How to stay one step ahead


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It's just not my nature to be a prophet of doom, but many small businesses, like lots of employees, are on ‘death row’. Specifically, the real culprit is the economic sands of time which, nowadays, are dropping within an hour glass made in a factory enjoying little protection from imports, where workers are on enterprise agreements and where price competition is making it difficult to make massive profits.

This is not a problem for go-ahead sectors such as business and property services, recreation and hospitality and, of course, finance.

In danger of extinction

Just as some businesses are in the wrong business, similarly their employees are just as endangered.And as long as unemployment continues to fall, interest rates remain low and share prices succumb to gravity, economic life will get tougher for some businesses and some workers.

Big business, for different reasons, is the common threat to both small business and employees. Many big businesses shed workers to reduce costs. This threatens employees. On the other hand, it creates small business opportunities with outsourcing an important source of small business growth.

Meanwhile, big business such as the supermarkets and oil companies are increasingly threatening the lives of corner shops, bakeries, and so on.

The price of loyalty

My wife recently referred to a great offer from one big company, which will remain nameless, which promised just about Tasmania – but fell short of a block of flats – if customers directly subscribed to their product, effectively bypassing the small business outlets which have been partnering and promoting their product for years.

The offer saw the partnering of three or even more big companies all offering trinkets, provided that you deserted your old customer associations for a more exclusive loyalty deal. Like Homer Simpson, I mindlessly said, “Yeah, that sounds like a good deal”. But then I remembered I was a small business editor who needs small businesses to flourish to justify my existence, at least in the media.

Be market savvy

Of course, the world does not have enough small business editors to ensure the longevity of small business, so here are some words of advice which should be taken on board by any employer who feels vulnerable.

Firstly, e-commerce will be even bigger in the future, so get very IT comfortable. Develop businesses which have growth potential: personal services, hospitality, financial advice. Do your homework and work out tomorrow's winning industries. Boost your skills by subjecting yourself and your staff to training. Customer service training not only will help employees get jobs but will help small businesses succeed.

Once you feel you have developed something really good, then market, market and market yourself.

I recently walked into a local shop which looked great. I asked the girl how long she had been there and she replied, “Since 12.30pm”. It was a smart answer and I laughed. Some people might have walked out. Eventually she told me that she'd been there for a year! 

Now call me unobservant if you like, but that business has a marketing problem. With big threats for small business increasing all the time, no one can afford to be complacent. 


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