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The Changing Landscape of Small Business & How You Can Win

30 October 2017 By Guest Blogger Toby Smith

By Guest Blogger Toby Smith (toby.albert.smith@gmail.com) Between the rapid evolution of technology and the changing behaviour of consumers, there‘s a lot going on in the Australian small business landscape. As an entrepreneur or business owner, it‘s vital that you keep up with these changes in order to stay relevant and competitive ‘" and keep your small business ahead of the game. This article gives a handy overview of some of the key developments that affect SMEs in Australia ‘" and some tips on how to put them to your advantage.Alternative financePossibly the most significant development in recent years is the emergence of online (‘fintech‘) finance providers, offering finance to small businesses that don‘t meet the big bank‘s stringent lending criteria. There are plenty of advantages to borrowing from an alternative lender, including:

  • Ease ‘" fintech lenders usually require far less documentation than traditional lenders, and there‘s often a quick and simple online application process
  • Speed ‘" applications are generally processed in a much shorter timeframe than bank applications
  • Accessibility ‘" alternative finance providers tend to have a higher risk-tolerance than banks, and many are willing to lend to businesses that traditional lenders would swiftly reject.

This means you may be able to access funding far more quickly and easily than in the past, so you can invest in growing your business and take advantage of expansion opportunities whenever they arise. But the fintech market is not without its pitfalls. Here are some basic guidelines to help you be a winner if you‘re planning to seek finance from an alternative lender:

  • Beware of hidden costs ‘" fees and interest rates can vary widely, and many alternative lenders have extra charges on top of high interest rates, so be sure that you know exactly what you‘ll be paying from the outset.
  • As with any form of business borrowing, it‘s crucial that you match the type and term of your funding to your needs (i.e. long-term finance for long-term needs). For high-value purchases you‘ll need to arrange a long-term loan rather than relying on expensive and risky short-term finance, which may not be renewed further down the track.
  • Alternative lenders are not subject to the same consumer protection regulations as the big banks. As a result, some seek to reduce risk by imposing restrictive conditions on borrowers, which could interfere with the way you do business ‘" for example, preventing you from offering vendor finance or discounts to customers, or from applying for any additional funding during the term of your loan. Take a careful look at all the terms and conditions so that you understand what you‘re signing up for, and won‘t inadvertently breach the terms of your loan.

Shaun McGowan, CEO ofbusiness loan site Lendsays ‘It‘s paramount that you shop around and even more critical that you understand all of the fees and charges before you enter into any agreement. Business owners should seek professional financial advice to help you select the right type and term of finance to suit your business.‘CrowdfundingIf you‘re looking to finance a start-up business, this trend is great news for you. Traditionally, the main source of seed funding (other than your own savings, or friends and family) were angel investors, who could be hard to access and even harder to convince. Today, it‘s not only much easier to attract the attention of potential investors via websites such asAngel Investment Network,Business AngelsandCapital Pitch‘" but there‘s also an increasingly popular alternative: crowdfunding. Sites likeKickstarter,IndiegogoandPozibleare all platforms where you can launch projects and seek financial contributions from members of the public. As well as offering no-strings funding that won‘t saddle you with a hefty interest bill or an interfering investor, these sites also help you to build a strong customer base before you even launch your product or service. The secrets to success here are,

  • Choose the right platform (each has different charges, features and audience so do your research to find the right fit)
  • Build a compelling case for your product or service
  • Use the full power of social media to spread the word far and wide.

Inbound marketingOver the past few years, social media has totally changed the face of marketing. While there‘s still a place for simple advertising (including using pay-per-click services likeAdwordsto get your name at the top of a Google search, and promoted posts onFacebookandInstagram), today‘s savvy business owners focus much of their energy on‘inbound‘ or ‘content‘ marketing. The concept behind this trend is that people are more likely to engage the services of a business that is well-known and respected as an ‘authority‘ in its field, or to buy from a brand that has a great reputation ‘" and that we all pay more attention to the opinions of people we trust than we do to adverts. Content marketing means creating useful or entertaining information to share with your audience, to show how much you have to offer them and encourage them to enter into an ongoing relationship with you (with the goal, of course, of converting them into a loyal customer). Sharing your content ‘" be it blog posts, infographics, images, podcasts or videos ‘" via social media is a low-cost (but high-effort) way of reaching new markets and attracting people back to your website, where you can continue the conversion process. Meanwhile, by building up a strong following on social media you open up a direct line of communication to your customers, which you can use to great advantage ‘" for example, by gathering feedback to help you improve your brand image and customer ‘experience‘, or testing responses to new product or service ideas before you invest good money in developing them. To win at the inbound marketing game, you need to be creative, consistent, and above all engaging ‘" once you start a relationship with your customers they‘ll expect you to participate fully in that relationship, by responding swiftly to their questions or comments. For an overview of other Australian economic, demographic and regulatory trends, plus guidance on how to future-proof your small business, check out thisreportby the Office of the NSW Small Business Commissioner.

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