When it comes to 2020’s unusual budget time, small business owners want more incentives for starting a new venture, more support for young entrepreneurs to find networks, and the tech tools to help them emerge from the COVID-19 crisis.
That’s according to a survey of some 500 sole traders and small business owners, interviewed by Pureprofile for a report commissioned by Xero.
The federal budget was delayed this year due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. But, that’s not the only thing that is different in 2020.
For many small businesses, the pandemic has turned their whole livelihoods upside-down. Many have had to adapt their business to COVID conditions, while others have had to pivot or change their offerings entirely.
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And, while the JobKeeper wage subsidy scheme and other stimulus measures have allowed many to keep employees on the books and the lights on, those support measures are set to start tapering off as soon as next week.
In the Xero survey, 18% of respondents said they would like to see additional JobKeeper support, to help them retain employees for longer.
But, at the top of the budget wishlist is government incentives to start a new business, with 29% of survey respondents highlighting this as something they want to see.
There was also a demand for more support for young entrepreneurs, specifically to grow their networks and experience, highlighted by 28% of respondents.
Some 22% also highlighted a need for cheaper energy for small businesses, and 22% named research and development tax incentives as something that would be helpful.
The R&D Tax Incentive scheme has been something of a contentious topic throughout the pandemic. Controversial and widely unpopular reforms to the scheme have been under discussion for months, but the Senate Economic Legislation Committee has pushed back its reporting date three times.
Now, the report is due on October 12.
Speaking with SmartCompany, Xero small business advocate Angus Capel says this will be “one of the most important budgets for small business”.
Small business owners want the government to shine a spotlight on the sector, he says.
But, he points in particular to the demand for support for those starting a new business. With more people, particularly young people, out of work, we could see new businesses springing up almost out of necessity.
Such opportunistic entrepreneurs bring skill, expertise and passion, but may not necessarily have the business prowess or the networks to succeed.
This, Capel says, is where the need for incentives to start a business, and support in growing networks, really come into play.
“Having the government prepare them for success is going to be critical,” he explains.
“There could potentially be a gap there with what they need to actually succeed.”
Xero’s survey also highlighted a demand for technology to help fuel recovery post-COVID-19.
While 33% said they are confident they will be able to rebound from the pandemic if they receive support from the government, 41% were more reserved, saying if the budget is kind to them, they will be able to continue to trade, but will need time to get back to their pre-pandemic state.
In order to make that recovery, 30% said they would be using more technology and digital tools in running their business.
Rebecca Simmons is the co-founder of Barc For Pets, a business that started life in 2016 as a dog minding service that also provided rural adventure getaways for city pups.
Fast forward four years, and the business offers doggy day-care at Simmons’ own farm, as well as house-sitting services and themed dog-focused adventure holidays.
It’s also launched its e-commerce arm, offering a range of luxury treats, toys and accessories.
Simmons tells SmartCompany the business has recently undergone something of a digital transformation.
The founder completed the government’s Small Business Digital Champions program, which offers financial support for digitising a business, and connects business owners with tech providers and partners.
“Actually executing a digital transformation is a huge, many-part process, and it’s not something you can really execute on your own,” Simmons says.
“I would love to see the budget really helping other small businesses to go through what I went through,” she adds.
“I don’t see why any business in the world should be operating without a digital transformation in this day and age.”
Bringing more technology into the business has opened up opportunities for growth and scale, she says.
If that was available to more business owners, there would be more jobs created, and more economic growth.
“It’s pretty much paramount, currently,” she says.
It’s one thing to have a sense of what small business owners want from this year’s unusual federal budget. But, can we expect the government to deliver?
Capel has faith the government will look carefully at what it can do for small businesses, “knowing that a lot of recovery is going to be driven by the small business sector”.
Throughout the pandemic, “small business has been hit twice as hard as big business”, he notes.
But, they’re nimble, and able to pivot or jump on new opportunities as they appear. And, in areas where restrictions have started to ease, they’ve also been able to bounce back relatively quickly.
“I think we’re going to need small businesses especially to rescue employment,” Capel muses.
“Government being able to invest really strategically to get a good return on investment will be very much top of mind for them.”
Simmons, for her part, is brimming with optimism.
“I have every confidence in [the government] delivering,” she says.
Barc For Pets has just come out the other side of a very positive experience with a government-led support program, she notes.
And she also feels she’s been given ample opportunity to express what small businesses like hers want, and need, from the government at this time.
Ultimately, Simmons feels all business owners should be given the opportunity she had, and she sees no reason why the government wouldn’t agree.
“Especially now, when unemployment rates are really high, for businesses that already exist, and that have made it through the pandemic … let’s invest in them, let’s get them hiring, let’s rebuild,” she says.
“I’m really optimistic for what the budget holds.”