COVID-19 relief, digital transformation and training: Here’s what SMEs want from the federal budget

Xero_survey

Source: Unsplash/Dan Burton.

Small businesses are banking on the federal government unveiling support for SMEs in the upcoming budget now that JobKeeper has ended, a new survey by Xero shows.

The survey of more than 500 Australian businesses, who employ fewer than 20 employees, reveals businesses would like further COVID-19 support, with 38% saying they are still affected by pandemic restrictions.

Peter Freeman, managing director of WOOF Media, a marketing agency specialising in regional tourism, says it’s unsurprising that businesses are looking for ongoing support given JobKeeper ended less than five weeks ago.

“As we transition out of that mode of support, there’s obviously a big gap there, and in a lot of cases, especially in tourism, everything isn’t back to normal,” Freeman tells SmartCompany.

Digital transformation

Founded as a graphic design firm in 2001 in South Australia, WOOF Media rebranded as a marketing agency in 2012.

While WOOF Media’s staff are digital natives, Freeman says for many of the company’s regional tourism clients, doing business with technology is not second nature.

In the longer term, Xero’s survey found small businesses are seeking further support to digitise their operations, with 24% saying the government must do more to prioritise digitisation.

And, it’s something Freeman would like to see addressed in the upcoming federal budget, which will be delivered on May 11.

“Support for businesses to adapt their skill set and receive ongoing support to digitise would certainly help small businesses move forward,” he says.

Freeman says it’s not the cost of digitisation that is the issue, because efficiencies gained from using digital tools can save money. It boils down to having the knowledge and ability to know what the best information and tools are for streamlining operations.

Looking for confidence

Xero’s small business survey found SMEs are paying attention to the vaccine rollout, with 31% of respondents saying the threat of ongoing lockdowns was a major concern.

Angus Capel, small business advocate at Xero, says it’s clear SMEs are looking for more support because there are still “segments of uncertainty” in the small business economy.

“What I mean by that is how quickly the lockdowns can happen, as we’ve just seen in Western Australia, snap lockdowns have a real impact on small businesses,” he says.

Capel says the survey shows small businesses are seeking confidence from the federal budget so that they can “plan and achieve their growth aspirations over the next financial year”.

Along with COVID-19 support, 26% of businesses surveyed said additional instant asset tax write-offs would be beneficial.

A quarter of SMEs said they wanted free or low-cost training to upskill and reskill workers.

The survey found more than half of SMEs are optimistic that their business will perform better in the coming financial year, while 64% aim to grow their business in the next three months.

“It goes to the tenacity of small business and that’s just the proportion of small businesses who are really hopeful about the future,” Capel says.

Some 39% of respondents plan to focus on keeping their business viable, while 17% said they will use more technology to run their operations.

Based on Xero’s findings, Capel says it’s clear there’s a need for the government to invest in digital infrastructure in the budget.

Businesses aren’t looking for direct intervention, they’re looking for digital infrastructure that fast tracks the uptake of e-invoicing and the rollout of consumer data right in banking, he says.

“It should happen in the background, so the productivity of their businesses, through cashflow, through saving time by being able to access their data, goes through the roof.”

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