Business growth – on the political SMB agenda?

It’s no secret that, in the lead up to the election, both sides of politics are offering small business owners a range of sweeteners in the hope of securing their votes. From promises to delay increases to super contributions. to offers of immediate tax write-offs for new equipment purchases, the small business sector is suddenly awash with political proposals.
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But with six different small business ministers in as many years (four in the last 19 months), what we really need is consistent and committed support from the Federal government for small businesses.

Without stable government, we’re seeing small businesses struggling to perform in an increasingly competitive local market; failing to expand both here and overseas. We recently commissioned a national study of 441 executive managers and business owners of Australian companies – asking for their thoughts on how they have been performing, and how they hope to grow. As well as discovering half (51 per cent) of companies experienced no revenue growth in the 2012/2013 financial year, we found close to two thirds (62 per cent) were dissatisfied with the level of support provided by the current Federal government.

Despite this perceived lack of support, the SMB sector is forging ahead with its own plans for success, with 60 per cent expecting revenue growth this financial year.

Investing in technology

What’s interesting is the increasing importance of technology to help businesses expand. Instead of increasing their people power, more SMB owners are planning to focus on technology to help their companies grow – from new websites and social media strategies to cloud services and mobile devices. This is where I think Labor has the right idea, with its small business write-off for new equipment purchases up to $6,500. This rings true to the sentiment that greater efficiency comes down to finding smarter ways to run your business, not just reducing overheads and cutting costs.

As a first step, SMBs need to look at how technology can help them expand their business nationally. For example, if you live in Sydney it might take you an hour to get to work if based in the city. Thinking a bit laterally, you can see that while there are five million people in Sydney, the 4.5 million people living in Melbourne also offers a great target market – especially as it is only an hour away by plane. While you might not have the finances to have people on the ground just yet, offices no longer have to provide a physical presence – they can now take the form of a website, or an intranet, a virtual address or even just a telephone number.

However, the real test for the Federal government formed post-September 7 will be whether it can help SMBs take advantage of their investments in technology to service larger export markets, such as those in Asia. I sit on the National Standing Committee for Cloud Computing and one of the reasons I do is that I think cloud technology is a great way to help small Australian businesses get access to overseas marketplaces, which has historically been a challenge for Australians, given our geographical isolation.

Cloud technology breaks down geographic barriers and the associated costs. We use our own cloud services at Servcorp because they offer a level of consistency across different markets, which would be difficult to secure by other means. Our clients have access to a single phone system that runs across 22 countries, and they can bill their own clients, in their own market, in their own currency, using a single, cloud based billing service.

For businesses looking to get the maximum benefit come September, they need to be looking at which party can move them out of their Aussie-centric mindset, into the populations to our north that offer huge marketplace opportunities. I firmly believe that in a restructured Australian economy, there needs to be a renewed focus placed on small businesses exporting to Asia.

No matter whether the Coalition or Labor win the election, initiatives to support the growth and expansion of Australia’s millions of SMBs needs to be placed front and centre on the agenda.

Marcus Moufarrige is the chief operating officer of Servcorp

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