Right now, there’s a million well-meaning people telling the world to buy a local coffee and save the world of small business. Our local is Incanto in Kent Street, and we’d absolutely recommend Su and the team, but there’s much more to the story of small business in this current crazy climate.
Here’s a story from the belly of the beast.
It’s our story.
There are a thousand rules about ‘how to build a start-up’. We’re all indoctrinated with them. As we designed and built mwah. in 2016, and launched in February 2017, we broke almost every one of them.
Here’s the rules:
- Borrow someone else’s money. Don’t use your own.
We used our own. Backed ourselves. Believe me, that leads to some long sleepless nights.
- Get housed in a big corporate’s “incubator”. Get two free desks for 20% of your business.
We bought some flat pack furniture, and found our own office. Today between those of us in the business, we own 100%.
- 95% of start-ups fail. Fail fast and start again.
We didn’t fail. We worked our backsides off and made it happen.
- Don’t have a team. Use contractors.
Every person on our team is a permanent employee. It matters to us. It’s a better foundation for being all in it together.
- Be half-arsed about your product. 80% is more than good enough.
Our product – every element of it – is 200% as good as we can possibly make it!
- Get a million customers. Hustle.
We worked to N=1. We still do. Every single customer matters the most. We make sure we deliver our best every single time. And, we deeply appreciate every single one.
- Fake it till you make it.
Every ounce of our business is from repeat and referral. There was and is no faking. Our ‘marketing’ is the voice of our clients. …although we do often think we should do some marketing soon 😀
Despite having broken all those rules, in February this year, we happily celebrated our third birthday. We also realised, we weren’t building a ‘start-up’ as much as we were building a business. A real one. A sustainable one. We are now one of the 2.3million ‘small to medium businesses’ in Australia with between 5 and 199 employees – and collectively we employ well over 50% of the Australian labour market.
As the world struggles under the weight of CoVid19, big decisions to restrict trade and travel, and the profound economic impact of fear, we’ve been asked many times what’s going to make a difference.
So, it seemed like as good a time as any to look at what have we learned about small businesses in those three years. And more specifically, what we know will be most important to them in this current climate of a global pandemic.
The Lessons We’ve Learned
Let’s start with the lessons. There are a million, but let’s jot down five. These five are in common with every small business we know.
It’s deeply Personal. It’s never ‘just business’.
When you build a business from scratch – from an idea to fundamentally make a difference to something you care deeply about – you give it everything you have, heart and soul. You risk everything. And it becomes part of you. The people who join you, care just as much.
New ideas take time. And Courage. And bloody hard work.
No one who’s built a business from scratch hasn’t laid awake at night and doubted themselves. As an employee, you have to impress someone else. As a business builder, the only person who can stop you is you. A new idea takes time and courage and self-belief beyond anything you thought you’d need. And then it takes a team with equal belief. Every day you have to look at each other, and say ‘we’ve got this’.
The Karma Economy is the best economy
If you’re building a sustainable business, you have to do the right thing by people. Every. Single. Day.
Every member of your team. Every customer. Every relationship.
Being generous, adding value and making a difference.
From Day 1, we did 10% of our work pro bono, even when it was tough.
The Karma Economy has been good to us, but I’m quite sure we’ve been good to it too.
Nothing kills your cashflow like that big client who doesn’t pay for 60 or 70 days. 60 days is not fair. We can’t say to Su “Thanks for the coffee. We’ll be back in a two months to pay for it”. You can’t tell your team, “Thanks for your hard work. Sorry we can’t pay for it”.
The shorter the gap between doing the work and being paid for it, the better business you have. Unanimously, this is the most painful and most important lesson of every small business we know.
The sky is falling. Make a plan to deal with falling sky.
Never waste time talking about a problem. Fix it and don’t let it happen again. It’s about a level of practical resilience that is the cornerstone of every business that has momentum and growth. Hurdles are for jumping, not pondering.
So, what will make a difference?
So, as the global economy shifts and everything is uncertain, what matters most to the 2.3million small-to-medium businesses in Australia?
Well, here’s the five things that not only we think matter most, but every small business client we work with, agrees on.
Make supporting small business a priority.
Seek them out. Scroll down past the big paid google ads to find them. Eat in them. Visit them. Work with them. Include them in the panel. This is where 50% of the Australian workforce works. They love their business, and they appreciate every customer. This is not a global conglomerate. This is gritty, real, sleeves rolled up and ready to work hard for you.
Make sure the rules work for the people who play by the rules.
Small businesses work hard to play by the rules, even when the rules are complicated and unclear. There is nothing more frustrating that trying to apply a complicated new rule (e.g., annualised wages from a few weeks ago) when even the three lawyers you’ve asked for clarity, are arguing about it.
If lawyers can’t agree, then how do you expect restaurants, retailers, tradies, and every other small business to apply them.
So, as we head into these turbulent times, make the rules simpler and clearer. As simple and concise as possible. Tax. Industrial Relations. Payroll. Wherever possible remove the admin burden.
Cashflow is, and will continue to be, everything.
There will be no greater challenge for small business during these times than cashflow. It’s always a constant focus. Now it will be doubly so.
Outgoings matter – Tax, Rent, Wages – all make a difference. Support in these areas needs to be as direct as possible.
Incomings matter just as much. Getting paid in full and on time when the work is done and the service or product is delivered, makes a world of difference.
Look after the team.
Small businesses thrive on great people, and they care deeply about every person on the team. In the last few weeks, every small-to-medium business that’s rung us, has been trying to keep their team safe. They want to protect them from this storm in any way they can. When it’s over, small businesses will recover fastest when their team is still intact and ready to go.
Small businesses are used to being resilient and hard-working. It’s in their DNA. They can hold their breath and make sacrifices when needed. They’re built for the future, for making a difference. They understand tough times, and hard decisions, but they’re looking forward. They need momentum and a plan. If it doesn’t work, they need a new one.
Adopting this approach to ideas to support small business will be critical. Ask for feedback, find out what works and what needs to change.
No one has seen a world quite like the one we’re facing right now.
There is no precedent and no textbook to refer to, and no easy options. But maybe with courage, kindness and a good understanding of the heart of a small business we can come up with ideas and plans to hold this massive part of every economy in the world safely for the future.