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SMEs: Expert guide to thriving in uncertain times

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We understand. Uncertainty can feel paralyzing, especially for small businesses. You’ve poured your heart and soul into building something special, and the thought of economic shifts can be unsettling. But fear not!

In this week’s edition of Let’s talk our experts provide practical strategies designed to help your SME not just survive challenging times, but thrive and find new opportunities amidst the uncertainty.

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Hayley Fisher, Australia & New Zealand Country Manager at Adyen

Hayley Fisher, Australia & New Zealand Country Manager at Adyen

“Navigating uncertain times presents a challenge for any business, but for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), it is a true test of resilience and adaptability. Cash flow, the lifeblood of SMEs, is one of their most pressing challenges today. From late payments to unexpected expenses, managing cash flow is pivotal in ensuring the business weathers uncertain times.

“One effective strategy to consider is leveraging financial products that offer timely and flexible funding. This is particularly valuable in uncertain economic times, where liquidity and quick access to funds are critical for SMEs to manage operational challenges and capitalise on growth opportunities.

Adyen’s Capital uses historic payments data to offer pre-approved business loans, streamlining the funding process. This means SMEs on Adyen for Platforms can receive the funds needed for the business without going through time-consuming processes.

“For SMEs who are time poor and operating on minimal resources, simplified processes are highly valued. Products like Capital also eliminates complexities associated with traditional business financing, empowering SMEs to better optimise their time and resources towards the business.

“By utilising these embedded financial products, SMEs can not only navigate financial uncertainties but also foster an environment that’s conducive to growth and innovation.”

Matthew Sek, VP SME & Growth at Airwallex

Matthew Sek, VP SME & Growth at Airwallex

“In today’s unpredictable economic climate, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) need real-time financial insights to maintain stability and growth. Key to this is moving away from the traditional, month-end scramble to consolidate data, towards a comprehensive view of cash flow in real-time. For too long, businesses have relied on outdated methods, piecing together data from credit cards and bank accounts at the end of the month. This delays critical financial insights and hinders informed decision-making.

“Finding the right partners early on can not only help SMEs navigate volatility but can set them up for long-term success as they scale and their needs evolve. By leveraging partners like Airwallex that offer visibility and control over expenditures as they happen rather than end-of-month reconciliations, SMEs can make informed decisions quickly, adapt to optimise resource allocation and navigate uncertainties with greater confidence and agility.”

Laura Hill, Managing Director, International and Chief Partnerships Officer at Sendle

Laura Hill, Managing Director, International and Chief Partnerships Officer at Sendle

“With small business confidence hitting an all time low in April, it should come as no surprise that SMBs are worried about their future. Our research shows that many are feeling less confident, with 61%  feeling the brunt of inflation on their business. But it’s forcing SMBs to think outside the box to drive success.

“Business leaders are thinking frugally when it comes to their business costs, which includes taking stock of supplier relationships to ensure they’re getting the best deal. One of our recent surveys revealed that 33% of businesses have shifted the bulk of their shipping volume (75-100%) to Sendle, with more than half using multiple carriers to get the best price. A great example of the value of shopping around for the best deal is from the social enterprise sock brand, Sydney Sock Project, which saved more than $15K by reviewing their business expenses, like shipping.

“Finding places to save couldn’t be more important, whether it’s on shipping or other expenses — and the money saved can instead be reinvested into growing the business in 2024 and beyond.”

Bede Hackney, Head of ANZ at Zoom

Bede Hackney, Head of ANZ at Zoom

“SMBs across Australia are reacting to cost pressures by more aggressively adopting technology solutions that elevate customer and employee experiences throughout their value chain.

“As customer expectations for always-on, consistently high-quality, and omnichannel experience heighten, SMBs must identify the right technology solutions to meet customers where they are.

“That’s where an omnichannel communications solution which can seamlessly integrate with existing processes and technologies can help. By providing an AI-powered platform for team collaboration and customer interaction, organisations can meaningfully boost employee productivity and improve the company journey.

“For instance, AI chatbots and CRM systems present themselves as viable solutions. Simple customer requests and engagements across their websites or social media platforms that do not require human intervention can be automated via email, live chat, social media, and phone. This frees the team to spend more time on operations and engage with customers that come with complex issues. Insights into customer preferences and pain points help them create personalised content, boosting customer retention and alleviating pressures on the staff.

“With the help of platforms backed by accessible AI tools, businesses can effectively optimise ROIs, manage workforce shortage, retain customers and meet preferred objectives even during times of rising costs and uncertainty.”

