26 January 2015

When will Australian political parties start taking Small Business seriously?

Australian flag

We are just about to have an election in Queensland – and of course the political rhetoric is flowing. Promises, insults, claims of past successes and accusations of past failings are flying thick and fast. But in the past three weeks I haven’t heard the term “Small Business” mentioned in any detailed way with a specific actions targeted at the strengthening or growing this sector and that is kind of sad.

Sure, there are vague promises made about reducing red tape, taking steps to increase economic stability and job creation, which Small Businesses benefit from, but they are most certainly not Small Business specific strategies. And of course there are the generic nebulous statements about driving down costs, investing in productivity, stimulating economic growth. But there is no clear cut, ten point strategy to help Small Businesses to thrive in Queensland, with an action plan that is fully funded.

To be fair Small Business rarely gets a mention in Australian politics these days. No political party really understands Small Business, or apparently cares. And whilst I might sound like a bit of a whinger, I’m writing this on Australia Day, at a time when we celebrate all things Australian. To me there is nothing more Australian than the entrepreneurial spirit of the Aussie Small Business owner.

So whilst it seems that Australian politicians place little to no value on the 2 million Small Businesses in Australia, who collectively employ almost 50% of all people in the workforce, generating over $450B annually, we as a community do.

I think there are 12 very significant benefits of a healthy Small Business sector in every community:

  1. When Small Businesses make money, they spend it in their local community. They don’t take the profits out of the country.
  2. When Small Businesses grow, they employ local people. And they employ young people, mums with kids, part time, full time and the elderly.
  3. Small Businesses collect tax for the government. This tax hopefully gets spent in the local community.
  4. Oh yeah, and Small Businesses pay tax in Australia – lots of it. Which is more than can be said for many large corporations.
  5. When it comes to innovation and creativity, it is widely acknowledged that this happens at  a Small Business level and without small business, many of the most incredible technological advancements that we see today would never have occurred.
  6. Small Businesses are actively involved in their community – at a hands on level. They support charities, non for profits, sporting groups, schools and pretty much anyone in need. They are generous in giving money, goods and services to those in need.
  7. Small Businesses don’t waste money – simply because every dollar counts. How much money is wasted by governments and large corporations?
  8. Small Businesses are committed to their community. They stay in the good times and the bad. They don’t just back up and move when times are tough.
  9. Small Businesses give communities character, colour and spirit. We all like to shop at our locally owned shop.
  10. Men and women can own and operate Small Businesses equally as effectively and of course they do. Small Business is far more equal opportunity all round.
  11. Customers can deal with a business owner if they choose. This in turn means greater accountability which has to be good for consumers.
  12. And the more healthy and vibrant the Small Business community is, the more stable the community will be. Closures and pull outs of large corporations can destroy a community, something we have seen it time and time again.

Imagine how much healthier our Small Business sector could be if governments allocated resources, interest and money proportionally to the Small Businesses employing one out of every two people in the work force?

So why write this? It isn’t for acknowledgement of the role of Small Businesses – it is in the hope that at some stage, governments of all persuasions, will start taking Small Business seriously. This means learning how to communicate with them, support them, encourage them and help them to do business.

Over the years I have been involved in discussions with governments, at the highest levels, and I honestly think that they believe that Small Businesses will ultimately look after themselves. I also think that it is easier for governments to focus on corporations, because they understand them, they can communicate with them, negotiate with them and the associated numbers seem bigger and carry more appealing media value (for example big contracts employing big numbers of people).

What can governments do? They can do an enormous amount, starting with a dedicated minister for Small Business (and only Small Business) in every government line up. They can provide more  accurate information on the state of Small Business around the country, most data is out of date and irrelevant making it difficult for business development groups to use, they can rethink how they communicate with Small Business – because they need to rebuild trust and making a website and putting an advertisement in a newspaper isn’t enough, they can work to make it easier for Small Businesses to get access to money (banks take no risk with Small Business), they can provide smarter training, mentoring programmes, technology and perhaps one day, even a flash new Broadband. And there are many, many more ways to support Small Businesses.

In short, there is much that governments can do. How about they start by taking Small Businesses seriously, treating them with respect, acknowledging the role they play in each and every community in Australia? What is being done now doesn’t work, how about letting some Aussie entrepreneurs help redesign the way Australian governments support Australian Small Businesses? There is a great opportunity for a government to help build on the incredibly vibrant Small Business sector in Australia, helping it to become truly extraordinary.

