South Australian governments at local and state level are committed to engaging with the community.
These guidelines encourage existing engagement practice to be applied to the business community, and do not seek to replicate existing stakeholder engagement frameworks or policies.
Guidelines for governments and contractors
Both local and state governments have articulated engagement principles in their guides.
Small business owners and operators are especially time poor. The end of business hours usually signals time to start working ‘on’ the business, after a day of working ‘in’ the business.
This means that governments must take a considered approach in how they engage with small business.
- The engagement manager should connect with businesses as early as possible in the proposal development to maximise consideration of stakeholder concerns.
- Small business owners and operators are especially time poor. Engagement needs to be at a time and a place to suit the small business.
- Engagement needs to be on-going throughout the project, and beyond.
- Allocate sufficient time to build trust with stakeholders and create opportunities for stakeholders to consult amongst themselves.
- Stakeholders first – businesses should hear any news about the project direct from agencies, not media coverage.
- Have a clear engagement plan and provide a copy to businesses.
- Clearly articulate the purpose, scope and constraints of the engagement; how and when stakeholders have input, and how and when the results will be used.
Inclusive and accessible
- Engage many voices – cast the net widely to identify and involve stakeholders.
- Ensure your methods of engagement are accessible and suitable for business owners and managers. Go where they are, and make it easy for them to come to you.
Innovative and creative
- The engagement plan should promote creative thinking.
- Embrace different perspectives which create new opportunities and innovative solutions.
- Be responsive and ensure continuous communication to facilitate engagement as an ongoing process.
- Communicate decisions back to businesses, and demonstrate where they have, or have not, influenced the outcome, and why.
- Ensure engagement is prioritised and tailored to specific issues and stakeholders.
- Responses must also be targeted – one size does not fit all.
Outreach to businesses and methods for mitigating impacts must be tailored to each project. The scale and site-specific characteristics of every project are different. An early assessment of the project’s potential impacts to businesses is necessary to determine the approach to business outreach. In this context, impact is defined as the effect of an action or change on the business community.
For those projects oriented towards routine maintenance, the period of early communication can be reduced – with notification time-frames of several weeks often being adequate for businesses.
For projects that involve more extensive construction, access changes, and certainly if a closure or detour is planned, the time-frame for advance communications is much longer.
Equally, as the anticipated level of disruption increases, so too should the depth of the engagement process.
Levels of impact usually occur on a continuum, for example: low – medium – high. For the purpose of business engagement processes, levels of impact do not imply importance. That is, a low level of impact is not less important than a high level.
The purpose of assessing the levels of impact is to guide the variety of engagement methods that may be appropriate for particular engagement projects and the resources required. Be aware that the level of impact may change at any time during the life of a project or issue. The engagement plan and activities will need to be re-assessed and adjusted accordingly.
In determining the level(s) of engagement, the owners of the engagement define the nature of the relationship they have or aim to develop with their stakeholders. In the context of risk management, the method of engagement should be selected to best meet the needs, capacity and expectations of the relevant stakeholders. More than one method may be selected for any given engagement.
Engagement may take place on more than one level. Different methods may be used concurrently or sequentially.
Refer to the 'Small Business Impact Checklist' on page 16 in 'Open to Business' for issues to consider.
Small businesses typically operate on thin margins of profitability, and cash flow from sales is vital to business survival. Construction projects can directly influence a customer decision to visit a business due to:
- loss of physical amenity - dust and/or mud, noise and vibration
- restricted access by road or footpath
- reduction in car parking availability
- interruptions to public transport
- loss of business visibility.
What could be a temporary reduction in customer sales is likely to continue after the construction project has finished, as clientele adapt to changed behaviour and take their custom to other businesses.
Other disruptions which business may experience include:
- business logistics such as supply and delivery problems, including waste management and collection, particularly “first mile” / “last mile”
- interruptions in utility supply: water, gas, electricity, telecommunications
- staff access to the business, including car parking.
