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Businesses: 5 tips for post lockdown recovery


“It’s not about what you want customers to do; companies need to be attuned to how their customers want to shop and buy,” - Dr Jana Matthews.

For many business owners the challenges of COVID-19 have been constant and scary.


How do you protect your staff against an evolving pandemic? How do you ensure the survival of the business you have spent years building? 


The end of lockdown – driven by high vaccination rates in Australia – is bringing some relief to those who want to see life return to their local shops, cafes and sporting clubs. But questions have emerged:


  • Will customers still want store fronts after two years of enthusiastically embracing online transactions? 


  • Have people changed their spending habits? 


  • Will companies be able to attract and retain employees whose needs and wants seem to have changed?


Dr Jana Matthews, Director of the Australian Centre for Business Growth at the University of South Australia and ANZ Chair in Business Growth, offers five tips for small and medium sized businesses to stay on top of the post lock-down recovery. 



People who have been through lockdowns genuinely want to connect with others – whether it’s in-person or online. Dr Matthews believes companies will need to connect with customers in ways that are more personal than ever before, and this has implications for customer service. 


“There are higher expectations for customer service,” she says. “People are now choosing to go to places and deal with companies that connect with them and remember them.” 


Dr Matthews notes that lockdown was a catalyst for many people to change their behaviour, e.g., begin online ordering of groceries, meals and clothes which freed up time for other things. She believes these behaviour changes and new habit patterns are likely to continue as we “open up” after lockdown. 


“But people still have a genuine desire to connect with others, and companies who understand how to stay connected with customers will have a much better chance of keeping them and generating recurring revenue,” she says. 


Dr Matthews says businesses that have not been able to sell face-to-face have come up with interesting ways to stay connected to their customers who have had to buy online.


“Some have paid more attention to the way the articles are wrapped, so unwrapping becomes part of the shopping experience,” she says. “Others have thought about how to evoke the memory of shopping in their store through a distinctive scent when the customer opens the box; perhaps the tissue is scented, or a bit of scented soap is tucked inside the garment. Some have enclosed a personalised, handwritten note about how lovely they think the customer will look in this garment, or how much they look forward to seeing the customer when they can shop in the store.”


Dr Matthews believes the personal touch and authentic connections with someone who cares for them is key to maintaining customers and attracting new ones.


She also points out that until vaccination rates are 90+%, some people will be reluctant to leave their home, so businesses need to be attuned to customers’ preferences regarding how, when and where they want to shop.  “It’s not about what you want customers to do; companies need to be attuned to how their customers want to shop and buy,” Dr Matthews says.


Over the coming year as Australians ramp up their international travel Dr Matthews believes the money people currently spend locally may be spent outside the region, the state and the country.


“While Australians have been spending on their homes and furnishings for the last two years, we need to prepare now for a shift in where people will be spending their money, i.e., on travel and enjoying places outside Australia,” she says.


“So begin now to develop those amazing relationships with your customers, so the money they do spend in their community or in Australia is spent with your company and not somewhere else - or with a competitor.” 




Australians have become used to working from home and are now demanding better work-life balance. What does this mean for your business, already struggling from pandemic restrictions, locked borders, and a smaller pool of casual staff? 

Dr Matthews says businesses will have to fight harder to keep and attract the people they need to grow, so it makes sense to understand what’s changed, get on the front foot, engage with your employees, and listen to their needs and wants now, before you lose those you need for growth.

“Reports are telling us that more people are interested in changing jobs, now, than at any other time in the history of Australia,” she says.


“Some employees are thinking, ’I don’t want to continue doing this kind of work.’ While others are saying, ’I don’t want to work in this kind of company culture,’ or ‘I don’t want to commute to the city anymore’. This means Australia now has the largest talent pool available – which is great if companies know how to recruit the people they need. The bad news is that some leaders and managers must quickly learn to lead and manage differently.”


Many company executives think their employees are excited to return to the office, but a recent Forbes article indicated that executives are nearly three times more likely than employees to want to return to the office full-time; 76% of employees do not want to return to full-time office work; they want flexibility regarding where they work; 93% want flexibility around when they work. Some managers think it's more convenient, productive, and simpler to have employees all in one place; they want to see what staff are doing, vs measuring what they are producing. Others wonder whether their staff are at home, watching cat videos.


Findings in the most recent worldwide Salesforce Small-Medium Business Trends Report (2021) suggest employers have been trying to build trust with remote employees during COVID-19. But Dr Matthews suggests that good leaders and managers will have been doing this long before COVID. “Managers need to let staff know they respect, value and trust them,” she says.


“You need to understand their ambitions, their needs and wants. You need to engage with them, ask for their feedback and most importantly - trust them. Just like your customers, your employees want an authentic connection with someone who cares for them and will help them grow personally and professionally.”