Merlin Luck, Regional Vice President of Small and Medium Business at Salesforce

Merlin Luck, Regional Vice President of Small and Medium Business at Salesforce

“When it comes to staying ready for whatever lies ahead, having your business strategy and your technology strategy working hand-in-hand is an imperative. Being digital-first is critical, with recent research showing that 73% of customers expect better personalisation and experiences as technology advances.

“Transitioning to a digital-first business model – meaning businesses that use at least 51 per cent digital or cloud-based tools – is an actionable mindset as much as a shift to a specific app or technology. It’s a way of thinking that permeates every aspect of the business. Employees collaborate online, marketers and sales teams leverage online and social media to find new customers, and everything from lead generation to financial transactions is handled digitally, increasing efficiencies and decreasing costs.

“Businesses with a customer relationship management system (CRM) embedded in the business can use data, automation and AI insights, not previously available, to optimise their business operationally and strategically for sustainable growth.”

Mollie Eckersley, Head of Operations ANZ at BrightHR

Mollie Eckersley, Head of Operations ANZ at BrightHR

“Strategic planning is perhaps more important for SMEs than larger businesses. When unexpected events occur, larger corporations have more resources to draw from, which often gives them more options when reacting to uncertainties. SMEs don’t have this luxury.

“SME owners and employers need to act decisively while making smart use of their resources, so they need the tools in place to help them do that.

“Proactively cutting out inefficiencies and fixing pain points should be a continuous priority for SMEs. Digital tools with in-built custom reporting capabilities help SMEs pull the information they need without the hassle of compiling that information and tracking data manually. Whether it’s employee productivity or compliance reporting, having this information readily available is a game-changer.

“Upskilling your staff through e-learning can help you build a resilient team that automatically improves your business performance in uncertain times. Digitalising your business processes wherever possible can also improve your flexibility, agility, and expand your potential for growth. While these investments can seem hefty for an SME from the outset, they can save resources in the long run and free up time and money to focus on risk management and building a better business.”

Adam Anger, Chief Sales Officer and Head of International at Intuit Mailchimp

Adam Anger, Chief Sales Officer and Head of International at Intuit Mailchimp

“Businesses are navigating uncertain times, and their methods to connect with customers are changing by the day. Marketers that used to rely on social media now face shifting algorithms and brand safety concerns. The looming demise of third-party cookies and the impact of generative AI on search engines threaten SEO and SEM strategies. Today, businesses must aim to control what they can — their own channels.

“Owned channels like websites and email offer stability, providing a connection with customers that is free from third-party platform volatility. Businesses can build hyper-personalised and relevant experiences into those channels by gathering and leveraging consumer behaviour and preference data.

“Owned media is also a cost-effective solution amidst increasing digital ad costs. By focusing on owned media, many of the mid-sized companies we work with see unmatched ROI of that spend, of $36 to $45 for every dollar invested.

“With a strong owned media strategy, businesses can build solid marketing foundations to navigate today’s digital marketing turbulence.”

Carl Warwick, Regional Sales Director Asia Pacific and Japan at Billing Platform

Carl Warwick, Regional Sales Director Asia Pacific and Japan at Billing Platform

“If your business has a high volume of invoices and relies heavily on manual processes, it can be challenging for your accounts receivable team to keep on top of things. In today’s tight times, you can’t afford for them not to be. That’s where modern, cloud-based revenue management technology comes into play – and into its own.

“Automating the debt management and collections process can introduce additional rigour to the revenue management journey and accelerate the pace at which customers settle their accounts, thereby mitigating the risk posed by delinquent debtors.

“Choose the right revenue management platform – one that combines billing, dunning and collections in a single solution – and you’ll be able to proactively manage collections, reduce days sales outstanding and improve cash flow.

“It’s an unparalleled opportunity to minimise bad debt write-offs, enhance employee productivity and improve customer satisfaction.  You’ll also enjoy the advantages of centralised data, enhanced ability to forecast payments and cash flow, and improved customer relations, the last courtesy of the fact that all payment related communications will be both timely and accurate.”

Fabian Calle, Managing Director, Small and Medium Business, ANZ at SAP Concur

Fabian Calle, Managing Director, Small and Medium Business, ANZ at SAP Concur

“One key approach small and medium enterprises (SMEs) can adopt to maintain financial stability and foster growth in uncertain economic times is to enhance spend visibility and control. While completely freezing business spending can lead to missed opportunities and stagnation, strategic resource allocation based on thorough financial analysis can deliver significant benefits to the business and its bottom line.

