As the 2022 Federal Budget approaches, Vista Australia CEO Marcus Marchant shares insights into why Australia needs a digital-led small business recovery.
It’s no secret small businesses are the lifeblood of the Australian economy and many struggled to stay afloat during the pandemic. Despite being touted as the key to economic recovery in 2022, many are still facing challenges, with relief not coming fast enough and business fatigue high.
Vista’s Small Business Recovery Report* found six in ten (60%) Australian small business owners dipped into savings, 50% cut back on groceries and one in five (18%) borrowed money from a friend or family member to survive [during 2021].
What most couldn’t do was something that would make their business resilient and sustainable - building digital skills.
Digital or bust
Consumer behaviour changed during the pandemic – and there is no going back. SMEs now operate in a world where digital is not only essential but the preferred channel of many customers.
However, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report** The Digital Transformation of SMEs identified the digital skills gap as one of the greatest barriers to SME digital adoption. Size and resource constraints are key reasons stopping SMEs going digital. That lack of digital knowhow makes SMEs less productive, sustainable and resilient.
Vista’s research also found one in three (32%) Australian small business owners struggle with marketing, and one in five struggle with IT, website and digital services (18%).
In a spin on the well-known ‘give a person a fish and you feed them for a day’, we need to help small businesses learn to fish in new waters by upskilling in digital design across social media, digital marketing, web design and more.
One-off cash injections are stop-gap measures, and not a long term solution. The government needs to prioritise scalable strategies that fast track learnings so small businesses can learn how to attract and retain customers in the digital realm.
Government incentives, public-private partnerships key
The OECD says the government can play an important role in reducing the SME digital skills gap by providing financial and tax incentives for SMEs to undertake training, particularly in digital marketing and website management. Stronger links and cooperation between private and public sectors and higher education providers is needed to facilitate initiatives like business accelerator programs.
Governments in Latin American countries and the Inter-American Development Bank are co-financing coding boot camps to meet demand from local communities, especially young people and entrepreneurs.
In a similar vein, Vista launched ‘99 Days of Design’ to empower small businesses with financial support and refreshed design identities to build and grow their brand and business through digital design.
Government support for Australia’s small businesses could extend to a voucher system similar to those introduced to stimulate spending to support hospitality, entertainment and tourism providers during the pandemic. A digital skills voucher for small business could go towards training in digital marketing or investment in digital products.
Encouraging emerging entrepreneurs
It’s not only about investing in digital skills. Investment in incentives to encourage emerging entrepreneurs and start ups – particularly digitally savvy younger generations – is also top of small business owner’s priorities for the pending budget.
Most government pandemic support was aimed at maintaining cash flow to keep afloat and keeping jobs, not incentivising entrepreneurs to create them. COVID was a time for survival. Now is the time to reward innovation. More Government support for creators would go a long way to rebuilding the aspirational innovation pipeline.
It’s another area where public and private sectors have a role to play, through incubators and hubs. That’s why Vista has teamed with the world’s largest funding marketplace for women-owned businesses, IFundWomen, to launch ‘ReferHer’, to connect women with resources, funding and coaching at co-working spaces globally, including One Roof in Melbourne.
Opportunity is born from adversity. The biggest opportunity for Australia’s small businesses is a digital-led recovery.
The question is how. Let’s see if the Budget gives some answers.