Twelve months after COVID-19 arrived in New Zealand, the pandemic’s economic impact on Auckland was clear: while the rest of the country experienced a $500 million drop in GDP, Auckland had taken a $3.5 billion hit.

That hit was exacerbated when Delta emerged, prompting a further $3 billion fall in the city’s GDP in the September 2021 quarter. The extended Delta lockdown was particularly painful for the region’s 200,000 small businesses, which were less likely to be able to operate at Alert Level 4 and 3 than their larger counterparts.

Urgent assistance for small business

Agencies supporting Auckland’s small businesses, however, swung into action. They successfully lobbied for assistance, which arrived as a $60 million government support package announced on 22 October.

Tātaki Auckland Unlimited, which works with the city’s network of business support organisations, was tasked with urgently delivering the help many small businesses desperately needed.

And within weeks it delivered.

The Activate Tāmaki Makaurau programme offered SMEs help in four key areas. The first two – health and wellbeing support, and access to business community resources such as tools and events – were available from 17 November.

The final two areas of support came in the form of grants, launched on 1 December, allowing SMEs to access one-to-one business advice, and services to implement business ideas.

Through the Activate Tāmaki Makaurau portal, business owners could apply for a $3,000 business advice grant, and a further $4,000 implementation grant. Operating as a marketplace, the portal allowed business owners to engage with almost 1,200 providers – offering services in everything from business strategy to cashflow management to digital marketing support – to gain the help they needed.

Making an impact

Businesses were quick to respond. Tātaki Auckland Unlimited Head of Business Jane Finlayson, who led Activate Tāmaki Makaurau, says 12,800 grants were ultimately approved covering more than 9,000 businesses, including more than 1,200 Māori and 1,000 Pacific businesses. A further 314 Pacific business grants were processed through the Pacific Business Trust’s portal. At the programme’s peak, 876 businesses registered to apply for the grants in a single day.

“At an incredibly difficult time, business owners got the advice they needed and, critically, the funds to implement that advice when they had the time during lockdown to do it,” she says.

Support at scale and speed

Jane says key to Activate Tāmaki Makaurau’s success was its ability to provide support at scale and speed. It also successfully reached Māori and Pacific businesses, which are typically less likely to reach out for support.

“We knew we had to do this differently, and that we couldn’t do this on our own. We said to our partners ‘we need your support’ and they were amazing, coming on board to co-design a solution.”

A man looking at a laptop screen whilst typing

In particular, Pacific Business Trust highlighted its successful delivery of grants using its CRM built on the Salesforce platform. Rather than Activate Tāmaki Makaurau creating a platform from scratch to deliver the grants to thousands of small businesses, the team identified that building on top of PBT’s existing platform was a faster and smarter solution.

Pacific Business Trust reached out to Datacom to make the connection.

“Our team worked very closely with the Datacom and Pacific Business Trust teams,” says Jane. “Without that three-legged stool, the project never would have happened.”

More than 60 people, all in lockdown themselves, worked on the project at its peak to meet the 1 December launch.

Datacom’s Salesforce Practice Associate Director Craig Skinner says a project that would normally take up to 14 weeks to complete, was delivered in two-and-a-half.

“The Datacom Salesforce team involved understood the desperate need that Auckland small businesses had for this support and really kept that in mind as they worked tirelessly to deliver the solution within very short time frames.”

Ongoing positives from boost to digital capability

Jane says around 72% of the grants were used to help businesses boost their digital capabilities – for example, creating or updating a website, digital marketing plans and social media strategies.

“Prior to the pandemic, only around half of all small businesses had a website and many of them never dreamed of getting on social media. This programme has given them that opportunity and I think that will have a long-term effect on the productivity of Auckland.”

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