“Investing in technology is critical for scalability and integration. Tools that can adapt to changing needs and integrate seamlessly with other systems let business leaders maintain operational continuity and respond to market demands. Automation plays a crucial role by streamlining financial processes, reducing errors, and providing real-time insights for swift and informed decision-making. Solutions that prioritise user experience also ensure that employees can use them effectively, maximising their potential benefits.

“Focusing on these strategies lets SMEs better navigate modern challenges and uncertainties, making them more resilient and better positioned to seize emerging opportunities. Automated travel and expense management solutions in particular, streamline financial transactions and enable individual users, finance teams, and business leaders to track and control spending with precision. This automation saves time and reduces the likelihood of errors, enhancing the overall efficiency of financial operations.”

Luke Fossett, General Manager ANZ at GoCardless

Luke Fossett, General Manager ANZ at GoCardless

“Reports indicate that business insolvencies in Australia have hit new highs, rising more than 22% since April last year. This alarming trend highlights the urgent need for SMEs to adopt strong, adaptable strategies to help weather uncertain times.

“One area of focus should be improving cash flow, which begins with effective payment offerings and efficient systems for collecting payments. Proactive measures, such as automating payment collection with direct debit, can not only reduce the administrative burden but also lessen the risk of late or missed payments.

“Actually understanding the data is also important; wrap your head around consumer patterns and behaviour. Then, come up with ways to tweak your strategies to lean into customer habits. Maintaining good customer relations remains the best way to keep your revenue stable – so make sure you communicate well with your patrons and that you’re always clear on matters like payment terms.

Our recent data indicates that over half of Aussie business leaders are concerned that the number of late-paying customers will increase over the next 12 months. Providing a great customer experience and leaning into payer preferences is key to getting through tough times.”

Ryan Williams, Director of the Australian Centre for Business Growth

Ryan Williams, Director of the Australian Centre for Business Growth

“Larger organisations have stronger financial reserves and access to capital than SMEs and can be better placed to survive financial downturns. However, SMEs are nimbler and more tactically adroit, making them able to pivot or grab new opportunities even within a challenging economic environment.

“Thus, it is critical to:

Monitor costs and the risk of losing customers. While customers may cut discretionary spending, a noteworthy trend during recessions sees people default to trusted brands, even if they’re not the cheapest. So, if your company has strong brand equity, it can become a competitive advantage in tougher times.

Keep an eye open for meaningful opportunities. History shows in uncertain times, it’s critical to balance efforts to protect your business with seeking opportunities. Economic uncertainty can drive companies into panic mode resulting in cost-cutting and scaling down, but this can create longer-term problems. Better to look for ways to adapt to changed circumstances without unnecessarily stripping back your firm’s essential resources.

Understand “flat is the new up”. In a downturn, simply keeping things steady is an indirect form of growth. When the cycle turns again, everybody lifts, but firms who didn’t scale back will have a head start.”

Tegan Knight, Senior Business Director at Hopeful Monsters

Tegan Knight, Senior Business Director at Hopeful Monsters

“In tough times, SMEs need to compete even more for customers’ attention. Often with smaller budgets than big business , they need to make every dollar count. A lot of marketing is pretty bland and forgettable. That comes at a cost. Research shows that brands have to spend infinitely more on paid media for dull marketing to get the same results as more creative work. So being unexpected and different matters more than ever if you want to capture attention, and that doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. It’s about using that money wisely to create ideas that communicate with customers in the right channels about stuff they care about. Doing that also means you stay top of mind for when things pick back up.

“When times are tough, don’t forget about your people too. As a commercial business, the bottom line will always be important but ultimately it’s the people that will help you weather the storm. Involve your people in new areas of the business and get them to be a part of the solution. They’ll thank you for it in the long-term and you’ll have an upskilled team when you come out the other side.”

Alan Manly, CEO of CampusQ and author of The Unlikely Entrepreneur

Alan Manly, CEO of CampusQ and author of The Unlikely Entrepreneur

“In business knowing others is knowing the market. SME owners can easily become obsessed with their own business, constantly improving procedures and reducing costs. Worthwhile pursuits, but in uncertain times that may risk being too centric. There is a whole world out there with new ideas and takes on problems that you may share. Take a break from the day to day operations and walk around shopping centres and see what people are buying, what trends are changing in display advertising. How does your company look to others?

“Then it gets personal. Know yourself and your business. Are you fit for purpose health wise? Being a business owner is demanding. Are you aware of the latest technology? Do you have a plan to grow the business or maybe exit and move on? Test if it should be kept or sold at a profit to you and your family.  Investing time in understanding others and yourself will reduce the uncertainty in your business and hopefully enable you to make more enlightened decisions.”

