Is small business whingeing its way into irrelevance?

Last week, TripAdvisor announced the results of a worldwide hospitality survey. One of the things that leapt out of the survey was how large hotel chains are using social media while smaller Australian establishments are languishing.

Following on TripAdvisor’s survey was the release of accounting software company MYOB’s regular index that showed businesses are retreating from the online world with reduced usage rates of social media, eCommerce and online payments.

At an Australian Israel Chamber of Commerce lunch in Sydney on Tuesday, MYOB’s CEO Tim Reed and Google Australia’s Tim Leeder discussed small business and the web with their Getting Australian Business Online program missing its target of 50,000 sign ups since its launch in March last year.

The fact more than half of Australian businesses don’t have a website despite free services from Google, WordPress, Weebly and a host of others indicates a deeper apathy among small businesses towards a whole range of issues.

Earlier this year the New South Wales state government abolished the popular Small Business September program with barely a squeak from the SME sector, with some small business groups actually welcoming what was a dramatic cut to support programs.

Compare this to the Olympic athletes, not only do we see the AOC coming out swinging with demands for more funding but the yachting team are staging an effective campaign to reinstate NSW government programs to support their sport: The total opposite to the small business community.

Small business, on the other hand, rolls over and accepts cuts to programs, poorly thought out regulations and government procurement policies that favour multinationals over local companies which are capable of the job.

When small business is given a chance to have a voice, the community blows it with whingeing. At the NSW Small Business Commissioner’s roadshows earlier this year it was notable how much time was spent whingeing about group buying services, traffic clearways and council permits for coffee tables rather than sensible and achievable wins for the SME sector.

So it wasn’t a surprise that the result of that roadshow was the cutting of useful programs and little effective change.

The best example of this whingeing rather than action is the current campaign to increase the GST threshold and abolish penalty rates.

Instead of focusing on the real problems facing businesses such as high rents, profit gouging from distributors and poorly thought out state and federal regulations imposed by both sides of politics – the small business and retail sectors manage to demonise their staff and customers and increase the suspicions of consumers and workers that they’re being ripped off by big, bad employers.

In reality, the shopkeepers and other small businesses are struggling to adapt to a rapidly changing economy. They are feeling those changes earlier than the rest of the economy because they don’t have the cushions of fat margins, political connections or guaranteed incomes of the corporate, public or political sectors.

Those struggles will give the small business sector an advantage over the bigger and slower groups – having adapted to the changed economy, those smaller businesses will be stronger and fitter than their bigger competitors.

Chris Ridd, of cloud computing accounting service Xero, one of MYOB’s biggest competitors, puts this best.

“Technology is an enabler and can actually help small businesses gain efficiencies, reach new customers and generate new revenue streams. Why turn your back on the one thing that can turn your business around.”

It’s the proactive business people adopting new technologies who are going to thrive over the next decade. Whingeing about TripAdvisor, the GST or dumb government policies isn’t going to save an enterprise that’s become irrelevant.

So make sure your website’s up to date, check what customers are saying about you on social media or review sites and have a look at those cloud computing services that can improve your business’ profitability and efficiency.

The time to do it is now, before your business becomes irrelevant.

Paul Wallbank is one of Australia’s leading experts on how industries and societies are changing in this connected, globalised era. When he isn’t explaining technology issues, he helps businesses and community organisations find opportunities in the new economy.



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