In many cases of redevelopment and ‘beautification’, businesses are expected to enjoy the benefits of greater customer numbers postconstruction, however, the business must survive the project before thriving in a new environment.
Many projects include a “construction impact mitigation plan” – with strategies usually including dust and/or mud control, tailored work schedules, and ‘open for business’ signage.
The first step in this process is to undertake an economic assessment of the broadest project area, and in particular, its businesses. This would include:
- identification of specific businesses which are sensitive to construction activity disturbances
- a summary of the commercial character of the locality, its general trading profile (daily and annually), and information gained from the business profiling such as:
- operating hours
- main delivery times
- reliance on passing trade »
- signage or advertising that may be affected
- customer origin.
- other specific information that will need to be considered in construction scheduling and planning locality-specific business mitigation measures include:
- business management strategies to identify affected businesses and associated management strategies, and specific measures to be put in place to assist small business owners adversely impacted by construction
- other matters raised in consultation with affected business, such as hours of operations for construction works
- a business consultation forum linked to the consultation strategy for the project
The following steps are suggested to estimate the potential impacts of an infrastructure project on business during the construction phase:
- consult with businesses, business associations and local government to help understand the scope and scale of impact
- estimate the reduction in activity within the project area
- estimate the impact on foot-traffic for each street within the project area and the associated change in business activity
- estimate any specific amenity impacts (for example, vibration noise and dust) on businesses in the project area.
The impact assessment is informed by a risk assessment so that the level of action relates to the likelihood of an adverse impact occurring.
Indicators for risk include:
- extent of impacts to businesses as a result of temporary construction impacts
- extent of ongoing impacts on businesses through permanent changes
- extent of impacts on businesses through changed transport and pedestrian traffic patterns.
Connecting and communicating with businesses is a requirement throughout planning and delivery of projects. To facilitate this, governments should establish specific communication channels:
- services free-call telephone line
- dedicated manager, landowner and business support services position as a single point of contact with managerial authority
- direct communication via email, phone, letter drops and face-to-face meetings
- regular project email and hard copy newsletters
- access to business associations and groups via local council networks.
In addition, governments should:
- provide case management support to work with businesses likely to be significantly impacted over an extended period of time to provide an additional level of support for businesses, including a single point of contact and regular, tailored engagement
- provide advance notice of upcoming works to businesses within set time-frames
- provide on the ground staff to engage with businesses on construction progress and likely impacts
- establish relationships with other government agencies and relevant organisations to deliver initiatives to support businesses during construction
- leverage existing communication channels to effectively engage with businesses during construction.
This is likely to be the most disruptive phase for small businesses.
The contractors undertaking the work will be more visible as they will be on site daily. It is therefore important for the engagement manager to keep in touch with affected small businesses, as well as monitor the contractors’ compliance with their own engagement plans as submitted with the tender bid. Routine monitoring of the situation through scheduled and ad-hoc liaison with businesses and contractors and regular stakeholder meetings will ensure small issues don’t escalate into major problems.
It is recommended that during the construction phase, the engagement manager:
- maintains regular contact with small businesses
- seeks feedback from business owners and contractors on any issues arising in relation to the daily operation of the construction work, particularly those that may escalate
- continues to monitor impacts of construction by keeping track of issues raised directly by small businesses or through the head contractor
- revisits the impact assessment report and updates it as necessary
- regularly updates and acts on an issues register
- revises the construction management strategies in place
- assesses the effectiveness of any support/management strategies implemented
- monitors the use of dispute resolution processes * monitors the number of small business complaints made to the project team or head contractor using an issues register
- revisits the information collected regarding peak trading times for the affected businesses.
Checklists to assist government and contractors are on pages 18 to 19 of 'Open to Business'.
Support measures government can deliver include and are not limited to:
For example, subsidising the discounts offered by businesses; providing grants for businesses to develop advertising or communication plans to increase foot traffic; grants for improvement to business premises.