Angus Stevens, Co-Founder at Start Beyond

Angus Stevens, Co-Founder at Start Beyond

“For SMEs, the key to sustained success comes from building and maintaining relationships with your customers. In uncertain times, a business can weather challenges effectively by prioritising customer retention, as long-standing clients lend credibility and stability to your business.

“Exceptional service for existing clients not only fosters loyalty but also provides insights into customer needs, shaping your approach to new customers. Retaining clients is more cost-effective than acquiring new ones, as you already understand their processes and priorities.

“To foster long-term client relationships, ensure you leverage testimonials, continuously offer support, and even provide reduced rates to show appreciation. These gestures enhance customer loyalty and advocacy, making it an overall worthwhile investment.

“Balancing the maintenance of existing relationships with the pursuit of new ones is crucial, but never underestimate the value of long-term clients. Their support and stability are fundamental to the enduring success of your business.”

Srujan Talakokkula, Managing Director, ANZ Commercial Business at Trend Micro

Srujan Talakokkula, Managing Director, ANZ Commercial Business at Trend Micro

“In 2023 the Australian Signals Directorate reported a cybercrime every 6 minutes and an average financial loss of $39,000 per incident. This fact reiterates the fast-evolving threat landscape and the uncertainty that it creates. The shift to remote work, uptake of cloud services, and the availability of gen AI tools that can be weaponised further adds complexity.

“To remain resilient during these times, SMBs must prioritise cybersecurity by investing in strategies that are both cost-effective but impactful. At the basic level, businesses must invest in basic cybersecurity practices like multi-factor authentication, data backups, limited shared accounts, and access controls. Regular software updates, staff training, and having a cyber incident emergency plan are also crucial.

“While this reduces some cyber risks, SMBs must take their cyber strategy a step further by collaborating with a trusted channel partner to establish a tailored security roadmap for their business needs. By leaning on a security specialised partner, SMBs can gain access to advanced risk assessment tools, compliance and regulations checklists, as well as the right expertise and know-how – reducing complexity while improving security posture.

“By implementing these measures, SMBs can significantly bolster their defences against cyber threats ensuring a safer and more secure operational environment.”

Dale Underwood, Technical Project Manager at Megantic

Dale Underwood, Technical Project Manager at Megantic

“Economic uncertainty can be daunting for SMEs, however utilising smart digital marketing strategies can help counter economic volatility. Don’t just bank on costly ads – make sure your website and content are SEO optimised so that potential best customers can find you organically without paying for exposure. A great strategy is to create top quality, useful content that informs and inspires your target audience. This establishes you as a thought leader and builds trust, fostering brand loyalty even when times are tough. Finally, leverage social media to connect with your audience, respond promptly to comments and messages, and build a strong online community. SMEs that use these strategies can build stronger relationships with customers and prospects, navigate the economic weather and be ready to step into the sunshine when it comes.”

Hiten R Thakrar, Solution Delivery Manager at Shopline Australia

Hiten R Thakrar, Solution Delivery Manager at Shopline Australia

“Navigating uncertain times can be challenging for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) Drawing from my experience transitioning from owning a small menswear business in Hunter Street, Sydney, to working at SHOPLINE with over a decade of e-commerce expertise, I’ve identified several key strategies that can help SMEs thrive even in turbulent times:

Diversify Revenue Streams:Expand your online presence to reach a broader audience and introduce complementary products or services to attract different customer segments.

Leverage Technology:Implement e-commerce solutions like SHOPLINE to streamline operations and use data analytics to understand customer preferences and adjust your offerings accordingly.

Strengthen Customer Relationships:Tailor your marketing efforts based on customer data to enhance loyalty and actively engage on social media to build a community.

Optimize Operational Efficiency:Streamline your supply chain and automate repetitive tasks to improve efficiency and reduce costs.

Financial Prudence:Maintain cash reserves, regularly review financial statements, and manage costs effectively by negotiating better terms with suppliers.

Adaptability and Innovation:Stay agile and be prepared to pivot your business model. Foster a culture of innovation within your team to stay competitive.

“By adopting these strategies, SMEs can navigate challenges and emerge stronger.”

Kylie Terrell, Director of Consultancy at Reward Gateway

Kylie Terrell, Director of Consultancy at Reward Gateway

“Rising inflation, interest rate hikes, and increased costs of essential items are putting mounting pressures on households and businesses across the country. In this environment, many small and medium businesses struggle to match pay rises with inflation, making it difficult to retain top talent.

