Melbourne Business School Events and Information Sessions Talking Business During Crisis: How MBS alumni are helping small businesses survive

Talking Business During Crisis: How MBS alumni are helping small businesses survive

Thursday, 09 July 2020
12.30 PM - 1.30 PM

When COVID-19 restrictions came into force, a team of MBS alumni put a call out on LinkedIn offering free coaching for small businesses impacted by the pandemic. The response was overwhelming. Very quickly the volunteer team grew in size to 30+ and started addressing the concerns of dozens of small business owners as they were forced to make fast and significant decisions. You can read the full story here.

At the helm of the initiative are Lauren Morrey, Lead Customer Success Strategist at Culture Amp, and a graduate of the Class of 2018, and her partner, Tom Humphries (entrepreneur and consultant, MBA 2017).


From this event

We were delighted to have Lauren and Tom join Associate Professor Kwanghui Lim in this webinar to discuss what inspired them to offer assistance to small businesses, and what has challenged and surprised them along the way.

With government support, such as the JobKeeper Payment scheme, set to cease in late September, we asked Lauren and Tom what new challenges they expect small businesses to face. Lauren and Tom also share how the volunteer team was formed and quickly established itself so their diverse skills and experiences were aligned with the needs of their clients.

Watch Lauren, Tom, Kwanghui and host, Aviva Berzon, as they delve into this inspirational project.

Your questions answered

What did the 30 minute sessions evolve to, and the types of small business that picked them up?

"After considering what would deliver the most impact and value for the small business, we kicked off our offer of volunteer assistance with the proposal of a thirty-minute chat with a member of the team. As business enquiries started coming through, we quickly identified that double-teaming on the cases would be enable us to deliver more value to the business by bringing in diversity of thought and strengthening our ability to make an impact. The complexities of the enquiries were really broad and we spoke to businesses who were disrupted either in a growth or decline situation from a wide range of industries including Tech, Consulting, Law, Hospitality and Creative industries. The sessions evolved to also include a lot more structure with the introduction of a survey ahead of the call to help our team members identify the most pressing issues to explore and what frameworks and guidance would be of most value. In some cases, we have ongoing relationships with some of the small businesses as the team members have been so engaged in helping them navigate the disruption."

Lauren Morrey, Lead Customer Success Strategist, Culture Amp.

To my understanding most businesses have cash flow issues for them to continue... what are your few keys advises that you have given them to enable continuity? Especially the businesses that are essentially dying as a result of Covid.

Three counter intuitive tips that you won’t really find on Google-

  1. Ask for help even if you don’t need it just yet. There are so many avenues and resources available for small businesses to be able to navigate through cash flow concerns, including formal programs from the government like JobKeeper, grants from local governments, payment relief from the Big Four banks. The reason there are so many great programs now is because everyone wants to see small businesses survive and thrive this disruption so take advantage of every opportunity and make sure that the people who work with closely like your bank and suppliers understand your situation as relationships go along way to building a shared partnership in your business’ success.
  2. Think about long term strategic decisions. For example, don’t cut your marketing budget, as a short term decision I know it’s tempting but in the long term your business will be better off for the investment and in fact, businesses that do the opposite, thrive in times of disruption. Likewise with reviewing what assets you have that could be sold to provide cash flow to other areas of the business, often referred to as selling the crown jewels to save the kingdom. Be brave enough to imagine the long term strategy of your business, set metrics that align to that vision and don’t fall trap to common cost cutting mistakes.
  3. Partner with your competitors. Again, another non-intuitive strategy but take the time to think about what you are directly competing on and where you might be able to co-operate on. Look at the supply and demand opportunities and be really clear on your value proposition in the market, a great example of this in action was the hospitality groups who worked together to solve the cost of delivery expenses from platforms such as Uber Eats and Deliveroo, they don’t compete on delivery so they partnered to lower the cost for their businesses as co-opetition of sorts.

Lauren Morrey, Lead Customer Success Strategist, Culture Amp.

In working with these SMB businesses, beyond looking at what might need to be done to simply ‘survive’ the crisis - were there any growth opportunities uncovered, which may never have been realised had COVID-19 not struck?

