A new era of online innovation is sparking hope for Canberra’s entrepreneurs and small businesses, facing the impacts of the pandemic.

Small businesses are grappling with the impact of physical distancing, strict hygiene practices, and limits on customer numbers. Many in the retail, hospitality, beauty, tourism, and recreational sectors have not survived.

Data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics show 42% of small businesses have had to access support measures during COVID-19. Without support measures, 10% of all businesses would close permanently.

Image by Parv Kapoor

To assist small businesses in navigating these stressful times, six students from the University of Canberra designed an online Toolkit on behalf of the International Association of Business Communicators.

Co-creator of the Toolkit for Small Businesses Stella Abeysinghe, commends Canberrans for being willing to learn new skills in order to make their business boom.

“Adaptability for a small business is crucial to their survival,” she said.

“It’s definitely important that businesses know how to use social media.”

Pre pandemic many small businesses relied on foot-traffic and word-of-mouth recommendations to grow their customer base. However, COVID-19 is now pushing them to learn how to self-advertise, promote from home, and find innovative ways of connecting with new and existing customers.

Image by Parv Kapoor

For a large or medium business, it might be reasonable to hire an external digital media agency to help give them a boost. However, this option is not always financially viable for small business owners. The Toolkit for Small Businesses can provide free, important digital assistance where these small business owners have previously lacked support.

The Toolkit is based on feedback from interviews with small business owners. It aims to teach those starting out how to build a social media and online presence, as well as showing those more advanced business owners how to optimise search engine algorithms.

“Social media can help grow a business’s audience and help them reach people,” said Mrs Abeysinghe.

“It’s not just a one-way method of communication anymore… It’s a two-way street where a business can get live feedback from their customers.”

Social media has grown to be one of the largest forms of advertisement for businesses. Therefore, not knowing how to utilise social media can be a large barrier for business owners, particularly during Covid-19.

Where do small businesses start?

It is important that small businesses get the most out of a small budget and limited time. So, the Toolkit, alongside other pieces of business advice, aims to maximise results. And the good news is, that it is possible to start or grow a business while working from home or within Government restrictions.

When starting out, the best place to begin is by creating social media accounts for the business and creating cheap and easy advertisements on Google, Facebook, Instagram, and even Snapchat to help find more potential customers and clientele.

Understanding a business’s target audience and what content is engaging to them is a big key to small business success, especially when working remotely. For example, statistics suggest that Facebook ads are, in most cases, more effective if a business’s target audience is in the 25-65 age range. However, younger target audiences respond better to Instagram and Snapchat advertisements.

There are other ways small businesses can support themselves, as well. The Australian Government has made it easier for many small businesses to retain their employees by implementing a JobKeeper payment scheme, and recently extended the criteria for eligible employees.

According to an update by the Australian Banking Association CEO, Anna Bligh, some banks have also taken steps to help businesses get back on their feet and continue operating. The Commonwealth Bank, Westpac, and the ANZ are among those who have put measures in place for businesses to defer loan fees and overdraft payments.

Although restrictions in the ACT have now relaxed, and businesses are reopening, the economic impact of closures and ongoing restrictions still leaves them vulnerable.

As we move towards a business environment centered around remote working conditions and online communication, small business owners need support and education. The Toolkit is one step to provide guidance for Small Businesses to reimagine online advertising and thrive during the pandemic.

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