“However, providing financial support for employees doesn’t always require pay increases. In fact, there are several creative strategies SMEs can introduce to help ease financial burdens while enhancing employee financial and all round wellbeing.

“These initiatives can range from instant discounts and savings which help save on everyday expenses like groceries, petrol and clothing, to wellbeing programs spanning exercise classes, nutritional advice and mental health support. Not only do these benefits help make every employee’s dollar go further in a cost of living crisis, it also helps alleviate stress, build trust, and show recognition for their hard work.

“Introducing benefits like the above can have a profound impact, helping to increase your people’s disposable incomes by up to 10 per cent, giving small and medium businesses a cost effective, high impact way to prioritise and manage employee wellbeing and boost retention when times are tough.”

David Price, CEO at Peninsula Employsure

David Price, CEO at Peninsula Employsure

“Skills shortages can be difficult for SMEs to navigate, especially when they’re competing against larger corporations with more resources for recruitment. However, there are several ways that business owners can safeguard day-to-day operations and recruit more effectively to combat this challenge.

“Some resignations are unavoidable, but it helps to have sufficient notice periods in place that allow adequate time to fill roles and conduct handovers. It’s also useful to have a plan in place to plug initial gaps during peak demand periods, such as with casual and fixed-term employees – this is particularly important for trade, retail, and hospitality businesses.

“While it’s crucial that candidates have the right expertise and qualifications for the job, they should also be a good cultural fit for your business. Asking the right questions can reveal a candidate’s personality, work style and values, so you can see if they align with your team.

“Ensure job descriptions are transparent and accurate, with expectations and responsibilities clearly defined. Additionally, outline opportunities for career progression and professional development early on so that employees have clear goals, pathways to get there, and more reason to stay long-term.”

Andrii Bezruchko, CEO and founder at Newxel

Andrii Bezruchko, CEO and founder at Newxel

“During uncertain times, it is the CEO’s responsibility to assess risks and develop strategies to mitigate them. Life often shows that external risks can outpace your preparations, making crisis plans irrelevant. The best you can do is prepare yourself mentally to address them.

“Reflecting on the profound challenges brought by the ongoing war in Ukraine, I’ve learned that resilience is the cornerstone of navigating uncertain times. As a CEO, I see resilience as multifaceted, requiring focus on several key areas:

Adaptability and Flexibility: Develop crisis management plans, allowing your team to adapt to unforeseen challenges quickly.

Effective Communication: Maintain clear and consistent communication with employees to ensure everyone is informed, aligned, and can voice concerns. This builds trust and ensures common goals are met.

Operational Continuity: Ensure business continuity and service delivery, even during significant disruptions.

Client Trust: Proactively communicate with clients to address concerns about potential disruptions. Highlight your ability to deliver high-quality results under pressure to maintain client trust.

Growth and Innovation in Uncertainty: Use challenges as opportunities to identify and address internal weaknesses. Strengthening the organization during tough times can lead to growth and innovation.

Mental Health and Employee Well-Being: Recognize the importance of mental health. Maintain salaries and positions to provide financial stability and reinforce commitment to employee well-being.

Long-Term Vision and Strategic Adaptation: Focus on foresight, creativity, and strategic recalibration, going beyond mere survival.

“For fellow SME entrepreneurs—let resilience guide your journey. Entrepreneurship is about relentlessly adapting, overcoming obstacles, and transforming adversity into success.”

Matt Loop, VP and Head of Asia at Rippling

Matt Loop, VP and Head of Asia at Rippling

“In uncertain times, SMEs need to carefully consider the effectiveness and cost-efficiency of their investments – whether that be in training, people or technology. With the rapid rate of technological change, businesses must keep pace or risk being left behind. Prioritising agile and scalable technologies, which integrate various business processes and provide real-time data and insights for decision making, will empower you to adapt to evolving needs and regulatory environments.

“For SMEs needing to cut costs quickly, consolidation may be the answer. The cost of point solutions and subscriptions can stack up quickly, and as market conditions and business requirements change, their value can rapidly decline. That creates the need to invest more time and money in filling these gaps, resulting in managing multiple siloed solutions that don’t work harmoniously together.

“Additionally, reviewing your HR strategy is crucial. Consider whether investing in full-time employees or leveraging freelance talent or third party expertise may make more sense for your business model and current needs. Nowadays, there are plenty of platforms you can use to access skilled professionals for short-term projects, allowing you to scale your workforce up or down as needed without the long-term commitment and costs associated with full-time staff.”

