29 March 2020
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How you can help small businesses during the COVID-19 outbreak

Claire Osman
24 March 2020

In light of recent events, it has become strikingly apparent that small businesses are about to face some tough times. To firmly plant the seed of uncertainty in Australians, the government announced on Sunday 22 March that it would be implementing a closure of “non-essential services” to help curb the COVID-19 outbreak. This specifically included pubs, clubs, cinemas, entertainment venues, casinos, nightclubs, indoor places of worship, gyms and indoor sporting venues that were to close by Tuesday 24 March. There has been no firm date of reopening, but the expectation benchmark has been set to 6 months. In addition, restaurants and cafes will only be able to provide takeaway options, so dine-in services will also be closed. As it turns out, #lifeinisolation does not mean hanging out at Bondi Beach, and the government enforced some harsh reprimands for those who thought it did. So what does this mean for the future of businesses?

On average, companies with fewer than 500 employees have less than a month of cash reserves according to JPMorgan Chase Institute, making things turn dire, fast.

As important as companies in our aviation sector are to the Australian economy, it is equally important to consider the ramifications for smaller businesses. Figures released in January by the Australian Parliament indicate that small businesses employ around 44 per cent of the national workforce, in the private sector and accounts for a 34 per cent contribution to the total GDP.

A number of everyday Australians have already been heavily impacted by these closures, most notably their staff. So along with the announcement of closures, the government announced it would provide $100,000 to eligible small and medium sized businesses and non-for-profits (including charities) that employ people with a minimum payment of $20,000. Under the enhanced scheme, employers will receive a payment equal to 100% of their salary and wages withheld (up from 50%), with a minimum payment of $10,000 and maximum payment of $50,000.

Kate Carnell, the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, has released advice through her website urging small business owners to “think about how you might run your business differently. Maybe you can reduce your costs that way.” Which could mean moving services online, delivery options or reconsidering a role an employee could play. “We, in small business, know tough times – we probably haven’t seen anything quite as tough as this before... But we’ll only get through if we support each other and we make tough decisions early.”

Another sector which sits in a grey area is the Arts, heavily affected by the restrictions to mass gatherings and social distancing. Cultural and creative ministers are scrambling to collect information in preparation for a response. Further strategies & measures have recently been announced, which Peter Switzer outlines here.

As consumers - especially those with a disposable income who are not directly affected, now is the time to get behind your local restaurant (with pick-up or takeaway options), hairdresser, and barista!

The “essential” services that the government has approved to stay open include supermarkets, pharmacies, public transport, banks, petrol stations, post offices, convenience stores, freight and logistics, food delivery, bottle shops, hairdressers, beauticians and shopping centres. Restaurants and cafes can stay open, but takeaway only and no dine-in options.

Walking into the CBD for work this week, with empty streets and desperate looks cropping up from behind coffee machines, has definitely made me conscious of this situation. But for those that have deserted their desks, in order to stop the spread of any germs, may not be able to visualise, firsthand, the realities facing employers right now.

With that in mind, here’s a few things you might consider doing to back your local community:

  • Gift vouchers –

When the dust settles on this outbreak, you’re obviously going to want to go out for that upcoming birthday/anniversary/celebration. Why not call up that restaurant you were eyeing off the menu for and buying a voucher for yourself ahead of time. They could clearly use the extra cash flow right now and later in the year, when you come to enjoy the occasion, it would almost feel like a free meal – win, win!

  • Street shopping -

If there’s two industries who are thriving right now, it’s the media and the large supermarket chains. So, lend a thought to the green grocer, butcher, deli, provedore, bakery or fishmonger in your neighbourhood. Although travelling between a few extra shops might add to the risk, a smaller vendor might be open to you potentially calling ahead to place an order and just pick up your goods, quick-smart.

  • Book a haircut –

Another thing that’s not going to stop despite the meltdowns everywhere is the growth of your mane. So why not book a haircut ahead of time or pre-pay with your hairdresser for the eventuality that those ends might split in the stress of isolation.

  • Buy a book –

Netflix and Stan aren’t going to sustain you for a lifetime. Maybe you can break up the screen time with a little magic of the written word. Book retailers haven’t had a breeze of a time in recent years with the turn to digital resources, so to make sure they make it through the next few months, it could be a massive help to finally buy that business book Peter Switzer keeps recommending or shed a few tears over that Oprah Book Club classic or even add to your interior finesse with that stunning coffee table book.

  • Join the club –

If you were thinking of purchasing an annual pass or membership to a local cultural institution – like a gallery, theatre, music hall – now would be the best time. If you were concerned about losing a few months of your membership due to closures, large venues such as these would most likely extend anyone’s passes for the time lost. Shoot an email before purchasing your pass to find out their current policy for COVID-19.

  • Deliveries! –

On the positive side of things, we are actually in a very fortunate time period when we are able to adapt to occurrences like these by moving online & accessing products by delivery. Imagine being alive during the Spanish Flu with no binge-watching of ‘Narcos’ or sushi being dropped at your door… Luckily, the majority of restaurants and hospitality businesses are available by delivery and a lot of adapting to the circumstances to help patrons. Guzman y Gomez is offering free delivery so you can still enjoy Taco Tuesday and delivery app DoorDash is taking no commissions away from vendors so try them for your next take-away order.

As business guru Mark Bouris shared on his Instagram, he is keeping his restaurant District Brasserie open for take away and local delivery. He posted this message along with the announcement:

“If you’re in business, keep fighting. We’re f***ing tough buggers. Don’t be overcome by the stress and complexity of what you’re facing. You’re not alone…Right now, your local cafes, restaurants need your support. Get your takeaway if you can afford to, keep money flowing.” Happy self-isolating! Get shopping!

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