How can Victorian SMEs move forward when we’re told to stand still?

the blow lockdown

The BLOW Melbourne. Source: Instagram.

Five lockdowns and here’s what I know.

Over the last 18 months, my small business, The Blow, a hair styling boutique in Little Collins St, Melbourne, has been forced into government lockdown closures for almost seven months of trade. Those months of stillness were incredibly challenging, but a lockdown for a small business means so much more than the days we can’t operate.

It means months of rebuilding the momentum we lost in an instant. Waiting for borders to reopen, offices to go back to capacity, events to be rescheduled, lifestyles to get back into rhythm.

To paint a picture, offices at 50% capacity means businesses in the CBD can only expect to operate at 50% of foot traffic and revenue. With no changes to overheads (rent relief and Jobkeeper are now a distant memory), it means businesses need to learn how to trade at under half the demand, for the same costs. It means understanding new patterns of behaviour, perhaps that (as it is in our case) Mondays and Fridays are the days people work from home now — a complete 180 of pre-COVID patterns.

So we adjust. We figure it out. We start growing again. We start to see little improvements week on week, day on day, and as life ‘gets back to normal’, we see a bit of light.

And then the cases start to rise and we get pushed back to square one.

It means uncertainty, fear to plan, hesitation to hire and a complete hit to confidence. It means countless hours of labour going into planning, cancelling, changing plans again. It’s difficult to get creative, dream big and motivate your stakeholders when so much is up in the air. How do we move forward when we’re told to stand still?

It means huge sacrifice by millions of hard working people who are just having a go.

And it means negligible government support and weak leadership in the wake of a social, economic and health crisis. I am still waiting to receive the government support package from lockdown #4. This would cover my rent for the two weeks that we were closed. When it arrives, it will be helpful.

And while fundamentally I don’t believe that it is big government’s role to bail businesses out, in the case of COVID-19 in Australia, I believe we deserve greater leadership and respect. We’re reeling from the financial and emotional costs from the last closure, and in comes lockdown #5.

This is my experience. And I know we’ll make it through. We have an incredibly supportive community around us and a phenomenally resilient team. But what is expected of all of us is unsustainable and a huge burden, that for many, will be too much to bear again.

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