As many small business owners have been dealing with a lot of uncertainty over the past year, the Ahead for Business team checked in with Steve Walker, a business advisor from South West Western Australia, to tell us more about how small businesses in this region have been adapting to changes.
Q: Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and what your role is relating to small business?
A: I am part of an advisory team that provides business advice to small/medium businesses throughout the south west of Western Australia. It is a state government initiative where they have contracted with us to provide the service free of charge. We also hold business workshops on a monthly basis, which are also free.
Q: How do you think COVID-19 has impacted the mental health of small business owners in your area?
A: A number of businesses have folded and those that were poised to start up have stepped back. Most of the business owners in these situations have found jobs working for others and are back on wages. However, we are seeing signs of stress in businesses, the problem is that most business owners don’t recognise the issues that this stress causes, not just for them but also their staff.
Q: Why do you think mental health and wellbeing is important to small business owners?
A: Our moods swing from time to time, day to day, but if our mood becomes detrimental to our way of life and is affecting our family, friends and work colleagues, then our lives start to crumble, and so does our business. We often don’t recognise this until it’s too late, unlike a cut or a broken bone. When we bleed or break something, we are quick to get it fixed. If we leave mental health issues for too long the road back to normality can be long. We need the same approach to how we see and fix physical issues to apply to mental health.
Q: You advise a lot of business owners. What are some of the best or most surprising strategies you have seen small business owners use when dealing with adversities?
A: I had a café owner who, prior to COVID, opened up his café on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights for dining. Then COVID hit. He spoke to his staff and it was agreed that they also provide takeaway meals. It was a hit. Another business had to close but the owners took a simple approach and used some cash they had been squirrelling away from the moment their doors were opened…they took a risk management approach and managed their cashflow better than most!
Q: What advice would you give to small business owners in the region who might be having a tough time right now?
A: Consider pivoting (adapting) the business. Look at what you currently do, the resources and skills you have and capacity that presents. What can you utilise better? It is all about being different from the competition and sustaining this difference. Take the time to really look closely at your business and see how you could better develop and drive marketing strategies through various channels. Other than wages, most small businesses are not top heavy so reducing costs may not be feasible.