21st June, 2021
Small businesses have made big sacrifices to keep their dreams alive over the past year.
It’s hard enough to keep a business running in a normal environment without the added pressure of an uncertain world.
The pandemic has amplified these sacrifices ten-fold. In fact, COVID-19 has made running a business virtually impossible for some small business owners.
A new report that delves into the reality of life on the hustle for Aussie small businesses reveals that top personal sacrifices made by small business owners include reducing the amount of takeaways (62 percent), dipping into hard earned savings (60 percent), cutting back on key grocery items (50 percent) and scrimping to reduce utility bills (48 percent).
Almost two in five (38 percent) also took on additional work, and one in five (18 percent) borrowed a significant amount of money from a friend or family member.
Some small business owners even made significant life choices by re-mortgaging their house (five percent) or putting off having kids (five percent).
We spoke to two small business owners to hear about their journey over the past year.
Jane Marx was thrilled to have just taken on a large events venue with seating for 200 people.
But then COVID-19 hit. And her world stopped turning.
The founder of Melbourne events business Merchant Road says that with events all but non-existent for the better part of 2020, it was hugely challenging.
“Our business looked completely different prior to COVID. We had built up a really strong network of clients who we ran events for regularly, and prior to the first lockdown, we had about two months of a full events calendar – our busiest time since starting the business.
“Post-lockdown, it took a long time to build up against to a point where we had a good number of bookings. The most recent lockdown in Melbourne resulted in most of those events being cancelled yet again,” said Marx.
But in a show of real determination, Marx made the decision to launch a second business, The Beautiful Bunch, which has experienced a lot of growth and huge community support.
The next-day floral delivery service experienced it’s busiest week during the most recent lockdown, which has kept her going.
The social enterprise employs women from migrant and refugee backgrounds. At a time when many are struggling to find work, the business is providing women with employment.
Marx admits that she’s made sacrifices along the way, to keep the wheels turning. Sleep, for one.
“I have two daughters, and one is still a baby, so despite all of the demands of the business, I need to spend some daylight hours with them. This means I need to work a lot at night, and I’m back up early in the morning to be at the flower market.”
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Fellow Melburnian Kane Ford launched hiking business Get Outside Melbourne in June 2019. As a sole trader, the unique concept was very much in the launch phase, as he set out to build a brand and establish a customer base.
During this build phase, customer numbers were small, but steadily growing. In the summer of 2020, he was achieving momentum. Then COVID hit.
“For a small business with the core product of hiking in the outdoors, revenue stopped immediately,” said Ford.
Like so many businesses, he was thrust into a period of time that required a lot of reading to understand the rules of trade under government restrictions.
“For the majority of last year, he was unable to deliver Get Outside Melbourne’s core product of hiking, so I had to think differently about the business, fast.”
Ford launched a range of candles inspired by his favourite hiking locations, which has now become a significant revenue stream for him.
“Another significant challenge has been adapting to the constantly changing COVID restrictions, and the stop/start nature of lockdowns,” he said.
“Putting our clients, and the broader communities safety at the top of our thinking has always been key, but practical constraints associated with cancellations, reschedules, capacity limits have been hard to adapt, which has definitely tested my resilience at times,” Ford said.
When Victorian restrictions eased enough to allow him to operate, he was forced to drop everything to ‘make hay while the sun shines’ – not knowing how long it would be before the next lockdown.
“On a business level, the biggest sacrifice has been to essentially scrap long-term business strategies. With so much uncertainty, especially in Victoria, I have transitioned my business plan that was based on one to two year horizons, to monthly goals and at this stage, so much can change – even in the space of four weeks,” said Ford.
The new research reveals that small business owners are regularly wearing a lot of hats to stay nimble – juggling customer service, finance management, planning and strategy and marketing.
Commissioned by Vistaprint, the newly launched Small Business Recovery Report is a national survey explores that the majority of small businesses have been doing it tough.
But positively, 71 percent of those surveyed believe their sacrifices have been worth it, or will pay off in the long run.
Which is true testament to the grit and determination that small business owners make to keep their business afloat.