Small business trends for 2021: Two-way communication, empathy and shopping local

small business trends for 2021

Clarence Valley Directory founder Sally Power has been campaigning for Go Local First.

According to research by the nbn, Australians upped their online shopping by 49% during the pandemic — and there’s no going back now. The good news is a surge in community feeling has small businesses uniquely positioned to take advantage of this increase in online trade. So, where to from here? SmartCompany editor Eloise Keating spoke with a panel of industry experts about digital and other trends for small business in 2021.

Time to re-think your communication strategy

With people stuck at home, websites, customer relationship management (CRM) systems and social platforms became vital for businesses to maintain relationships and relevance. TikTok emerged as a key social channel for SMEs this year, up there with Twitter, Instagram and, of course, the baseline must-have, Facebook. 

The main thing to remember is this is “an evolution not a revolution”, says Michael Wretham, national communication and digital director at Match & Wood. So, the fundamentals of small business still apply, but now you’re delivering them through new channels. 

SMEs that nailed those fundamentals — by acting with empathy, like part of the community, and by sharing human stories — did better than others, Wretham says. But it’s no longer a one-way conversation, he warns. 

“A lot of small businesses before used these channels just to communicate outwards, whereas this year a two-way communication has started and it’s probably not going to stop after this point. 

So you need to have the communication strategy to be able to reply to and participate in those comments.”

More empathy helps SMEs anticipate customer needs, build better relationships

SME success stories to come out of 2020 often talk of ‘pivoting’, but “essentially it’s really understanding their customers”, says Fleur Anderson, director of business development at 89 Degrees East. In other words: empathy.

It is certainly a hot topic right now, with one survey revealing 93% of Australians would trust a business, buy more, and/or recommend it to friends and family if it demonstrated empathy towards its customers and community.

“It’s not about asking ‘How can I flog my product to them?’,” Anderson says, “but more understanding what their needs are, how they receive that message, or how they want to be communicated to, and then how your services meet their needs.”

Go Local First puts SMEs front and centre

The Council of Small Business Organisations Australia (COSBOA) has launched the Go Local First campaign to help build that community feeling and keep SMEs front of mind during these tough times. It includes free collateral for businesses, to remind and encourage consumers to support local.

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SMEs are “incredibly important to the economy, and to the community” — not just in terms of providing jobs, but as a “backbone” of local sporting competitions, says Peter Strong, CEO of COSBOA.

“That is what came through in this campaign — this understanding of the interconnection between small business and the rest of the community,” he says. 

Sandy Chong, CEO of the Australian Hairdressing Council, agrees. 

“As a business owner, what I love about Go Local First is the fact it does remind your community to actually come to you, even if it is online,” she says. “We found it a brilliant campaign because every business does well if other businesses do well. If communities do well, your business does well. That’s just how it works.”

Better, cheaper connectivity for remote businesses

According to research by the nbn, 70% of people want to support more local businesses online, but feel they only have a limited presence. 

It hopes to “level the playing field” via 240 new ‘business fibre zones’, which will provide businesses in remote and outer metro regions with “business-grade services at CBD prices”, says Ryan Williams, head of national stakeholder relations at the nbn

“There’s a real need and real want for local communities to support local, particularly after COVID-19,” he says. “That’s a really important reason for businesses to get online — so the local market is still available to them, whether online or in person.

NOW READ: Digital connectivity is essential for SMEs in a post-2020 environment

Go Local First

The Go Local First campaign is funded by the Federal Government and delivered by the Council of Small business Organisations Australia (COSBOA) on behalf of small businesses everywhere. COSBOA is Australia’s peak body exclusively representing the interests of small business. The Go Local First campaign encourages consumers to buy products and services from small businesses so our local communities and economies thrive.

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