Our second letter in the series, ‘An open letter from small business to the Treasurer’ is from Rebecca Simmons, Co-Founder of Barc For Pets and Xero customer, who shares how government led digitisation programs can support the growth of small businesses and start-ups.
Small businesses have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. Data from Xero Small Business Insights tells us employment in small businesses across Australia was hit twice as hard as businesses overall.
As we turn our attention to the nation’s economic rebuild, all eyes will be on the upcoming Federal Budget on October 6. Will it recognise the integral role Australian’s small businesses will play in the road to recovery?
In this series, ‘An open letter from small business to the Treasurer’ – and its complementary Xero On Air episode – we call on small business owners to identify key areas of additional support that they believe could fuel small business health and growth.
An open letter to the Treasurer
In 2016, my partner and I founded Barc For Pets to give pets in the city a better quality of life. Offering pet sitting, dog walking and doggie day care, our unique brand of personalised pet care gives Sydney’s pet owners peace of mind when they’re working or holidaying.
Our business grew fast, but this left us with little time to plan the next steps. That was until we underwent a digital transformation process in 2019, as part of the Federal Government’s Small Business Digital Champions program and with the help of our mentor, Angus Capel from Xero.
Since then, we’ve launched a new ecommerce website, but it’s the behind-the-scenes transformation that’s really taken our business to the next level.
I believe that the digital transformation we undertook last year is the sole reason our business has been able to rise to the challenge of trading during a pandemic. If only more Australian small businesses had the same head start.
COVID changes the game
When COVID-19 travel restrictions were first introduced, our business took an immediate hit as cancellations rolled in. We took a 92% drop in business overnight, as our core business relies on people travelling. With more people working from home, there was also less demand for our other services such as doggie day care and dog walking.
We mobilised quickly to offer our clients a month of free doggie day care on our farm property. This strategy ensured that we kept customers in our program and demonstrated the value of the service we offer.
But what really saved us was the recent digitalisation of our business. As a part of the process, we introduced automation and forms of AI to streamline operations and improve efficiency.
By using cloud-based solutions such as ServiceM8, Xero and Asana, we’ve been able to dramatically reduce the amount of time we spend on invoicing, compliance, customer relations and project management.
The ecommerce platform has boosted our cash flow by enabling customers to pay online by credit card, Apple Pay and PayPal. Before this, we were regularly chasing up invoices for six months.
It’s safe to say that the digital transformation process has made all the difference to our business. With the backend processes of the business taken care of, we’ve had the time and space to regroup and focus on rebuilding our business during a challenging time.
With more time to spend on growing the business, we’ve introduced new lines of pet products to our website, expanded our services to cover new areas of Sydney, employed four new contractors, and completed a rebranding exercise.
Currently, we’ve got 400 clients on our books. Not a bad outcome for a small business that took a major hit at the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis.
Bridging the digital divide
From tradies to hairdressers, café owners and beyond, I believe that everyone in small business should prioritise digital transformation. It’s the key to growing and scaling a business, but many business owners are overwhelmed by the thought of it.
The format Barc For Pets followed could easily be applied to small businesses operating in any sector, but owners need clear guidance and support to make it happen.
This is where the government comes in. Something as simple as being offered a free, online course when granting an ABN would put small business owners on the right track from the get-go. Ideally, the course could be completed by anyone with an ABN – from established retail businesses to emerging home-based enterprises.
One initial outlay would provide a solid foundation for business owners to build profitable, sustainable and robust small businesses that will contribute to the local economy for years to come.
My wish is for all Australian small business owners to experience the confidence that comes with running a prosperous, secure, digital-ready business.
Rebecca & the team from Barc For Pets