Dr Matthews says the bottom line is - if you want to keep good people you need to learn to trust them.

Dr. Jana Matthews, Director of the Australian Centre for Business Growth at the University of South Australia and ANZ Chair in Business Growth. Image by photographer Randy Larcombe, courtesy of AICD.



Whether we need a new pair of socks, a power drill or a carton of milk - the online storefront is now the first destination for many people. 

But if customers have a question, they want someone on the website to answer it quickly. 

“The demand for good service has been ratcheted up from a customer’s perspective, and most companies have a lot more work to do,” Dr Matthews says. 


“The technology needs to become even simpler and more intuitive.” Chats and chatbots are becoming the norm. Gone are the days when you have to hunt all over the website to find the name of someone to contact to answer a question.

But it goes beyond “being there” when the customer has a question. Today it’s about anticipating questions that customers are going to ask and designing systems that are intuitive and easy for them to use.

McDonald’s customers can order their favourite foods on instore devices by pressing an icon of the meal, rather than telling a server what they want. Companies are developing business systems with icons rather than formulas, labels and codes. 


“Even if you’re not a tech jock, or English is not your first language,” Dr. Matthews says, “a company’s technology needs to be approachable, intuitive, and easy to use.”

She suggests companies need to examine how intuitive and easy their technology is to use – from the perspective of their customers and their employees - and make IT investments accordingly.


Have your own business idea? 


At ANZ, we can help guide you through what’s important and what to avoid when you’re thinking about business development - Check out anz.com.au/businessgrowth

Get in touch or find out more about our business banking products and services here.




Dr Matthews suggests there are three reasons to have a company.

One is to maintain your lifestyle. “In this case you would take most or all the profit and spend it. Your goal is immediate gratification, i.e., spending the money you make, and minimising taxes as much as possible.” she says. 

The second reason is to create a legacy – or continue the legacy and maintain the company so one day you can pass it on to your children. “In that scenario you will want to re-invest in the company because you are building for the long term.” 

“The third reason is to build the company as an asset which you can sell, so you want to re-invest and develop whatever would make the company attractive to a buyer.” 

If you don’t want to sell equity to others, or invest any more of your own money, but you want the company to grow, it will need to be profitable quickly, and you will need to reinvest those profits back into the company and build a strong balance sheet with liquid assets.


“This means you will need to leave money in the company and not take it out every year. And you will need to work with an accountant who understands how to set up your company for growth, not just tax avoidance,” Dr. Matthews says.

She notes that a focus on tax minimisation can hamper a company’s growth. “I’m not surprised when people say the bank won’t loan them money because they don’t have a strong enough balance sheet - but will make the loan if they are willing to pledge their house.”


A bank needs collateral, i.e., some way to get its money back if, for some reason, you’re not able to pay off the loan, or the company goes under. She suggests business owners interview their current accountant – and perhaps other accountants.


Ask each one about his/her experience working with growth companies and ask them to describe the advice they give to someone using the company as a “cash cow”, vs. “building a legacy, vs “growing an asset”.

Keep an eye on cash flow.



As we move out of lockdown and business begins to rev up, Dr Matthews advises business owners to keep a close eye on cash flow, i.e., the money flowing in and out of the business. 

“Focus on cash flow. Send out invoices on time, collect receivables as quickly as possible and project when you expect cash to come in. If you are a retailer, track what customers are buying, carefully consider what to order, and scrutinise expenditures,” she says. 

There are a range of strategies you can use to accelerate the rate at which cash comes into the company, which includes increasing your price, adding on surcharges for shipping or fuel increases, creating and selling “product packages” or “product-service packages”, and structuring payments sooner, rather than later in the project. 


Cash is the lifeblood of your company. You can be “profitable” and still go out of business because you are insolvent, i.e., don’t have enough cash to pay your bills. Understanding your financials and how to read your financial statements is critically important to managing the growth of your company.

“Some of the best advice I ever got was from a mentor who told me to make an appointment with a banker before I ever needed a loan. He advised me to sit down with the banker and introduce myself, review my background, describe why I started the company and share my vision for the company. He said to go through my business plan, no matter how simple it was, as well as my balance sheet, and my profit and loss statement and talk about what my banking needs would be,” Dr Matthews says. 


“Later, when I needed money to buy equipment, or working capital, or when a customer paid late, I would call my banker, alert her to what was happening, and report on how the business was doing. She would advise me which type of loan would be best for that situation and send me the paperwork to sign. Developing a good working relationship with my banker was critically important to our success as a company.”

Your banker will also be able to tell you what other resources are available to businesses on a federal and state level, such as the Government Recovery Loan Scheme. You can also find more information resources on the ANZ COVID-19 hub.


Jeff Whalley is a business writer of more than ten years whose work appeared regularly in The Herald Sun, The Daily Telegraph, The Adelaide Advertiser and the Brisbane Courier Mail.

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