JobKeeper: the training wheels are off

In this year’s long and winding road of shocks and surprises, there has been one undeviating constant: the extraordinary resilience of Australia’s 2.4 million businesses as well as its thousands of charities and community organisations.

Faced with cuts in incomes of 50 per cent to 100 per cent, it’s a miracle any of them are still here.

Yet news reports this week suggested bankruptcies totalled 8,000 last year, not a lot more than the 6,000 in 2018-19.

It’s fair to say that many of these remarkable survivals have been due to the enormously helpful JobKeeper supplement. This not only enabled businesses to keep their valued staff employed, but had the effect of turning those wages into everything from home renovations and garden makeovers, to home-delivered hamburgers…and onesies to enjoy them in.

There are expectations that the scaling down of JobKeeper from this week onwards will see a rapid increase in insolvencies.

But I wouldn’t be so sure.

During the Ides of March I optimistically predicted that Australian small business would rise above the challenge of COVID-19 and show the world our true colours of grit and determination – the tough stuff that Australian enterprise is built on.

Necessity: the mother of invention

Every day of the last 200 or so since lockdown, we have seen thousands of cases of innovation overcoming adversity, of creativity triumphing over crisis.

The SA Government’s COVIDSafe Awards announced last month, make particularly optimistic reading and provide all of us with encouragement as we enter the next phase.

Take the Cummins Agricultural and Horticultural Society, one of the first country shows across Australia to be cancelled in March, and the first to come up with a novel “online show”. This 109-year-old event ran for six weeks and received well over 200 entries thanks to the sponsorship support of local business, Olsson’s Sea Salt.

It reminds me of the recent Barossa Wine Show trophy presentation night. Normally a gala dinner for 300 or more, this year, small groups were hosted in local restaurants spread right across the valley, where they shared the awards by live streaming, still able to raise their glasses of Shiraz to each winner and make lots of unseemly noise….while supporting the local hospitality industry.

Earlier this year, two-year-old gym, Studio360 Cycle decided it wasn’t about to give away all of the hard work and money it had invested in its brand. So it maintained its community by delivering 40 “very, very, very” clean 70kg bikes all around Adelaide so their customers could log into a live-streamed class and experience the same atmosphere and competition in the safety of their own homes.

Salon Superstore used social platforms to communicate with customers and provide free home deliveries while undertaking a full renovation of their salon at HarbourTown, so that they were ready to trade when restrictions eased.

Like so many Australian wineries, Barrister’s Block Premium Wines grew their online store by building an ‘online relationship’ with their consumers through their ‘Care Package’ hampers, with products sourced only from local businesses forced to close due to COVID-19 and the December bushfires.

This has been a common wine industry story, with many of my friends in the industry reporting a record surge of online orders from their loyal customers, who have been genuinely concerned about their welfare and survival (while also assuaging a fierce lockdown thirst).

The General Wine Bar Kitchen in McLaren Vale adapted its business with Dine around the World private group “charters” to Thailand, Italy and Vietnam. The venue was booked by a single group, limited to people who know each other and all attendees were given a “flight briefing” before being individually served their exotic meals.

Food provider Abbots and Kinney adapted by delivering raw, frozen pastries, which customers could bake themselves, while watching the instructional videos, posted daily on their social media platform. They also teamed up with Lansdowne Wine to offer a wine, sourdough, coffee and milk delivery service to families.

The City of West Torrens ‘Get With The Program’ school holiday initiative could not go ahead due to COVID-19 restrictions. Temporarily rebadged as ‘Happy at Home’, the program was changed to feature a large variety of fun and educational individual and family activities via video and web links.

Crackle and Pop Records created a Youtube channel so customers could enjoy a series of ‘virtual digs’ through record crates, via a GoPro strapped to the owner’s head.

There are other inventive case studies beyond the government awards. A business concept that was already happening – ‘dark’ or ‘cloud kitchens’ – managed to leverage their model during COVID-19. These restaurants don’t have tables, chairs, waiters, or live customers, just a busy kitchen that prepares and delivers meals through the range of online food apps such as UberEats or Deliveroo.

One of our clients that we are particularly proud to work with is Detmold, a long-established family business that is a global leader in packaging.

The company pivoted to create a whole new product range – surgical and respirator face masks – under a new division, Detmold Medical, and have since employed 200 new people, some from hard-hit industries such as aviation.

Our own response to COVID-19 was to pull out all stops to maintain a connection with our clients through online conferencing and workshopping.

It was our ever-effervescent Business Development Manager Paul Kitching’s idea to strengthen this with an online networking platform, Coffee with PK.

Extraordinarily successful, it just clicked over its 100th session and is now an established part of the Adelaide (and interstate) business networking scene, providing serious discussion, humour (and sometimes teary group counselling) without the burden of small talk, unappetising appetisers and cheap bubbles.

The importance of brand

What businesses have learned from the last six months is that brand is everything…and by brand I mean a strong, authentic story, deeply embedded values and beliefs, a transparent and open staff culture as well as a sharp look and feel.

Strong and authentic brands have actually improved customer loyalty and retention during this tough time, while those with vague points of difference and shallow messaging have lost the game.

The businesses that used contemporary content during this period such as short, well produced video clips and podcasts stood out from their competitors, engaged their customers and provided value in the form of new information, advice or even good old fashioned fun.

A well established online presence has also been a key differentiator.

An up-to-date, contemporary, mobile-friendly website that is human-centred and customer-focused has become the only billboard that matters.

If that has been supported and amplified by a digital marketing strategy that uses a smart mix of paid and organic search and boosted social media posts, it has gained more cut through and custom than any amount of TV or radio advertising.

Planning for uncertainty

And that’s the future. There will be more consumers working from home so there will be less commuting, less radio consumption. There will be more Netflix, Apple and Stan streaming and less free to air TV watching – especially as one of the key viewer drawcards of summer sport seems likely to be reduced. There will also be less print media consumption as consumers move to digital news.

If there is any certainty from this year, it will be that the consumption behaviours learned this year will not only continue, but grow.

As businesses, organisations and not-for-profits plan for the uncertainty of a post-JobKeeper world, they will indeed need to keep being inventive and creative and resilient – so there has never been a better time to slap a coat of paint on your online shop front, invest in some snappy new content and sparkle up your brand.

Need help planning for the post-JobKeeper world? We’d love to talk.

Contact Fuller’s Business Development Manager, Paul (PK) Kitching today by emailing [email protected]

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