It’s been a tough few years for businesses worldwide, with restrictions, isolation periods and lockdowns impacting our lives signficantly. To get a sense of the impact of the pandemic on Australian small businesses, we've surveyed 455 Australian business owners and decision makers as part of our Small Business Digital Trends Survey.

Here are some of the key highlights and standout trends.

The pandemic creates both opportunities and challenges for businesses

Our survey revealed most businesses had suffered negatively from the pandemic, particularly those in travel, the arts and events. The winners, however, were ecommerce and businesses that could pivot their offerings to delivery, take away or virtual.

Businesses less than a year old were less impacted than established businesses, presumably because these startups were created during the pandemic.

However, the majority of business leaders reported halting new investments in growth, due to operating in ‘survival mode’.

Businesses in NSW and VIC were most impacted by the pandemic

NSW and VIC were the most negatively impacted by the pandemic, with QLD, SA, NT and TAS following behind. Not surprisingly, businesses in Western Australia were the least affected by the pandemic – given the lack of COVID-19 cases and restrictions in this state. However, the regions impacted most by the pandemic also produced the most significant business innovation in retaliation to the health crisis, with startups taking advantage of users' uptake in digital technology.

Startups like revolutioniseSPORT, who designed their refund software and methodology for sports organisations, Fig & Bloom, who offer on-demand flower deliveries and Pet Rescue, a digital marketplace for pet adoption, saw an increase in business during the pandemic due to their innovative use of digital.

An online presence is not seen as priority to some small businesses

While most businesses have some online presence, only 60% reported having a website. 49% stated their business had a Facebook account and 28% said they had Instagram. Of the businesses who reported not having any online presence, mature SMBs (3+ years) were more likely not to adopt digital practices and relied on word of mouth.

In general, SMBs seem hesitant to adopt new technologies or initiatives given budget concerns and constraints surrounding the economic uncertainty of the pandemic. This sense of unease has filtered through to business operations and prevented investment in digital.

Online payments became the new norm

While taking online payments has become commonplace, many businesses still operate with cash. Of those surveyed, 60% reported accepting online payments before the pandemic. Comparatively, newer SMBs seem more willing to adopt the technology (72%), seeing digital payments as a fundamental tool for business post-pandemic.

Uncertainty stalls businesses investing in digital

Despite some SMBs using the pandemic to bolster business, the majority (50%) are not looking to change their business in 2022 due to conservatism surrounding budgets and spending. Those looking to invest (24.5%) said they would invest on sales and marketing.

Takeaways for small business owners

Expect the unexpected

The last few months have shown the pandemic is here to stay in one way or another. Survival mode is not an option for the long term. Take the time to audit your business and evaluate your business’s ability to adapt to changing circumstances.

Invest in digital

If you don’t have a website, a well managed social media presence can be an easy and cheap alternative. Encourage your customers to share and recommed your business to people they trust. Although it does require some upfront and ongoing investment, being online will help your business in the long run.

Take your payments online

With more customer interactions happening online, a secure and smooth payments experience is important. Consider your business and customers’ needs and see what online payments solution works best for you.

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