‘Lockdown’ has been declared Word of the Year in 2020, however another close contender must have been the word ‘pivot’. The verb has moved from a boardroom buzzword to a key survival tool for businesses across the globe. Successful pivots can be attributed to the creativity, resilience and entrepreneurial nature of SMEs and represent anything from the acceleration of an existing plan to a complete diversification into something new.
Where SMEs have triumphed though, is in their ability to respond quickly, adapt and transform in order to survive. We have seen extraordinary innovation within the sector (as the old adage says ‘necessity is the mother of invention’) with small businesses altering their services and operations. Many have added online and delivery services or switched their manufacturing to provide different products, to cope with the surge in demand for speciality goods (think back to March and the toilet paper, hand sanitiser and personal protective equipment (PPE) shortages).
The New Zealand Parliament’s Monthly Economic Review for October shows negative annual growth in lending to the business sector from registered banks and non-bank lending institutions, for the first time in nine years. Ongoing uncertainty at home and overseas means that while there is light at the end of the tunnel, the road to recovery may be slow and somewhat bumpy.
Some of New Zealand’s most recognised brands (some of whom are traditionally slow movers) have taken a leap of faith and moved rapidly in order to keep up with demand. Investment in the digital space and overhauling limited ecommerce capabilities has been paramount for businesses, with the added complication of integrating click and collect, contactless solutions for customers.
To cater for a 300 per cent increase in online shopping demand, Countdown launched a 24 hours a day, seven days a week dedicated online store operation. For the first time in 30 years, National Express Products, opened its B2B portal to the public, offering next-day delivery to home addresses. Understanding the importance of Kiwis staying active with their gyms closed due to strict lockdown measures, Les Mills worked with TVNZ to facilitate workout videos being broadcast on free to air TV.
There are also many smaller scale success stories from distilleries and craft breweries making hand sanitiser to fashion manufacturers making PPE equipment – right down to our local restaurants offering home delivery or diversifying to offer groceries and delivering other products.
The businesses that are showing growth are the ones that have been able to capitalise on the changes in our buying habits. We can expect that many of these business reinventions and changes in how we work, shop and interact to be around long-term. As a result, newly discovered brand loyalty and a significant ‘buy local’ mentality has developed.
THE IMPACT OF PIVOTING MAY BE HERE TO STAY
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade data states 97 per cent of all businesses in New Zealand are SMEs, which in turn equates to 29 per cent of all employees and 28 per cent of gross domestic product. Never has the potential positive or negative impact on the economy been greater when it comes to businesses pivoting.
For many businesses, the pivot to change products or services may be a short-lived and simple tactic for survival of Covid-19 restrictions. For others, the use of strategies such as digital transformation, downsizing/simplifying offerings, ramping up online sales and marketing and repurposing resources may have had such a positive effect on their business that they may retain their new model indefinitely.
SME CASHFLOW UNCERTAINTY
One thing seems certain as we navigate the early stages of recovery and that is that the SME sector will continue to experience revenue and cashflow volatility. Compounding this is the major impact that the pandemic has had on the availability of credit for businesses with lenders taking a cautious approach.
While government initiatives like the Small Business Cashflow Scheme have helped, as the uncertainty persists, SMEs are wary of risk and taking on further debt. Business owners need to educate themselves on their financial options, and how alternative finance options can unlock growth opportunities.
Alternatives to traditional bank driven products are invoice financing, cashflow finance, debtor finance, invoice discounting. These facilities allow businesses to selectively sell one or more unpaid invoices to a third party as and when they need earlier access to accounts receivable. This provides fast access to much-needed working capital, unlocking funds that might not otherwise be available to businesses for up to 90 days.
The road to financial recovery after the pandemic will be challenging for SMEs and in order to recover fully, businesses will need to continue to adapt and grow with an air of cautiousness – being alert to changes in customer demand and seizing opportunities as they arise.
This year has brought about seismic changes in the way we live and work, and we have all adapted or “pivoted” in some way. However, the creativity of SMEs in keeping their businesses afloat in the face of adversity is a sign of the resilience and agility of the sector. For more information about Apricity Finance or to find out how an invoice finance facility could help your business adapt to changing conditions by giving you access to the funds you are owed, Get in touch with one of our team here to tell us more.