"We found the biggest uncovered growth opportunities by businesses were from two areas: their products demand grew as it was an ‘enabler’ of distance based communication/activity or the business found a new go-to-market avenue, which increased the convenience of the product. The enablers had demand levels significantly increased from a bringing-forward of their product adoption curve by COVID and the new GTM businesses came from the forced action of delivering their core competencies through alternative means to survive. These businesses would not have got here with the COVID bump, but both had a profound effect on these businesses."

Tom Humphries, Co-Founder and CEO of Boobobutt

Are any of the small businesses you're advising reporting an inability to access finance as a constraint on their survival?

"No, none of the businesses we had enquiries from reported that they were experiencing issues accessing finance. From our team’s perspective there has been a great groundswell of support in that regard from the banks and government to ensure the survival of these businesses but that is of course, dependent on the individual cases that reached out to us."

Lauren Morrey, Lead Customer Success Strategist, Culture Amp.

Assuming, SMB businesses that are not able to survive can make a strategic decision to temporarily shut down to save cash. What should their recovery plan be or what should they be doing to get ready for a recovery?

"Any recovery plan will need a strong customer base. Keeping customers engaged is key to driving a successful recovery post-COVID. Communicating to customers is just one element of this, businesses should be looking to sure up their ability to deliver swiftly and effectively to customers. In COVID times, it’s critical businesses do not give customers a reason to shop around, delivering on the businesses promises will keep them engaged in the recovery phase and help the businesses recovery."

Tom Humphries, Co-Founder and CEO of Boobobutt

Is there any consideration of offering support to the NFP sector?

"Whilst our initial offer was for small businesses we would of course be more than happy to speak to an NFP however based on your extra context, I highly recommended reaching out for talent on which is a fantastic platform connecting professionals, often stood down or with some spare time to volunteer, with organisations in need during this time as I’m sure you’ll be able to find some very clever people who can support you on each of those challenges. I would also recommend taking advantage of both Calm and Culture Amp’s free resources during this time to help look after the wellbeing of your people and both organisations have created some really meaningful and useful resources for people."

Lauren Morrey, Lead Customer Success Strategist, Culture Amp.

What were some of the common issues SMB faced during this economic impact?

"Common issues faced by SMBs were, looking for new avenues to trade (due to restrictions), significant demand declines and leadership assurance. The first two themes focused on re-looking at the mechanics of the business and assessing alternative strategic and tactic options. The frameworks and concepts from the MBA allowed group members to provide meaningful insight into the issues the businesses were facing, and potential avenues to explore to remedy these issues.

The final theme really brought out the people element of the economic crisis. Leaders are impacted and need a safe sounding board. The focus of this side was predominantly on the balance of leadership and the importance of effective and quick communication. The SMB people are key to driving a way through the crisis and successfully out through the recovery and leaders need to keep their people engaged and motivated. By keeping their people engaged and motivated, leaders will be building the pathways to drive discretionary effort from employees, which will build a stronger path to survive."

Tom Humphries, Co-Founder and CEO of Boobobutt

Useful resources


Small Business Tips with Big Impact

View Article


Co-Opetition- Book recommendation

View Link

About our speakers

Lauren Morrey


Lauren has extensive experience working in the Innovation Labs of two of Australia’s largest banks and over a decade of working in large corporates. She is immensely skilled at navigating complex organisations to deliver new innovations, adopt new technologies and ways of thinking. Lauren’s background includes a diverse portfolio of business, operation, digital and innovation roles within the Australian banking and finance industry and is now Lead Customer Success Strategist at Australia's latest tech unicorn Culture Amp.

Tom Humphries


Tom has worked across a number of early-stage companies and startups as both a co-founder and consultant, addressing problems in sectors such as FinTech, AI and Healthcare. Prior to working in early stage companies, Tom had an extensive career in government, including advising the Tasmanian premier.


Kwanghui Lim joined Melbourne Business School in 2006 as a Senior Lecturer and became an Associate Professor of Strategic Management in 2010. Kwanghui completed his PhD in the management of technological innovation and entrepreneurship at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He then worked as an Assistant Professor at the National University of Singapore Business School.

Aviva Berzon



Aviva consults to a wide range of organisations on leadership and transformational change, helping build leadership capability in individuals and group. With a Masters in Organisation Dynamics, Aviva is particularly interested in affecting change through working at the group and system level.