7,000 per quarter towards the first-year costs of employing and training an apprentice (until September 30 2021). This initiative also covers ‘traineeships’, which can include white-collar or service-related occupations. For example, Small Business Australia is helping members with hiring digital business course students to help apply that knowledge in the business.

    There’s the JobMaker hiring credit, which offers an incentive for eligible businesses that hire young people. This includes a weekly subsidy, which varies based on the employee’s age. 

    The Research and Development Tax Incentive has increased and is now easier for eligible small businesses to access. If your business is looking to reinvent the way it does things, or if you’re thinking about developing new products or services, then this may be worth a look.

    There are also export market development grants, where you may be able to access 50% of what you spend on marketing, development, sales and promotion activity to establish international markets. Even if you’re delivering a service online, like telehealth consultations, almost any business can get involved in export.

    State and local governments may also have incentives for particular industries, so you should keep an eye out for these.

    Adapt your workplace

    First, check the workplace health and safety requirements that have been issued by your state. You can help improve your team’s engagement and productivity by adapting with their expectations of working from home and coming into the workplace. This will look different for every business and it might take consultation with your team to find the right balance. Get your digital foundations right, like network access, hardware devices and online security, and then keep communicating any updates with your team. It’s important that new ways of working are embedded in your team culture, so your employees are comfortable with the changes and they feel safe and empowered to do their jobs. You should seek guidance from your tax advisor about eligible home office-related expenses and whether there are any instant asset write-offs you can claim. Investments in technology to enable COVID-19 tracing requirements (like QR codes, check-in systems, tablets etc.) are also likely to be eligible for instant asset write-off.

    Start the year by evaluating how your business fares in these areas. The key takeaway is that digital literacy is going to be vital in any business for the year ahead and beyond. Keeping up to date with new technologies and being able to morph and work with the digital evolution is how small businesses are going to thrive.

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