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Year in review: What Australian small businesses learned in FY21

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Angus Capel

May 18, 2021

Navigating in the wake of COVID-19 has been no easy feat for Australia’s small businesses. But as we look towards a fresh start in the new financial year, there are silver linings to be found. In this series, we speak to self-employed business owners about what they’ve learnt from the year that was, and how they predict these lessons will help them succeed in FY22.

Sharni Honor, The Porch Sessions, Kingston Park SA 

When I was 20 years old, I left uni to pursue my passion for music. Although I’ve never been blessed with the natural talent to play an instrument, it’s something I’ve always loved. So in 2013, I enrolled in a music business short course. I was living with my parents at the time, and I somehow convinced them to let me host a gig in their front yard as part of my final assessment. We had three artists perform during the evening, and almost 250 people showed up. That’s how The Porch Sessions began eight years ago.  

What I learned in FY21

In a normal year, we’d usually run between 15 to 30 gigs throughout Australia. But in 2020, the pandemic wiped out the events industry almost immediately. We went from a beautiful growing business to having that momentum abruptly halted. It was devastating.

Despite all the challenges, I found a few silver linings. I had an opportunity to pause and reevaluate where the business was going – something I’ve never had the time to do before. Trying different ideas has been invaluable, and I learnt to trust my gut. 

My advice for other small business owners

Learn to lean into your instincts. It’s easy to get swept up in the next opportunity, but you’re also allowed to slow down – trust your intuition about what feels right. The new financial year is the perfect opportunity to set your own pace and work out where you’re headed next.  

Nina Bradshaw, Stash Coffee, Great Southern WA

The Great Southern is a beautiful part of Western Australia, home to a small, supportive community. My husband and I moved here in 2013 to raise a family and be closer to my parents. They run a winery, Singlefile Wines, in the region and we wanted to create something of our own that would complement their business. So we started a coffee roastery, Stash Coffee, selling beans out of the cellar door. 

What I learned in FY21

Last year when the pandemic hit, Western Australia was one of the first states to close its borders. As a result, many people from Perth looked to local holiday destinations, like the Great Southern. Our visitor population snowballed, and in turn, so too did our sales. We soon realised that we needed more staff. I learnt that you can’t underestimate the value of investing in people with the right attitude and enthusiasm, even if they don’t have all of the skills you’re after. Training is always available, but it’s much harder to teach values. 

The lesson I’ll take with me into the new financial year

Although we’re among the lucky ones that thrived throughout the past 12 months, as any small business owner knows, there are unique challenges at every turn. Learning to adapt quickly and maintain a flexible mindset is something I hope to hold onto in the new financial year – all while sharing beautiful coffee with our local (and expanded) community along the way. 

Josh Howard, Single Use Ain’t Sexy, Melbourne VIC

Like most Aussies, I consider myself environmentally conscious. I’ve always dreamed of helping others (including myself) to live a more sustainable lifestyle. But it wasn’t until early last year after I realised how many plastic bottles were ending up in landfills, that I decided to take action. By March 2020, I’d turned my passion into a fully fledged business called Single Use Ain’t Sexy, creating Australia’s first ‘just add water’ dissolvable soap tablets and reusable bottles, designed to minimise waste. 

What I learned in FY21

Coincidentally, I launched my brand just as COVID-19 was beginning to escalate. This presented some significant challenges, none more so than learning how to think on my feet. 

As Australians became more diligent about curbing the pandemic’s spread, it offered an opportunity to help combat dual crises: keeping everyone safe by washing their hands while limiting the amount of single-use plastic that all the soap products generated. I had no idea how the market would respond, so I was amazed to see thousands of Aussies getting behind our mission. After our first year, we sold out twice and saved up to 125,000 single use plastic bottles from landfills. This proves that a small idea can have a big impact if you’re brave enough to have a go. 

My advice for other small business owners

With a new financial year just around the corner, a takeaway for other small business owners is to keep experimenting and learning. Don’t be afraid to get creative, and release ideas into the wild before you’ve had the chance to perfect them – you never know where it could take your business next.

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