Michael Haynes, SME Business Growth Specialist at ListenInnovateGrow

Michael Haynes, SME Business Growth Specialist at ListenInnovateGrow

“For B2B professional service companies such as Accounting, IT and Law firms to combat highly competitive and uncertain times, it is critical that they double down on their client engagement at the Decision Maker level. It is imperative that firms have a current and in-depth understanding of their clients’ priorities, objectives and key challenges.  Effective ways to gain these decision maker insights including Depth Interviews, Strategic Client Workshops and Decision-Maker Forums.

“Armed with these insights, the focus of B2B professional service firms’ can then be on executing a Go to Market Strategy (not simply a Marketing Plan)  to provide the decision makers within their clients and prospects with “AIR”—Advice, Insights and Recommendations to empower them to address their priorities and challenges. This is imperative as the latest research on professional service clients has revealed that EXPERTISE is the number one characteristic that buyers are seeking from Professional Service Firms.”

Robyn Djelassi, Managing Consultant and Founder of Impact People Solutions

Robyn Djelassi, Managing Consultant and Founder of Impact People Solutions

“If COVID has taught us anything, it’s the value of trusted and genuine relationships in business. Fair-weather friends won’t be the allies you need in uncertain times. Reconnect with those whose advice and experience you trust to help you navigate instability.

“Cash flow management must be front of mind. Strengthen your processes to tackle unpredictability by forecasting more regularly and building a sound cash reserve. Be ready to operate leanly and plan cuts to non-essential expenses to ensure you have a plan if the worst happens.

“Recognize that your customers may also be experiencing uncertainty. Offer flexible payment options where practical and communicate transparently about any operational changes. Without your narrative, they may create their own.

“Pivot your products and services if needed, but stay true to your core. Consider diversifying your revenue streams by targeting new markets or collaborating with other businesses to create new revenue and share the risk.

“Reconnecting with those around you whose advice and experience you have confidence in can help you make the right decisions during times of instability. Being ready to operate more leanly and planning cuts to non-essential expenses will ensure you have a plan should the worst happen.”

Christopher Telley, Brand Builder, Founder of HeyRCG!

Christopher Telley, Brand Builder, Founder of HeyRCG!

“Navigating uncertain times can be challenging, but with common sense and a solid understanding of risk and reward, it's manageable. Here are practical strategies to help SMEs stay resilient and grow:

Control Your Environment: Take charge of your business environment instead of letting it control you. Conduct thorough research and assess risks carefully. Being well- informed is key to making sound decisions.

Risk/Reward Analysis: Always understand the risk/reward ratio of any venture. This helps you make strategic choices that offer clear benefits with manageable risks. Balancing potential gains and losses is crucial.

Future Markets: Look ahead to markets with future potential. Anticipate trends and adapt strategies to meet upcoming demands. Staying ahead of the curve can open up new opportunities for growth.

Avoid Overextension: Maintain a balance between growth and sustainability. Overextending can lead to unnecessary risks and financial strain. Scale your operations thoughtfully and manage resources wisely.

Profitability and Cash Flow: In today’s business landscape, maintaining profitability and steady cash flow is crucial. Keep a close eye on your finances to stay resilient and weather economic fluctuations.

“By implementing these strategies, SMEs can better navigate uncertain times, ensuring resilience and sustainable growth.”

Peta Sigley, CEO and Co-Founder of Springfox

Peta Sigley, CEO and Co-Founder of Springfox

“In the current economic climate, the most important strategy SME leaders can adopt to safeguard their business and people is building organisational resilience. In fact, the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report identified resilience as one of the most important professional skills now and for the future of work.

“More than just the ability to get back up when knocked down, resilience is a skill which helps us operate under pressure, maintain an optimistic outlook during periods of turbulence, navigate change with agility, and bounce forward from setbacks.

“In an organisational setting, the power of resilience is that it acts as a buffer during particularly stressful or busy periods, preparing and enabling us to maintain balance and focus, manage stress, and sustain high performance at work.

“Importantly, resilience is something that can be built and strengthened over time, despite limited resources. It starts with authentic, compassionate leadership, cultivating a culture of trust and psychological safety, and encouraging strong mental and physical wellbeing practices – from nutrition and sleep, to movement and mindset.

“Investing in resilience is more than a feel-good activity – rather, it will enable SMEs to navigate uncertainty with confidence and agility and will form the foundation of a sustainable and high-performing organisation in uncertain times.”

Konstantin Klyagin, Founder and CEO of Redwerk

Konstantin Klyagin, Founder and CEO of Redwerk

“The cloud is the first thing that tops my mind when preparing for a natural or human-made crisis. Keep all your critical infrastructure and data backups in the cloud. This will enable remote access to your resources from a safe place.

