“We can only control what we can”: Small businesses contend with growth barriers heading into 2020

growth barriers

Motor Scout founder Peter Gee is growing his business in a declining market. Source: supplied.

Peter Gee has been running his own businesses for 13 years, but his latest venture, Motor Scout, is a very different beast.

Founded 18-months ago as a technology-first solution to poor customer experience in the vehicle market, Motor Scout is growing 10% month-on-month at a time when the broader automotive industry is struggling.

But the founder says he’d love to do more and move faster, held back by a need to manage cashflow amid uncertainty about the economy.

“I’d like to be growing a lot faster and putting more plans into place,” Gee tells SmartCompany.

“I believe in where we’re going, it’s just scaling up, and that comes down to the main thing for us, which is cashflow and resources.”

More than a third (39%) of small business owners surveyed by RFi Group for American Express’ annual Shop Small report, released this month, said they’re holding back on implementing ideas and plans they believe would grow their businesses.

The 856 business-strong national survey was taken in August amid heightened commentary about the state of the economy from the Reserve Bank, politicians and media commentators.

The proportion of business owners which cited the “Australian economic climate” as their biggest concern increased this year, up from 43% to 50%.

Gee says while his company is in a “declining market” heading into 2020, his recent growth phase has bolstered his confidence, prompting him to stagger out his plans to ensure Motor Scout’s bottom line doesn’t take on too much risk at one time.

Motor Scout managed to lock in an equity investor in October, providing Gee with $200,000 in capital to support his young company.

“In an ideal world the economy would be on the up and we’d be growing a bit quicker … but we can only control what we can control,” Gee says.

The founder has been busy putting the foundations in place to position his business to succeed next year, including by investing in high-quality team members he hopes will take his company to the next level.

“The hardest thing for us is getting the right staff members,” the business owner says.

“We were basically paying peanuts and getting people who didn’t fit what we wanted.”

As economists discuss measures both conventional and otherwise to arrest persistently low inflation and weak consumer fundamentals such as real wage growth, small business owners say keeping up with the evolution of technology has become a more prevalent issue for them.

The proportion of businesses which cited technological change as their “fastest-growing concern” increased from 27% last year to 41% this year, according to RFi Group.

As SmartCompany has previously explored, the rollout of single touch payroll reporting, electronic invoicing and the broader proliferation of digital Software-as-a-Service products has helped spur evolution in the way business is done in Australia in recent years.

The vast majority of employers in Australia now need basic digital accounting software at the very least if they’re to operate in compliance with the law; digitisation is no longer an option.

Gee is no stranger to technology; his entire business runs as an online platform designed to make it easier for customers to purchase cars. His advice for others is to keep nose to the ground and ensure decisions about buying technology are customer-focused.

“The most important thing for us isn’t the car deals, it’s the customer experience,” he says.

“It’s about making sure the technology is right.”

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