I attended the Sydney leg of an Australia Post roadshow hosted by CEO Ahmed Fahour this week. And it was a “Yep, they’ve got their moment” for me as I saw the fruit of three years of SME-focused digital product development first hand.
I wrote a couple of years ago about how the employment growth around the OECD was to be driven by SMEs and the self-employed. Back in 2013 most studies were saying that as governments and corporations shrunk in numbers of employees, the slack would be taken up by people backing themselves as they chose, or were forced, to leave full-time work in government and large organisations.
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Mid-last year I wrote about some cities in the south of England having 20% of the total workforce in that region self-employed. Brighton and Cheltenham were two I think. I am the Chairman of a niche company, eBrands based at Fox Studios Sydney, that helps organisations build employee value propositions to attract and retain workers. We help ensure there are a greater number of high calibre candidates wanting to join these companies. And that’s a constant challenge especially in attracting new, young employees as more than 80% of the under 25s would prefer to work for themselves than for a large company.
There were two key challenges I observed, and which were played back to me in meetings with large companies who wanted to help new small businesses grow. The first was that it was difficult to talk to such a wide array of very different smaller customers. The second was that it was difficult for those small businesses to engage easily with these large companies’ services that help grow a small business. Such a partnership should happen “frictionlessly”, in the words of Gavin Gomes, the General Manager, Business & Partner Sales at Australia Post.
Here’s the thing: I don’t doubt for one second the genuine desire for large corporations to help grow smaller businesses. As you read this blog, ANZ is advertising on SmartCompany to you the reader and small business owner. It’s good business to address a growing market and it always feels good to be part of a journey of success.
So, seeing first-hand the work that has been done by Australia Post to invest in its online systems, physical locations and staff to provide real products that are easy to use by smaller businesses, was impressive. And not just traditional mail and logistics products in Australia but access physically and virtually to and from China. I believe other large corporations are now finally reaping the benefits of investment of systems and staff to work with SMEs.
ASX-listed SALMAT’s online digital catalogue site, Lasoo, and its local area marketing solution allow small physical and pure play online retailers to self-serve local catalogue marketing campaigns via a website.
Physical catalogues have become the new interim step for pure, small online retailers wanting to have a physical presence before the big step of a physical store. In parts of Europe the lift in physical catalogue volumes is huge, all driven by pure online retailers.
In Telstra’s Business Centres, whether owned or franchised, the SME product and service focus is very evident meaning it has become much easier to engage. Westpac too is walking the talk when it comes to shaping and delivering online and mobile banking services to SMEs. It is doing this often better than its smaller competitors.
I once wrote that in the business world, figuratively, it’s difficult for elephants to play with mice. That’s not just because mice scare elephants, as mice are fast, erratic, numerous and can really get up an elephant’s nose. No, it’s difficult because the large number of small company owners, wanting to engage physically with the small number of large company employees dedicated to serving them, would swamp the large companies. So each of the large companies named above has invested in digital touch points tailored just to allow SMEs to buy services tailored to them. Services tailored to growing SMEs.