Business innovation is rising across the country after plunging during the peak of the pandemic. At that time thousands of Australian entrepreneurs were too busy simply figuring out what was happening and whether they would stay afloat. Now that owners have seen what works, innovation is gaining momentum as they concentrate on the things that make their businesses run more quickly and efficiently.

The sixth annual NAB 2021 Business Innovation Index survey found that this “doubling down” on everything to do with speed and productivity has pulled innovation from a survey low of 51.2pts in 2020 to 53.3 points. ‘Doing things more quickly’ – the lowest priority of business owners last year – is now the highest priority, up 7.8 pts to 50.2 pts. This sentiment has traded places with ‘doing things differently,’ or pivoting, which spiked last year and has since fallen 7pts to 55.9pts. Cost efficiency is also up this year, rising by 5.5pts to 53.8pts. Areas of business hit hardest were hospital, cafes and restaurants and personal service.

But as far as who is innovating the most, small operators are coming out on top.  The survey which covers 1700 Australian businesses from small to large shows innovation most improved among micro firms and highest in medium to large firms. On a state-by-state basis Victoria leads as the most innovative closely followed by South Australia. The index is based on the extent firms have “tweaked, adjusted, improved or changed” anything in their business so they can do things either differently, more quickly or more cost efficiently.

Back with Bite

Melbourne businesswoman Natasha Giannetti has experienced many of the factors polled in the research. The fact she kicked off her corporate healthy-snack delivery service SnacksWithBite in January last year just weeks before chaos struck made it even worse. Contracts fell like dominos. Years of hard work and development were under threat and her first reaction was panic.

“Suddenly people were saying ‘we’re no longer in the office so we’re going to have to cancel,” Ms Giannetti said. “The last thing they needed were boxes on snacks turning up at empty offices.”

Panic soon turned to pivot as like many others Ms Giannetti fought for survival. The new plan involved pivoting to home delivery of her healthy snacks - not as simple as it sounds. “We had to change our business model completely,” Ms Giannetti said. “We had to switch quickly from a subscription-based bulk-delivery service to delivering to home addresses. Everything had to change from our website to the packaging, the advertising, our marketing – all of it had to be more skewed to at-home deliveries. There were no snack stands to be delivered any more because we needed individual boxes instead. And those boxes had to look good. Then we had to make sure each box met someone’s dietary requirements. Everything was different.”

Communication the key

Communicating with her client base was critical to pivot successfully. “Now it was more about having to work out what the next problem was and what we had to do to find a solution,” Ms Giannetti said. “That was through speaking to our clients and simply asking ‘what’s happening now’ and ‘how can we help’ - and as it turned out employees were losing motivation and making bad eating choices.”

Knowing how much food is connected to positivity and productivity, businesses soon warmed to the idea of having the healthy snack boxes home-delivered to staff. The boxes ended up filling a dual role of promoting wellness among remote workers as well as motivational thank-you gifts. “It turned out that bosses now had to trust employees more than ever and it meant those special little things like snacks boxes showed they appreciated them,” Ms Giannetti said. “Honestly it became such a huge help for all us both here in the business and our clients in staying connected. It’s just been tunnel vision until now, all go-go-go.”

Having survived the pandemic with her pivot, this year Ms Giannetti is concentrating on re-introducing the original SnacksWithBite office-delivery concept alongside the successful home-delivery service. “This isn’t just about providing snacks it’s an employee wellness program,” Ms Giannetti said.  “Employee wellness is an essential in business now.”

The upswing experienced by SnacksWithBite is mirrored in research from customer experience strategist Fifth Quadrant tracking the pandemic’s impact on SMEs. While last September 72 per cent of SME’s reported being concerned about their survival, last month the COVID-19 Research Tracker found SME’s were now cautiously optimistic, despite 54 per cent reporting lower revenues. Half of those polled expect Australia’s economic conditions to strengthen in the next three months and about a third are confident global conditions are improving.