Waiving fees and charges
Governments should consider waiving land tax, rates and other charges during the construction period. Where this occurs, appropriate contractual arrangements should be made to ensure the small business tenant is the recipient of the benefit. Governments should also work with landlords to reduce rents during the construction period.
Provide low interest loans to help with cash flow during construction.
Promote the businesses through television, radio and social media; outdoor and mobile promotions; develop strategies to engage with media; destination marketing; create a dedicated website profiling businesses in the area; Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts.
Competitions for visitors
Encourage people to visit the area and spend money, for example, entering visitors into a raffle, hiding an object in the area and awarding a prize to the person who finds it.
Create maps to show visitors how to access the area and the location of businesses; provide a coupon book promoting discounts for businesses in the area.
Organise special events to attract people to the area, for example walking tours of businesses for social media influencers to promote on their accounts, art installations, celebration parties, markets, mobile stores, pop-ups, street fairs, creative use of construction infrastructure and hoarding, leveraging existing nearby festivals and fairs. This can include a celebration to mark the end of construction.
Provide free ‘open for business’ and parking signs, and signs pointing people to alternate routes to access businesses.
Provide alternative parking, make parking free, minimise the effect on parking areas in the construction phase. Implement a generous approach to parking infringements in the area affected by construction works. If on road parking places are to be permanently lost, consideration must be given to providing alternative parking.
Provide free public transport to the area – such as EcoCaddy, and amending community bus routes.
Use temporary artwork to cover fences, include images of what the area will eventually look like, local artists making the area more attractive. Provide additional cleansing of pedestrian areas, especially retail shop fronts. Consider a service to supply and fit weather seals on business entrance doors and provide door mats.
Provide the opportunity for businesses to participate in educational programs providing skills development, such as online and digital commerce, business mentoring, succession planning and marketing.
Contract specialists to provide one-on-one advice to businesses particularly on financial management, marketing, good business practice and legal matters.
Ensure that affected businesses are fully informed about the construction project, using multiple communication channels. Provide information packs which include tools for businesses to market, communicate and advertise throughout the disruption.
Identified in the 'business disruption mitigation plan', some businesses will require support through a substantial change in their economic environment. For example, a business located on an arterial road may find itself on a service road at the completion of works, passed by many of its former customers.
You can find a sample communication schedule on pages 14 and 15 of 'Open to Business'.
Guidelines for business owners
Disruption from construction can be mitigated if there is proper coordination between business owners, government officials, and contractors. The earlier your concerns are voiced, the better prepared the project team will be to respond to them.
To this end, it is in your best interest as a business owner to keep informed of current and upcoming construction projects. Communicate with your local council, read their website for updates, and participate in local business associations.
Business owners can contribute ideas and make concerns known by:
- attending public hearings and meetings
- filling out comment forms
- calling or writing to the team in charge of the project
- securing individual meetings with the project manager.
As a business owner, you are always planning and improving on your business model. When you are informed ahead of time, road construction is something you can prepare for. Here are some action suggestions for business owners and managers.
Review your financial position. Do you have enough cash (including your bank account, money owed by customers and stock) to cover debts due and payable during the construction period? Understand your gross and net margin; and your break-even position.
Review your risk management strategy. Assess the impact of risk on your financial viability during the construction period. Consider your reliance on a small number of major customers or suppliers, and few income streams. Ensure your systems for monitoring payment by customers are adequate so your business is paid in full and on time.
Review previous performance
Review your income and expenses from previous years to plan for the scheduled construction period, and to help make informed preparation for the upcoming disruption.
Cash flow planning
Evaluate your likely regular and guaranteed income from regular customers and standing orders. Evaluate regular fixed costs such as rent, utilities and staff costs. Investigate options to reduce expenses. Consider amending trading hours.
