COVID-19 is a huge catalyst for change within the business community. There has never been such potential for innovation, but the real question is how to do it well. The answer is to capitalise on key strengths in your business, and identify potential opportunities for innovation that may be right under your nose.
Melbourne-based boutique event catering outfit Bursaria is a prime example of a business capitalising on its strengths. They started their Family Tuck Shop during lockdown and it was an instant hit amongst their Instagram audience of 4,000-plus.
The Family Tuck Shop was conceived as a welcome option for time poor families looking to alleviate the pressure of meal times, but still eat healthily during the lockdown workday. And since Bursaria had access to creative chefs, an industrial kitchen and an audience who were busier than ever, pivoting in this direction was a natural choice.
From snacks (date and almond protein balls) to family favourites (gnocchi with beef cheek ragout), Bursaria recognised the shift in their customer’s needs and initiated a change, quickly conceiving and launching the Family Tuck Shop business, cleverly leveraging off their key strengths and expertise.
This is a great example, but how can other SME businesses replicate this kind of success?
1. Discover your customers’ unmet needs
According to Healy, the key to a successful new move is to “really understand who your customers are”.
Healy says lockdown restrictions have created new consumer habits that will stick around post COVID-19.
“When you do something new for two or three months, no matter how unusual, we all learn new behaviours and new habits and it all becomes quite normal,” says Healy. This also applies to how the relationship changes between your business, your brand and your customers
Imber says identifying changed customer needs is essential to adapting to the new landscape.
“Business owners need to get close to their customers and understand what unmet needs their customers are now experiencing. Which of those needs are you in a position to solve really effectively?”
“What are you customers new needs in this new world? Identify them, address them, meet them.”
2. Evaluate the risks and costs
However, Healy also urges business owners to take the time to map out and address all considerations before making a move towards innovation.
“It is really important that businesses think through the risks,” he says.
“This is where lots of businesses make big mistakes.”
Healy says businesses tend to look through “rose-tinted spectacles” when planning a major investment into the business.
Healy suggests a 30% buffer to cover unexpected costs associated with a new venture. “That can quite often be essential to make sure that you’re not underestimating the impact of the investment on your existing business model,” he says.
3. Test new products or services with your customers
Imber says businesses should think about experimenting with their customers first before fully launching a new venture.
“That’s by far the least risky way to pivot or introduce new offerings into a business, for sure,” she says.
Healy agrees. “Sometimes it’s not possible to test, but if the investments involved are material to the business, you do want to test,” he says.
Healy says there’s nothing wrong with unashamedly being a second mover in business, as long as you’re not standing still for too long.
Businesses should look closely at the innovations of others to understand the lessons they’ve already encountered, according to Healy. “What’s gone wrong with other people? Or what’s going well with other businesses?”
The out-take is don’t stand still for long.
In a rapidly changing business world, Healy and Imber agree that the worst thing an SME can do is stand still.
Healy stresses the importance of staying agile in the face of the developing COVID-19 situation. He says Judo Bank’s speed in adapting to COVID-19 restrictions has been key to the company’s ongoing success – and continued ability to support SMEs.
“For Judo Bank, adapting to the circumstances of COVID-19 quickly, has proven to be very effective”, says Healy. “We were able to get into a new working rhythm within a couple of days.”
Imber echoes Healy’s message.
“I think not making a pivot is risky, because the world and the context we’re in has changed dramatically”, she says.
“It’s no longer an option to just stand still and do what you’ve always been doing and expect the same results. If you do that, I think you’re headed for a pretty bad result,” says Imber.
4. Invest in innovation
Imber calls COVID-19 “a huge opportunity for innovation” in small business.
“It’s really going to differentiate businesses that are investing in innovation, versus those that are not,” she says.
Healy’s key advice to SMEs is “don’t waste the opportunity to rethink the business model”.
SMEs should use the current turbulence as a motivation to “make the investments that you’ve always been thinking about but not felt the urgency to action”, says Healy.
In these unprecedented times, it’s time to think differently about your business. How will you make the most of this moment? The current challenge presents an opportunity to innovate, to embrace change. Think smart, plan ahead and if you can make it work for your business, seize the day.
Judo Bank is a challenger business bank, purposefully built to make it easier for Australian businesses to get the funding they need and the service they deserve.