Unpacking the state of small business: 2021 trends and challenges

Curious to know how small businesses have been coping throughout the past 12 months? Want to know more about the strategies and priorities for businesses as they plan for ongoing success? In our recent webinar on the state of small business, we spoke to two Docusign customers about all this and more.

Our webinar, Unpacking the State of Small Business, used recent research from SmartCompany as a springboard for a fascinating discussion about how businesses have weathered the pandemic storm. Joining Docusign’s Bethany Nyberg in the webinar were Chris Eagleton, Head of Client Engagement, Australian Financial Planning Group (AFPG) and Paula Johnson, General Manager, Support Services, Rizon

Here’s our wrap. You can catch the full recording here, which also includes Bethany’s tips to deliver on each of the three key findings below.

Marketing for growth

The first section of SmartCompany’s research revolves around marketing. The research uncovered a fair bit of anxiety around where customers will be coming from in the next 12 months, with 50% of those surveyed citing concerns about growth. The vast majority of small businesses (73%) rate word of mouth and referrals as the most successful marketing strategy. When it comes to building loyalty with existing customers, 63% say content marketing is key.

Chris, who oversees every aspect of client engagement in his mid-sized financial planning firm, agrees with these findings. “When you’re marketing on a budget like we do, we find that referrals from clients and business partners are the most successful and credible, and these referrals are more likely to turn into long-term relationships,” he said.

Retention is a big part of the AFPG strategy, too. “It costs more to put a new client on than retain an existing one. We make sure we’re doing more than our competitors to keep clients educated and informed.”

Doing digital right

The second key theme in SmartCompany’s research is about doing digital right. We unpacked this theme in a recent blog article, but as a quick recap, the research found that small businesses – in their quest to digitally transform and keep up with the changes brought on by the pandemic – are investing in remote access and team collaboration, cloud solutions, and IT security.

Paula, who looks after the operational side of things at Rizon, talked about the transformative effect that digitalisation has had on their business. Rizon is a building company in the insurance repair and construction industry, and it handles up to 20,000 jobs a year. “There’s no way we could manually manage this volume, particularly since Covid-19 hit. The more we can do digitally, the more flexibility we have in allocating work to people,” she said.

“Before we switched to digital agreements, our team had to be in the office to print and mail contracts out to customers. It cost us a couple of dollars per envelope, and we had a fall-out rate of over 50%. Moving to electronic signatures has reduced timeframes and helped push contracts through. And our staff could keep working remotely during Covid.” 

Chris concurred, saying that the switch to Docusign helped AFPG avoid a predicted 10-15% fall in revenue during the pandemic. “We were anticipating a drop in revenue because of the time taken to get paper contracts signed and the risk of people losing momentum. What we found, with Docusign, is that this drop simply didn’t happen. It was really exceptional,” said Chris.

On the back of the success of electronic signatures, AFPG has also implemented SMS signing to accelerate time to signature even further. 

Looking after your people

Many small business owners are concerned about the looming threat of a ‘great resignation’ and the ongoing challenge of finding good workers. In fact, 32% of leaders think recruiting new employees will be their biggest challenge in the next 12 months. 

At Rizon, the issue of recruitment is a big one. As Paula said, “If we don’t have strong employee engagement and retention, the cost of recruitment and onboarding is huge. Having undertaken a substantial recruitment drive over the last three to four months, finding new resources is a huge challenge.” 

And retention is hard when everyone has different ideas about what constitutes a great place to work. “There’s no one model that works exceptionally well for everyone. While our staff were initially keen to work from home, many found it very isolating and lonely, and within about two weeks, they were asking to return to the office.” 

As staff priorities continue to change, HR teams can use technology to their advantage to help attract, recruit and retain employees, including the delivering of a seamless onboarding process for new hires who work remotely. 

Supporting your small business

As this quick wrap of the webinar demonstrates, small businesses have been grappling with some pretty big issues over the last year. Yet as both Chris and Paula agree, there are some great opportunities coming out of it all – particularly around the digitalisation of workflows and the subsequent improvements to both the employee and customer experiences. 

If you’re keen to start tapping into these advantages, talk to Docusign today about taking your agreements digital. Don’t forget, you can watch the full webinar on-demand now.

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