Canvass options to reduce expenses
Review your staff roster and costs, particularly in relation to casuals. If you think customer numbers will decrease during the construction period, plan staff holidays during that time.
Review your inventory and ordering systems. Can you reduce your stock levels during the construction phase? Can you negotiate prices with suppliers?
Where possible, negotiate to reduce expenses through adjusted payments. Consider utilities such as water, power, telecommunications, and property expenses. Contact your lenders to restructure debt and lines of credit in light of potentially diminished revenue during construction.
Canvass options to increase income
Through communication, marketing, customer service, and loyalty programs ensure you retain existing customers, and work to attract new ones through new products or services. Consider whether stock holdings can be readily converted to cash. Review your pricing strategy.
Work with your employees to develop an action plan. Talk to your employees about the process and strategies to stay prosperous during construction. Discuss marketing efforts and allow employees to share any concerns they may have. Your employees will appreciate the opportunity, and the dialogue may produce new ideas that will benefit your business.
Will construction restrict customer access at certain points during the day? If the works themselves cannot be re-scheduled, consider the feasibility of amending trading hours during the construction period.
Access to your business may be a problem during a construction project. Consider using a back or side entrance to your premises for better supplier and customer access. Make sure there are signs directing your customers to the easiest entrance. Deliver products to your customers. To reach customers unable or unwilling to navigate the construction area, take your business to them.
Consider changing delivery times and location to accommodate any restrictions in access to your premises. Waste and recycling collections should be part of the consideration.
Marketing and communication plan
Do you need to re-create, update or expand your existing plan? Consider creating a new (or updating your existing) website or social media presence for your business.
Inform customers and suppliers as far in advance as possible. Keeping your customers informed gives them the ability to plan for the disruption and still be able to access your business. Use popular social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter to your advantage.
Gather customer contact information. Make sure you have up to date contact details for all of your customers so you can keep them apprised of road conditions, best routes and promotional specials during the construction period. You might consider sending regular emails to customers with the idea that if you keep them informed and in the loop, they won’t be as likely to change their buying habits during construction.
Investigate the best communication methods for your customers and clients – through social media, direct emails or telephone contact. With your employees, develop a script for staff to use when providing customers with information during the construction phase.
A small business owner action plan can be found on pages 24 and 25 in 'Open to Business'.
Dust and noise are both inevitable during a construction project and not areas where you will have a great deal of control. Traffic delays and blocked access routes are also difficulties that may arise during construction. Here are some ideas to deal with these issues.
Allocate more time or money to cleaning. While there is little you can do to reduce the dust and noise of a construction site, you can focus on keeping your own business as dust and mud free as possible. Engage with the project manager to ensure your business benefits from cleaning provided as part of the works project.
Create a friendly rapport with construction workers. They are exposed to your business and are potential customers, during or after the project. Construction workers are following instructions from their supervisors, and communicating concerns to supervisors and project leaders is the best way to get results. To this end, know who the project manager is and keep their contact information close at hand.
Make sure signage is clear. Traffic delays will also be inevitable during a construction project, and signage can help a great deal. Assess the traffic direction signs from your customers’ perspective and confirm that it meets their needs. Signage might also direct customers and suppliers to an alternate entrance of your business; and to alternate vehicle parking.
Join local business associations or consider forming one. Strength is found in numbers. Make sure to communicate with other local business leaders so you can collaborate together and make concerns heard.
Businesses may need creative ways to make the construction period less daunting for customers. Do something above and beyond the usual in your business to attract customers. Consider pooling advertising resources with other businesses in the construction zone to reach existing and potential customers.
Promote the new image and appeal of the completed works. Adapt to your new environment through a public celebration of project completion in concert with the relevant government authority.
Once construction is over, it’s time to focus on recapturing market share and winning back customers. Consider promotion and advertising to let customers know that, perhaps literally, the path is clear.
To download a copy of 'Open to Business - Making Roadworks Work' please click here.