The last few years have shown that Australians in the main aren’t prone to panic and are level-headed and responsive when dealing with adversity. We have hopefully also learnt a lot during this time on how to better respond to a crisis.
Let’s face it, we have faced unprecedented bushfires and floods. We are also experiencing a severe drought, which, according to some, is the worst in recorded history. We have also seen terrorist attacks over the last few years impact people, businesses and communities.
And we now see a pandemic causing great concern, and once again, affecting not just business owners but employees and the whole community too.
The lessons learnt from these disasters must be used to create a better response to crises now and into the future.
There are well over two million small business owners in Australia.
Within this group, there are about 900,000 small business owners who between them employ over 4.5 million other people.
They are truck drivers, retailers, hairdressers, farmers, real estate agents, financial advisers, newsagents, cafe and restaurant owners, small manufacturers, butchers, engineers, architects, wholesalers, contractors, builders, tradespeople and the like. They are represented in all genders, all ages and all ethnic groups. They cover nearly all aspects of our society and, importantly, are found in all communities.
So, we now face the coronavirus pandemic. Small business owners and their employees will be at the centre of the impact and the centre of any response. They will also be an integral part of communications.
As an example of the importance of small businesses, we all know the power of ‘word-of-mouth’ communications in getting information out to the general public.
At the centre of word-of-mouth communication about coronavirus will be hairdressing salons, newsagents, pubs, retail stores, service stations, butchers, coffee shops and pharmacists.
So let’s make sure the word-of-mouth news being spread is accurate and not fuelling fear.
The best way to reach these small business owners is through industry associations, and also through local bookkeepers and accountants, their key stakeholders. There is an association for nearly every small business sector, sometimes more. Those associations know how to communicate to their members in the language and the way that is effective and timely. We must make better use of associations.
With this in mind, COSBOA association members will meet today to discuss coronavirus.
First, we will talk about the health of our members and the health of their employees, and then talk about the impact of coronavirus, potential and current, on businesses and the economy.
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How do we manage a business if public transport is cancelled? What does that cancellation mean for our employees?
If there are no products or parts coming from overseas suppliers, how do we service our customers?
What questions haven’t we thought of? What are the opportunities for small business owners? What will be our recommendations to governments?
This meeting is essential to getting information out to businesses and their employees and getting ideas and information back to all governments.
The associations who will have people at the meeting (by phone and in-person) represent over one million small businesses, so their opinions are worthwhile and indeed compelling.
We have recently seen small businesses heavily affected and even destroyed by bushfires. Yet, we have also seen small business owners and their employees support each other and support others.
We should have learnt many lessons from the recent disasters — lessons we can now apply in the context of coronavirus. The pandemic will not affect infrastructure like the fires, but it will likely affect businesses and jobs in similar ways to the bushfires, especially in indirect ways.
Small business owners are an integral part of Australian communities. In the good times and the difficult times, they are there — so let’s support them as they deal with change and crisis, support them with information and resources, and importantly, support them with their cashflow.