SMALL and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are the backbone of the Australian economy, and with 2022 looking like the eye of the storm when it comes to the much-anticipated ‘great resignation’, there has never been a more critical time for SMEs to take to the skies to both retain and win new talent.
In a recent report, Microsoft found that 41 per cent of the global workforce is likely to consider leaving their current employer within the next year, with 46 per cent planning to make a major pivot or career transition.
Federal Government data shows small businesses contributed almost $418 billion to GDP in 2018-19 and Tom Walley, SME business travel specialist Corporate Traveller in Australia, said small and medium-sized businesses were at a critical juncture ahead of the hyped ‘great resignation.’
“Let’s face it, Zoom and Teams have been excellent tools over the past 18 months, and they will play a part going forward, but no business is going to sign deal worth millions over a virtual platform – there’s simply too much risk involved in taking that leap,” Mr Walley said.
“The vast majority of the feedback that I’ve received internally and from our customers is those who have made the effort to travel and see employees and prospects face-to-face have made more of an impact in a day or two than they would have in six months of virtual meeting calendar matching.
“Virtual platforms are excellent for information sharing but they really don’t cut it when it comes to key decision making. SMEs need to get back out there to engage with their own employees as well as linking up with potential prospects as soon as they possibly can.”
Mr Walley said several business owners have identified the last few weeks before Christmas as being a real window of opportunity to build and strengthen relationships ahead of the new year.
“SMEs have been inspirational in the way they’ve kept their businesses alive and used lockdowns to plan for the future and they want to get ahead of this so-called ‘great resignation’ that’s slated to take place next year – and our booking data supports that,” he said.
“London has stormed into the top three destinations booked by our Corporate Traveller customers from both Sydney and Melbourne and England’s capital has also made its way back into the top 10 as a whole brand – it hasn’t been in that position since before COVID hit globally.
“We know international travel is returning at pace out of Sydney and Melbourne and the enquiry we’re getting from Brisbane is unbelievable – the pent-up demand to travel both interstate and overseas for business from the Sunshine State is insatiable.
“There is now the realisation that only face-to-face interactions can save the leakage of talent and we’re expecting to see a significant uplift in international travel from February onwards. SMEs can’t afford not to travel and those that can, will.
“We know there may be some confusion early next year with the many different requirements for travel – but that’s where having a travel management company on your side has never been more vital – the recent relaunch of our ‘SAM’ app, for example, is like having our experts in your hand.
“I advise SMEs to have a marketing and sales strategy ready, innovate through your existing technology to differentiate your brand, create a cashflow positive strategy, strengthen customer service functions, improve business reporting, involve your human resources professional, update your business’s travel and expense policy, and, of course, take to the skies and get out to see your people and prospects.”
Below, Tom Walley forecasts seven areas he expects SMEs will focus on in 2022 in a continuing pandemic environment:
- Businesses are likely to focus on nurturing repeat customers. Beyond customer acquisition, SMEs are likely to focus on driving customer loyalty as a key to business success. Mr Walley expects businesses will use every avenue to nurture customer relationships – from personalised communications with exclusive reward and discount offers in direct marketing, to social media and targeted online advertising. More businesses will encourage customer feedback to fine-tune their offerings and show customers they are valued.
- SMEs will simplify their supply chains where possible. The pandemic has uncovered the business sector’s reliance on complex global supply chains and the significant impact of any disruptions along the chain. At the same time, Australians are beginning to understand the importance of locally made products. Mr Walley expects businesses to simplify their supply chains and try to localise some aspects to avoid disruptions and a dependency on other regions. Any shift to ‘Australian made’ will also help attract customers.
- Growing adoption of AI. There will be an increase in AI-powered software, and Mr Walley expects more businesses to invest in software with AI technology in 2022 in their products, services, and customer interaction. AI will automate some processes, analyse data, improve the customer experience with predictive tools, and increase visibility across various phases of the supply chain. Corporate Traveller is a case in point. This year it re-launched its SAM (Smart Assistant Mobile) application, an AI-driven travel assistant app that provides travellers with real-time travel information, from itineraries to notifications and alerts.
- A renewed focus on sustainability. Many businesses likely postponed sustainable initiatives during the pandemic while they focussed on protecting their employees and maintaining revenue. However, Mr Walley predicts SMEs will slowly take up their environmental programs in 2022, and some may even adopt more ambitious targets. Many are likely to pivot procurement to sustainable suppliers and establish goals to reduce waste and emissions across their operations, goods production, and their travel. Mr Walley expects flexible work arrangements to continue, while businesses maintaining travel to the workplace could introduce incentives for public transport use, cycling and other sustainable transport. More businesses restarting travel programs will focus on sourcing low-carbon transport options and accommodation with sustainable initiatives.
- Embrace new payment methods. Cryptocurrency is gaining momentum in Australia and internationally – driven by looming concerns over growing inflation and the opportunities brought by major technological developments in decentralised finance. As a result, Mr Walley expects more businesses to diversify their payment mix to include crypto. However, he also expects adequate government regulation of the crypto industry to be implemented first, to decrease hesitancy and encourage a broader adoption of crypto.
- SMEs will offer flexibility beyond WFH. With job ads increasing in October by 10 per cent on the previous month and 63 per cent on the previous year, applications have declined by five per cent. To attract talent, Mr Walley expects businesses to offer flexible work arrangements, including remote, casual, part-time, job share and contract job options, along with better entitlements and, for some, higher pay. Some businesses, particularly consultancies, may offer equity or profit share to retain indispensable senior employees. Due to the tight candidate market, more work may be outsourced to agencies, freelancers, or contractors next year.
- Better and more flexible travel. In the absence of serious COVID variants that result in lockdowns and border closures, travel will again be an important business activity, particularly for building relationships and making sales. Mr Walley says that while international borders are likely to close again, businesses will still set their sights on domestic travel. At the same time, Mr Walley says businesses are developing new travel policies and procedures to mitigate health and safety risks among travellers. These may include engaging suppliers with good hygiene and safety protocols across air, hotel and transport that align with their own policies. Pre-trip COVID tests and confirmation of vaccination status will become the norm, while a higher proportion of businesses will engage with technology-driven travel management companies to equip them with information on restrictions and quarantine requirements in real-time. Businesses will review and upgrade their travel insurance, while seeking transport and accommodation cancellation policies that allow for last-minute changes.
 Microsoft, 2021 https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/worklab/work-trend-index/hybrid-work
 ASBFEO, December 2020 asbfeo.gov.au/sites/default/files/ASBFEO%20Small%20Business%20Counts%20Dec%202020%20v2.pdf
 SEEK, November 2021, seek.com.au/about/news/seek-employment-report-october-sees-record-high-job-ad-numbers