From Tasmania to the north coast of NSW, from inland Australia to the outskirts of Sydney, small businesses have learned that going online has been one way to survive the worst of the coronavirus lockdowns.
It hasn't been easy - running a small business never is - but those enterprising types who have been able to sell their products and services in the digital space, have discovered new customers and a bigger support base despite the trials of a pandemic.
Roni Mills-Mateer opened her Geekdom store, selling cool pop culture collectables, in the popular tourist spot of Leura (Blue Mountains, NSW) after the 2020 bushfires but just in time to see floods close the main train line. Then COVID-19 hit.
Now the former media worker is finding up to a quarter of her business comes through the web and she is reaching more women (55 per cent of her customer base) than she ever anticipated. Who knew being a geek was such a "girl" thing.
Karen Bugelli closed her florist shop in the middle of Launceston (Tasmania) before COVID. It was the city's parking problems that drove her to work from home at that time. The space gave her the chance to expand into the creation of boutique produce boxes, and her Tasmanian Hamper Co was primed when the craving for touch-of-luxury indulgences soared during lockdown.
With annual turnover topping $1 million these days, about 80 per cent of her business is online, although she has recently added a shopfront back in Launceston.
Amy Carella admits she is at the "small" end of small business, starting her Revilo cloth nappies venture from her Fairy Meadow (Wollongong, NSW) home as a way to earn a bit of money and provide an outside interest when her first baby was born a couple of years ago. She's shipping Australia-wide, is looking for a local manufacturer to replace the overseas-sourced products she's selling at the moment, and trying hard to build her presence online.
All three women are examples of the entrepreneurial spirit displayed by so many small businesses over the past couple of years, and are among those who will be listing on the new ClicknConnect website when it launches on October 6.
ClicknConnect is designed to help businesses, especially those with niche or specialty offerings, connect with customers across the country. It's an initiative of ACM, publisher of this website and Australia's biggest independent news brand serving suburban, regional and rural communities.
The discovery marketplace will allow shoppers to search listings from retailers and service providers, by category or location, and then click through to the business's website to finalise their purchase. To be part of the ClicknConnect site, all a business needs to do is get in touch with the sales team at their local ACM newspaper. During this pre-launch promotional period, a ClicknConnect listing is included as part of any ACM Advantage package. Help is also available for businesses who don't have an e-commerce site.
Building her presence online is something Amy Carella says she is still working on - which is why ClicknConnect appeals.
"I know I need to get more confident, putting myself out there more," she said. "I don't have a shopfront and I'm still trying to build traction online."
It's not just a case of promoting her own name and her Revilo Nappies brand (Revilo is the name of her son Oliver spelled backwards). She is also aiming to convince parents that modern cloth nappies are just as easy to use as disposables and will save money and the environment long-term by reducing the dumping of single-use items into landfill.
Her conviction that what she's doing with her business will make a difference is motivation.
"It can be hard [running a small business] but I'd definitely recommend it," Amy said. "If you have an interest and feel that what you're doing can help other people, then it's worth it."
Roni Mills-Mateer says developing digital and social media skills, to support an online business, can be daunting for some people, but it's critical to be able to convert "likes" to sales.
"A lot of people think having an online store will be like a magic pill for their business," she said. But there was much more to e-commerce than simply having a website. Her aim with Geekdom was to create the same type of personal experience online as customers would enjoy in the bricks-and-mortar store.
"It's about creating a relationship with customers ... chatting with them via social media, getting to know them."Roni Mills-Mateer, Geekdom founder and owner
Karen Bugelli agrees that "amazing service" has to be part of any e-commerce model, just like in a main street shop. Quality, niche products are also key, as is putting time and money into displaying them on your website.
"The products you show on your website have to be 'your' products, not cut-and-paste generic pictures. And when you make a delivery, it needs to look like that picture," she said.
Her aim with the Tasmanian Hamper Co was to source products that people wouldn't find on supermarket shelves, products that were "very Tasmanian". During lockdown, when people couldn't travel to be with family and friends on the mainland, they were desperate to send them a "bit of Tasmania" as a way of connecting, Karen said.
She's now taking the concept a step further, developing items under her own exclusive Tasmanian Hamper Co brand.
ACM's chief revenue officer Sharon Fitter said the media company had been inspired by watching businesses pivot during the pandemic and embrace e-commerce as a way to sustain themselves.
"We reach a monthly audience of 6.4 million people," she said. "ACM developed ClicknConnect to make it easier for businesses and shoppers to find each other ... and we can use the power of the ACM national network to make that happen."
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According to reports by Australia Post and PayPal, 9 million Australian households shopped online last year, 2.5 million of them for the first time.
Shoppers to the ClicknConnect site will have the chance to win $500 vouchers to spend with ClicknConnect participants. Look for details when the site goes live on October 6.
ACM's network of websites and newspapers includes The Canberra Times, Newcastle Herald, Illawarra Mercury, the Border Mail, Wagga Daily Advertiser, Ballarat Courier, Bendigo Advertiser, the Launceston Examiner and Burnie Advocate, and other publications throughout south-east Queensland, right across NSW and Victoria and into SA and Western Australia. For a full list of ACM publications, go to www.acmadcentre.com.au.