“Secondly, your workforce should be ready for remote work. Because of COVID-19, there’s hardly a business that hasn’t tried working from home. But if you have all your employees back in the office, don’t rush to burn your bridges. Consider a hybrid work format to keep those remote work policies operational and up-to-date.

“Effective crisis management is not a solo act. Talk to your team early to understand their needs – is it financial assistance, relocation, or clear instructions?

“Remember to involve your professional network. It’s not every day that we need to avert a major crisis. Lean on fellow entrepreneurs and crisis management consultants to learn time-proven tips for business continuity.

“Something we at Redwerk adopted from our software development practice is documenting every single process and keeping that wealth of information in a corporate wiki. This eliminates confusion and keeps everyone informed.

“Finally, even the best plans can’t predict everything. Be prepared to react quickly and adjust your strategy as the situation unfolds.”

Elise Balsillie, Head of Thryv Australia

Elise Balsillie, Head of Thryv Australia

“In any business, having a plan and strategy in place to safeguard against challenging and uncertain times – such as the current volatile economy, loss of key employees or even a natural disaster – is imperative. A plan will ensure the business is prepared for potential scenarios that may put it under pressure or jeopardise its future.

“Although there is no way to make your business crisis-proof, you can make it risk-ready to ensure operational resilience.

“My top two tips for business owners to consider when planning for the unexpected includes:

Run a business impact analysis (BIA)
It’s important to risk-assess and plan for possible disruptions that may impact your everyday operations.
Do you know how severely a disruption could affect your business? Have you figured out how much money you’d lose if your business had to stop? Unfortunately, even a small-scale disruption to business can have a detrimental impact.
Running an impact analysis will help you to navigate the possible effects if your business is interrupted. Not only will you be able to document the expected outcomes of business disruption (such as lost sales and revenue) but you’ll be more aware of consequences you might not have otherwise anticipated.

Develop a crisis management plan
A crisis management plan can help any sized business mitigate the unexpected. It answers the critical ‘who, what, where, when and why’ questions that every possible scenario generates.
When creating your plan, make sure you can answer these questions in the event of a business interruption or crisis:

Who calls employees?

What role do employees play?

When should certain tasks (like communications) be performed?

Where should my employees reconvene?

When does the business communicate with customers, who manages that communication, and what channels do you use to convey your message?

A crisis plan provides a blueprint with all necessary logistics, so when the time comes, you can operate with focus and intent.”

David Ogilvie, CEO at David Ogilvie Consulting

David Ogilvie, CEO at David Ogilvie Consulting

“Sales, Inventory and Operations Planning (SIOP) is a dynamic process that, when conducted regularly, helps organisations balance their demand, production capacity and capital deployment. Instilling these disciplines into the business while it is a small and medium enterprise lays a solid foundation to enable it to become a significant business seamlessly. Companies growing from an SME status to a large business status will often need more cash and capital. Using an SIOP process will help you avoid this drain, ensure your growth plans are realistic, and provide the agility required to better manage the business in uncertain times.”

Lana Johnston, Founder and CEO of Taking It Forward Pty Ltd

Lana Johnston, Founder and CEO of Taking It Forward Pty Ltd

“Creating dynamic employee experiences will be critical to weathering uncertain times, and there are various ways to achieve this.

“Operational aspects include focusing on development opportunities, inclusion, belonging, pay, and benefits.

“However, understanding the specific needs and experiences of different employee groups is essential to creating dynamic work experiences. Employees must feel empowered to make local changes to improve their work experience—this is known as Employee Activation.

“Employees want to share and directly advise on what will make a difference for them and the customers they serve. They are best positioned to articulate necessary changes, as they understand the parameters, issues, and blockers impacting customers.

“Creating the right environment is crucial, and leaders play a key role by fostering trust, encouraging open communication, and valuing employee input.

“Listening to employees, empowering them, and making informed changes that benefit both the workforce and the customers ensures resilience and adaptability during challenging times.”

Walter Scremin, CEO at Ontime Delivery Solutions

Walter Scremin, CEO at Ontime Delivery Solutions

“Uncertain times provide an opportunity to re-assess what is working for your business, and what can be improved.

“A common high expense area for many SMEs is delivery transport – often a top five cost and an area where things can go wrong, with cost blowouts all too common. Too many SMEs over-spend on their transport divisions for mediocre results. Yet by analysing their efficiency and partnering with the right experts, they can often quickly save 10-15% on their transport costs.

