31 Mar 2020

Online forum to help businesses amid Covid-19 lockdown

8:07 am on 31 March 2020

An online forum set up to help businesses navigate the Covid-19 lockdown period is providing insight into what help companies need, and what they don't know.

The Southern Motorway was littered with a few cars and trucks this morning. A stark contrast to the usually packed lanes seen every weekday morning before the lockdown was in place.

Auckland's Southern Motorway at rush hour on the first day of lockdown. Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

Manaaki was set up only days ago by small business owner Pat MacFie of the innovation company Indigo, whose own business has been severely rattled by the lockdown.

He said the forum, which had about 80 expert contributors including business leaders, lawyers and other owners, was fielding some sad and desperate stories.

"Immediately as we went live, the majority of questions were how to access the subsidies. Once people started to get their heads around that, then we started to see slightly sadder questions around, how do I manage redundancies? Are elements of employment law still relative right now? What are my options around salary reductions?

"Now people are starting to think about their commercial leases and the buildings as it gets towards the end of the month, then that's segued into utility bills."

He said companies were also asking how to become digital.

"Unfortunately there's a bit of a gap in the digital capability, so now there's a big rush around, how do I get a website up? And, if I want to stay in touch with my customers, what can I do with things like podcasting or webinars.

"Then as people begin to figure those things out, then they're like, how do we get products delivered now? And so it's just this ongoing cycle as we learn more about the reality of the challenge that we face that the questions tend to flow in line with the learning curve of small business throughout this whole thing."

McFie said the forums were also providing an insight into how banks were responding to the crisis.

"I'm hesitant to criticise, because this is exceptional circumstances, but what I will say is what we've seen inside of the forums, is probably just a little bit of frustration around people being able to engage with their banks… they seem to be having the run of the mill, small business type conversations.

"So I think that's a little bit of an issue that might be on the rise. I'm not too sure, but we'll just keep an eye on it."

Despite the reality that some businesses would not survive the lockdown, the forum was providing solidarity and solace for many, he said.

"New Zealand businesses can come there and people care… business and entrepreneurship is a pretty sort of lonesome endeavour at the best of times so just having somebody that cares but is also an expert, I think that covers the whole kind of spectrum of support that we could hope to offer.

"Not saying we've got, psychiatrists, psychologists and mental health people on there… but if you need an ear then they're definitely there for that as well."

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