And of course the most wonderful aspect of this is that every single person in this great country will benefit.

I’m a proud Australian Small Business owner, I have been for over 30 years and I hope to be for another 30 years.

12 thoughts on “When will Australian political parties start taking Small Business seriously?”

  1. Robert Bihar says:

    We over under estimate the positive impact small business have in the local community. Thanks for bringing it to everyone’s attention. Hopefully it gets the airplay it deserves. Great post Andrew.

  2. Thank you Robert. I agree – and I like – “over underestimate” as a concept.
    Cheers,
    Andrew

  3. Ben Hale says:

    Well said Andrew. The tax paid as a percentage of revenue, the much more balanced opportunity for gender participation and the lack of waste reminded me just how much more than jobs Small Business contributes. Of course, pollies can’t deal with a single powerful small business person that can make donations and ask favours behalf of their industry. It’s much easier for them to engage with the big end of town. To get serious about listening or representing small business means engaging with people who can see through the motherhood statements, have finely tuned BS meters and actually KNOW what is going on out there. Why risk that kind of embarrassment? Small Business owners, Solopreneurs, Mumpreneurs, kids in the garage inventing the next big thing, the local mechanic, the baker, the corner store owner struggling against the big two grocers – hats off to you all on Australia Day.

  4. Thanks Ben. Last year I was invited by one of the banks (not a big 4), to come to a lunch. They invited Small Business influencers from around Australia – and their only mission was to understand small business more clearly. So we all met up for lunch, there were authors, speakers, bloggers, advisers, media commentators – about 25 people who really know Small Business, live it daily and have a lot of reach and influence. The bank reps asked two questions “can you help us to understand Small Businesses and can you tell us what we need to do to support them more effectively?”. Well of course, this group held nothing back – and it was pretty full on to say the least. But the bank sat back, took it all on board, didn’t try to defend anything negative – they simply listened. At the end, they summed up the lunch by saying “Now we know how little we actually understand about Small Business, their needs, their frustrations, their expectations and most importantly what we need to do work with them. We have to learn to understand them first and foremost”. And I think this is the starting point for governments. Stop talking to businesses with 100 employees to find out what Small Businesses need – and reach out the solopreneurs, mumpreneurs, home based business, the 1.5 million Small Businesses with 3 or fewer employees. Motherhood statements are easy – actually taking the time to understand seems to be harder. Not really sure why…..

  5. Debra Kinsella says:

    Totally agree Andrew! Your perspective is so poignant it almost makes me feel ashamed of our ‘Australian’ Queensland Government’s total lack of empathy for the small business owner and our everyday struggles to keep going.
    With the constant battle to be successful in small business, we are getting there bit but has taken working like a Trojan to achieve it and then to finally see the bank balance start to show the benefits, to get knocked back down into our peghole the Government has created for us with massive GST & Tax payments , where are the incentives to continue? We really need to employ more staff to continue to grow but can’t afford it! The Government really needs to assist small business and only then community will benefit! Thank you A

  6. Thanks Debra – great to hear from you and I am sure many SMB owners will agree and relate to your frustration. Thanks for sharing.
    Cheers,
    Andrew

  7. Samantha says:

    Andrew I agree 100%, I believe the micro business community is an essential part of the modern day Australian economy and we are poorly neglected with resources, support and respect. As you said, small businesses are much more than tax dollars and have a far greater reach in benefit for individual local communities as a whole.

  8. Thanks Samantha. Looks like a lot of people feel the same. I appreciate your comments.

    Cheers,
    Andrew

  9. There’s a blog theme; “Australian Small Business are we over being underestimated!”

  10. That is a great theme for a blog – I like it Sheldon.

    Cheers,
    Andrew

  11. Great article Andrew, small business really brings so much to individuals, families, the local community and the national economy.

  12. Thanks Peace. Yep, a topic you and I could talk about for hours. I think what I would love to see is a vision for small business in this country. Where do we want our entrepreneurial community to be in 2020. Think big, be bold, aim high. That kind of stuff, with a decent plan to back it up.

    Cheers,
    Andrew

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