This can be achieved without sacrificing customer service.

“In fact, uncertain times are a great opportunity to assess and improve your current customer service and communications, including the tech systems which support your business. Having a delivery solution which is responsive and efficient has never been more important as business wrestles with inflationary pressures, including persistently high fuel costs, which are shrinking margins.”

Trang Nova, Life and Business Coach at Trang Nova

Trang Nova, Life and Business Coach at Trang Nova

“My strategy is to focus on what I can control. In business, there will always be economic factors, technological changes, personal matters, or consumer behaviours that are out of our control. At the same time, there are always things that remain within our control: Our branding, messaging, marketing tactics, managing our expenses, our delivery to existing clients, optimising our mindset, and more.

“For example, in Australia right now, there is a cost of living crisis. My business predominantly sells to millennials and Gen Z working professionals, who feel the effects of inflation the most so I’ve received more price objections than ever before. As a result, I’m currently expanding my suite of offers to include low buy-in products that are only $12AUD, to compliment my offers that currently start at $600AUD.”

Warren Reynolds, Executive Chairman at Muzz Buzz

Warren Reynolds, Executive Chairman at Muzz Buzz

“With tough economic conditions likely to persist, it’s vital SMEs provide value to customers and consider strategies that don’t have a significant impact on already tight budgets.

“Some measures to assist SMEs include:

Focusing on Customer Service: Great service can be the difference between a customer returning or taking their money elsewhere.

Reward Loyalty: Discounts and freebies remind customers they’re valued and can potentially expand your customer base.

Re-negotiate Where Possible: If you can, re-negotiate leases and contracts to ensure your business is receiving value for money. Now is not the time to ‘set and forget’.

Invest in Staff: With the labour market remaining tight, it’s vital to hold onto good staff. Competitive wages are important, but for those who can’t afford to increase salaries, consider other ways of becoming an employer of choice, such as flexible rostering, social clubs, training, or career progression opportunities, for example.

Embrace Consumer Trends: Whether it be online delivery or a new product on the market, listen to what your customers are asking for, and be open to providing it.

Change It Up: Where possible, change menus, specials, or product offerings to encourage customers to return, and attract new ones.”

Jacob Galea, Business Coach, Founder of G Corp Advisory

Jacob Galea, Business Coach, Founder of G Corp Advisory

Staying Flexible is Key
When things are uncertain, small and medium businesses need to be able to adapt quickly. Set up regular check-ins, maybe every quarter or twice a year, to review your products/services, target markets, and operations. Get customer feedback, look at market trends, and see what your competitors are up to. Don’t be afraid to cut products or services that aren’t performing well anymore and shift those resources to more promising areas.
Encourage an innovative mindset at your company. Make it safe for employees to share new ideas, test rough concepts, and learn from mistakes. Put together teams with people from different roles to explore new business models, revenue sources, or ways to streamline operations. Embracing digital tech can help you be more nimble. See uncertainty as an opportunity to get creative and stay ahead of the curve.

Building Your Support Squad
No business is an island, and uncertain times highlight how important it is to cultivate a strong network. Have regular team meetings and anonymous suggestion boxes so employees can voice concerns and ideas for improving. Survey customers frequently to understand their changing needs and areas for improvement.
Team up with other local businesses through networking events, joint marketing, or resource-sharing agreements. Identify industry leaders, successful entrepreneurs, or retired execs who could mentor you. Vet them by asking for referrals and looking at their track records. Join relevant professional associations to tap into their training, best practice guides, and expertise.”

Jason May, Marketing Chief at Amaze

Jason May, Marketing Chief at Amaze

“In uncertain times, the instinct for many small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) is to pull back and adopt a hibernate state. While this reaction is understandable, it may not be the most advantageous approach. In fact, taking proactive and laser-targeted actions can prove to be highly profitable, provided you have the necessary resources to sustain your efforts.

“Strategic Steps for SMEs to Weather Uncertain Times:

Assess and Leverage Current Resources
Evaluate your current assets, whether they be capital, human resources, or technological capabilities, to best allocate these resources to achieve strategic objectives.

Identify Core Strengths and Opportunities
Pinpoint and focus on the core strengths of your business.

Invest in Technology
Investing in technology, particularly cloud computing solutions can enhance your operational efficiency and provide a competitive edge.

Maintain Customer Engagement
Staying connected with your customers is crucial to understanding their needs, and providing tailored solutions.

Financial Prudence and Planning
Ensure you have a robust financial plan in place to provide the stability needed.

Adaptability and Agility
Flexibility in operations and strategy is vital.”

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