2020 vision: What can small businesses learn from the year that was?

- December 23, 2020 3 MIN READ
2020 vision

The past 12 months have been a time of huge transition. While we hope the worst of the pandemic is behind us, the future of the world and workplace has drastically changed. What can SMEs learn from this extraordinary year to set us up for business success in 2021? asks Neil Luo, Head of Growth at Airwallex.

The digital economy is no longer a novelty, but a necessity

The pandemic has fast-tracked the online economy in a way no one could have foreseen. For many businesses, COVID-19 meant sink or swim and a transition to digital was the best chance of survival.

While industries like tourism slowed down, the e-commerce, logistics, digital and technology sectors continued to thrive by introducing online operations and customer touchpoints; a trend that will only continue to grow. Despite this rapid transformation however, barriers to embracing digital transformation still remain for SMEs:

  • The shift can appear too daunting. Small business owners are often strapped for time, resources and not always digital natives. To mitigate this, it’s important to take advantage of the assistance available from providers. For example 24/7 customer service, training and online tutorials
  • It’s perceived as expensive. While there may be some setup costs and new subscriptions to consider, the opportunities created for your business should far outweigh this. Deloitte estimates that the Australian economy grew by an extra $126bn in 2019 thanks to the productivity benefits of digital tech. There are serious savings to be made.

The Australian government is also encouraging digital transformation to recover the economy, having announced almost $800m in funding to help businesses embrace digital technologies to grow their businesses and stimulate job creation. 

Agility is everything

COVID challenged what it means to be a “safe” business. Revenues tumbled across major and seemingly untouchable industries like aviation, manufacturing and hospitality, even for the market leaders. With demand in decline, commercial success in 2020 hinged on an organisation’s ability to pivot based on rapidly changing customer, employee or sector needs.

As a result, businesses that embraced remote working and other digital technologies had the smoothest transition to what has become our new normality. Digital technologies shifted from a support function, to mainstay when meeting new customer expectations. For example, the rise of online customer support via live messaging or video-calling.

Remote working works for business owners – make it work for your team too

Remote working has transformed day-to-day business operations, with many positives emerging: increased productivity, expanded talent pools for recruiting and lower overhead costs for the traditional bricks and mortar office.

However, remote teams also highlighted the importance of keeping employees engaged. For example, our employee engagement initiatives included beta testing our latest product, Airwallex Virtual Cards, on the team directly. The team has been using the cards for team building activities like cooking and painting classes – we even set up a virtual brewing class!

Brand identity has never been more important

At a first glance, brand identity may not be a top business priority in 2020. However, during turbulent times, a trusted brand can provide much-needed stability for customers.

Airwallex celebrated our fifth anniversary this month and launched refreshed brand values to guide us into 2021 and beyond. As the year draws to a close, it’s a good time to reflect and ask: Does your brand still align with your business vision?

2020 has certainly been one of the most difficult years in recent times, but a powerful reminder that we must be prepared for change and disruption. If we can take anything away from this year, it’s to go digital, embrace agility, engage your remote workforce and strengthen your brand identity – to armour your business for the rebuild that awaits us in 2021.

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