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Business owners and SMEs can prepare for the long term by reassessing basics for business growth – fresh business plans and USP and a new vision of leadership.
If COVID-19 (coronavirus) has a positive legacy, it’s this: it’s always the right time to consider growth strategies in a fresh way, whether it’s through new ways of leading a flexible staff, novel methods to examine and revise your business plan and USP (unique selling proposition), or a stronger grasp on government small business grants.
You’re probably constantly looking for ways to improve your goods or services but, at least annually, position your customer at the centre of your thinking rather than the product itself. To help boost business growth, the first step is to ask clients and potential clients what they buy and are considering buying, whether they have problems that need a commercial solution, and what their options are. Next step: reimagine your market. Rather than viewing it along product lines or sales regions, come up with another way to segment it by dividing it into buyers, buyer sizes or channels, and, from that new perspective, look at market trends and new technologies.
Tanya Creer, digital business advisor for the Australian Small Business Advisory Services’ Digital Business Solutions program, counsels people to identify how their business differs from competitors, that is, what is their unique selling proposition. “Some clients say to me, ‘I don't have competition,’ so I ask them to imagine a competitor,” says Creer. “If you identify what your customer or potential customer looks like, what their problem is, and how the business can solve the problem, you’ll come up with a much better USP than ‘I'm better than next door’.”
State governments invest in SMEs via small business grants. Federally, the Export Market Development Grants scheme reimburses up to 50% of eligible promotion expenses above $5,000 for those hoping to expand overseas. Some small businesses are eligible for the Research and Development Tax Incentive, which offsets costs of innovation, product testing and “experimental activities” for business growth. For information about federal grants and assistance, go to business.gov.au.*
Businesses, delighted by remote work’s potential to enlarge their talent pool and support staff’s wider lives, will be looking at how to make flexibility permanent. Technological solutions for collaboration include Zoom, Slack and project management tools Trello and Monday. But a University of Sydney study , published in the Australian Journal of Management, has cautioned employers against simply throwing software at the transition. “While technology can streamline many aspects of work, its continued use with few breaks can be really draining, especially when the boundaries between work and home life are blurred,” said co-author Shanta Dey. She and her multidisciplinary co-authors have urged employers to move mental health up their agendas in any remote work arrangements.
At workshops, Tanya Creer used to show an image of a plumber’s van with heavy signage, then ask participants firstly to recall its details and then what they’d do if their drains were blocked. “They’d say: ‘I’d Google it’,” says Creer. She hasn’t shown the image since COVID-19 lockdowns began because now, it’s redundant. Her point? Businesses need a digital presence. (She does worry, however, that businesses getting online for the first time “see the digital space as the magic button”.) Creer recommends you understand where your client is online, their age and interests and then brand the business across those platforms. “It’s not enough to fill in the blanks of a template. Sometimes business owners assume a brand is a logo but it’s about consistent messaging and includes everything from colour palettes, philosophy, imagery and writing style. It should reflect the personality of the business across all marketing.”
Social media will increase visibility and help SEO on websites but shouldn’t be confused with paid digital advertising. “Some people assume all their followers receive or see their posts and that’s not true; it’s all based on algorithms,” says Creer, whose background is in marketing and branding. “The truth is advertising costs money.” She says it’s important to plan and analyse social media marketing both in the organic and paid spaces and to know that there is a huge range of online tools available to measure return on investment.
Andrei Lux, who’s surveyed more than 800 workers across Australia to learn how their leaders’ behaviour shapes how they feel about work, has written about world figures who adopt an authentic leadership style by communicating honestly and acting with integrity. The lecturer at the School of Business and Law at Edith Cowan University in WA believes such an approach benefits smaller enterprises too. “Because small business owners are in close and frequent contact with their staff, an authentic leadership approach would be even more useful,” says Lux. “Authentic leaders develop shared values and build trust, which ultimately determine the engagement and performance of their staff and help people feel connected and safe, drawing them closer together.”
* This is general information only and does not constitute taxation or legal advice. Other requirements under the tax law apply. Seek professional tax and/or legal advice to determine whether you are eligible to claim a deduction for any purchases.