Australian SMEs on the back foot compared to Asia and NZ: Report

Brisbane startups

Australian SMEs are playing catch up to their Asian and New Zealand counterparts when it comes to key growth indicators, according to a recent report from CPA Australia.

The report is based on surveys of 2971 SMEs in China, Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, and Australia, which were ranked according to five different characteristics: innovation, e-commerce, social media, training, and exporting.

For every characteristic, Australia ranked last across the eight countries, with every other market significantly outperforming Australia in most cases.

For innovation, only 5% of the more than 500 Australian SMEs surveyed said they were planning to introduce new products or services over the next 12 months, compared to 48% in Indonesia, and 11% in New Zealand. CPA chief executive Alex Malley said in a statement Australia’s position behind nearby countries is concerning.

“As a nation we are investing significantly in driving a more innovative culture. We would hope to see this being reflected in Australia’s small businesses, but that does not seem to be happening yet,” he said.

“Many Australian small business owners may be happy with things as they stand and they are not looking to actively grow their business, but in the longer term a lack of focus on the drivers for growth may undermine the value of their business.”

Australian SMEs also came in behind other countries when it came to their online offerings, with only 37% reporting that they earned revenue from online sales, compared to the survey average of 69%. Nine percent of Australian SMEs said they were planning on growing their e-commerce offerings in the next 12 months, which compared to the survey average of 34%.

Similar discrepancies showed across the other characteristics. Only 46% of Australian SMEs reported using social media for business, compared to 96% in China. An average of 32% of SMEs across the countries surveyed reported an increase in employee numbers over the last 12 months, whereas that percentage was 11% for Australian small businesses.

“Small business is a critical driver of the Australian economy and these results would suggest there are opportunities that are not being exploited,” Malley said in a statement.

“These results are a wake-up call to government to ensure the policy settings in place actually support our small businesses to innovate, embrace the digital economy and grow.”

The Australian business owners that participated in the survey are also older than the survey participants from other countries, with only 12% of Australians under the age of 39, compared to the survey average of 51%.

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