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Seeing Small and Family Businesses through: post COVID-19 challenges and the road ahead

In the latest episode of ‘Futurising Your Business’, Dinesh De Silva sits down to discuss the biggest issues SMEs face and what action is being taken with Australian Minister for Employment, Skills and Small and Family Business, The Senator, Hon. Michaelia Cash.
Here’s a quick look at that discussion.

As global economies begin to restart, Australia’s small and family run businesses have now begun the task of navigating unprecedented post Covid-19 challenges.

The SME community has been called “the backbone of the Australian economy” – with 3.5 million small businesses making up around 99% of all businesses in Australia, employing approximately 6.1 million workers – a substantial contribution toward the nation’s GDP.

It’s no wonder then that this community has seen an equally unprecedented level of support and recognition during these times from all parts of the government.

The Government’s response to cash flow crisis

According to Minister Cash, Covid-19 is one of the greatest hits to the Australian economy ever seen from the perspective of small and family businesses; and rightly so! The loss of income and having to close down businesses has been a huge challenge and in particular, not having a cash flow that they so desperately rely on, which has in turn led to a struggle to retain staff.

The Minister went on to state, “small and family businesses are passionate about their staff. Their staff are their family members, or they are treated as if they’re there family members – so that loss of income has really weighed heavily on so many millions of Small and family businesses across Australia.” She went on to explain that a $320 billion response package has been put in place, but the key element for small and family business has been access to the government’s $130 billion job-keeper package.

Key Takes

  • As of 13th May – over 860,000 businesses have enrolled for job-keeper, which gives a lifeline to around 6.1 million Australians.
  • Cash flow relief for small business was up to $100,000 with the minimum payment over the two financial years of $20,000.
  • Over $450,000 (worth) businesses are now accessing over $8 billion in cash flow assistance.
  • $1 billion in loans have been approved to around eleven thousand businesses.
  • An official commitment to procure at least 10% of contracts by value from SMEs and 35% by value of all contracts up to $20 million (in 2018/19 SMEs were awarded $16.7 billion worth of contracts).
  • The post covid-19 recovery will not involve new taxes.
  • The Government is looking at what more they can do to unleash the power of dynamic, innovative and open markets, which is central to the economic recovery

The vision for the future

Minister Cash stated that the government’s response has had to be of one that is of equal impact and significance to that of the importance of the SME community. “We now need to tackle the war on the unemployment front and get those businesses back into business so that they can re-employ or bring back into the workforce those employees on job-keeper. We want to see as many small and family businesses get back up and running as soon as possible,” she stressed.  

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Digitize and adapt successfully

She also went on to share her thoughts on small businesses changing the way they work, in particular, the overnight impact of digitization and access to technology, which will play an increasing role in driving economic growth and future investments.

Minister cash explained, “What this has shown was that the businesses that didn’t have access to technology, who hadn’t digitized, they did not have the same capacity to adapt. We’re moving into a new way of doing things – that new ‘covid safe’ economy, the ability to e-invoice, and access to digital and technology is going to be so important.”

Safe Work Australia and the challenges ahead

The biggest challenges that lie ahead go beyond reopening business but about understanding what a covid safe environment is for business along with what obligations SMEs have as an employer and if they have a covid safe plan in practice within the workplace. According to Minister Cash, the virus is not going anywhere until we find a vaccine – what does this mean for small and family businesses”

The Minister stressed on the importance of employers clearly understanding their obligations in creating a covid safe environment for not just themselves and their employees but for customers too. To obtain a clear idea of what each industry needs to do to create a safe working environment, all business owners need to get in touch with Safe Work Australia, the authoritative source in terms of what SMEs need to do for their respective industry.

Big businesses must pay SMEs on time

Cash flow is king for small and family run businesses, but one of the main biggest issues facing SMEs during this crisis is not being paid on time for their services from bigger businesses. “We really need to continue to highlight why paying small businesses on time is just so important. Not just to them, but to the Australian economy. From the government’s perspective in particular, everything that we that we can do to incentivise timely payments, we will do.”

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The Government will lead by example

“I’m a big believer that governments must lead by example, so we’ve already introduced a payment policy. We will now pay all invoices for contracts up to a million dollars within 20 calendar days. As a government you need to lead by example and that is just so important. And also, if you can e-invoice the government, we’ll pay you within 5 days, and if we don’t, we’ll pay interest on any accrued days.” The Minister added.

How can SMEs win Government contracts?

For small businesses wanting to supply to the government, businesses should register online as a user on the AusTender website. Once registered, the site automatically matches business opportunities with the areas of interest that you have identified, based on the profile of your business. What then happens is businesses will receive email notifications when opportunities are advertised.

For businesses that want to sell, there is also the selling to government website. Now you go to sellingtogov.finance.gov.au and what this will do is it provides information and support for businesses to better understand ‘I’ve got something really great, I’d like to sell it to the government but how do I do it?’ If you go to the government website, it will take you through what you need to do and it will assist you in identifying opportunities.

A message of hope to SMEs

It’s clear that the minister is extremely passionate about her job and what it entails for the betterment of small and family run businesses. She ended the interview with some encouraging words to the 12,000 strong Netstripes Bizruption community, many of whom she met last year.

“Thank you so much for the opportunity to talk directly with you.  I am humbled in my role as the Minister for Small and Family Business everyday with the people that I meet, with what they’re doing, and how they are literally the lifeblood of communities around Australia.

What I want to say to you is, you are doing it tough, and the government knows you are doing it tough. We’re here to assist you and to put in place those policies that will get you through covid-19 and will see you emerge, I really hope, stronger!

I just want to thank you, for everything that you have done, for everything that you do; but more than that, for everything I know you will continue to do to serve the Australian community. And to give people what I think is the greatest things you can do, the dignity of work. So on behalf of the prime minister, who is also a passionate advocate for small and family businesses across Australia. Thank you, we’ve got your back!”

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