Team Work … That’s How Small Business Will Thrive
When Bonnie Tyler called out for a hero to be strong, fast and fresh from the fight, little did she know 30 years later, it would be women donning the cape to shake up the world.
In Australia, the hallways of government are being graced by more and more women entering political life, bringing a different flavour to decision making, especially to the life blood of the economy; small business.
When it comes to small business heroes, there are three women, across three tiers of government have joined forces to make the plight of small business less onerous and more productive. They are quietly working away in the background on key issues facing many in small business.
They say a problem shared is a problem solved and by working together, the three are creating a powerhouse small business brains trust, focused on a single mission – helping small business prosper.
With a combination of business nous, statutory power, and the ability to capture people’s attention, Kate Carnell, Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, Maree Adshead, Queensland Small Business Champion and Terri Cooper, Small Business Liaison Manager for the City of Brisbane, have done what seemed impossible across the many layers of Australia government. They’re working together, collaborating and making changes to make life easier for small business. While it is not part of their ‘job description’, the three see themselves as a team.
Yet, getting three tiers of government working together is not something that comes naturally. Kate Carnell says the secret is people. “The way to make it work is for people to get it working because there is no natural mechanism for this to happen within the system. Given one of the major issues for small business is red tape, the challenge for us working together is to try to make the pathway through the complexities so it is simpler,” she said.
When they talk, invariably the topic of red tapes comes up. It is the bane of a small business’ existence.
“The issue with red tape is it’s cumulative – across local, state and federal government there are different forms for different stuff, yet none of these different levels talk to each other. One of the things small businesses tell us is working out all these requirements is a challenge. Add to that challenge, particularly for women, raising a family, running a home and a business, it becomes overwhelming,” Kate said.
Kate gets the challenges of running a small business, having owned a pharmacy in Canberra for almost 20 years. With an Order of Australia (AO), appointed to her in the Australia Day Honours list of 2006, for her services and contributions to the Australian Capital Territory, Kate has dedicated her career to serving the community. As the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, she is a strong advocate for small business.
When the Queensland State Government appointed Maree Adshead as the Small Business Champion, it was to give small business an advocate who had experience in the private sector and to be a voice at the national small business policy table. Since her appointment in 2016, she’s been forging strong relationships and partnerships at federal, state and local levels.
Maree has built three successful businesses, so she gets the realities of small businesses. “I am still involved in my own business and actively engaged in the business community. The reason we are able to make this work is our skill at networking and because of our joint experience in small business,” she said.
“It is a testament to our relationship because the more we can do together, the more we pull together, the more we can achieve. So many people see the government as a barrier; touching and interfering with their business. We are working together to simplify the experience.”
It works well. With a foot in all camps, each of the small business heroes knows what is going at all levels of government, giving them a unique perspective of how-to better advocate for small business.
A big part of what Maree Adshead is doing in her role is helping small business navigate connecting with government as the customer. “Sometimes the process of transacting with government is not easy,” she said.
Add into the mix, networking queen Terri Cooper, who recently transitioned into the role of Small Business Liaison Manager for the City of Brisbane. With 15 years in business, she is a fierce supporter of small businesses and her role with the City is testament as to how vital this local government sees its part in all levels of the economy.
“Kate, Maree and I liaise often, and it is great to know that if a small business raises an issue with me that is not council related, I can take it to Maree or Kate. We all work together. Small business problems belong to all of us.”
Kate Carnell believes the more three levels of government, across the country, can do what Brisbane, Queensland and Canberra are doing, complexity and red tape can be reduced. “Technology is going to be what helps us do this,” she said.
Kate Carnell is a staunch advocate for more small businesses to embrace digital. “Digital connectivity is moving from a ‘nice to have’ to a ‘need to have’,” she said. This applies to government departments as well.
“Technology allows programs like the one in NSW where a single portal for people to register a cafe with liquor licence has been streamlined. There used to be something like 40 forms to fill out, taking up to 18 months to approve and now a platform has been placed over the top, so all the business person must do is enter their information one. That information can be assessed across different levels of government, in parallel not sequentially,” she said.
“That is team work.”
Maree Adshead agrees. She said the magic of making this happen for small business around three layers of government is data sharing. “Then ask; is it better to simplify the legislation or the way we interact it with it?” she asked. “It is not enough not to bother because it is too hard. Our job, the job of government, must be to make life easier for small business. The good thing about working with Terri and Kate is we have the same goal post.”
The key comes down to all three have run their own small businesses. They get the challenges, the hiccups, the pain and frustration, the triumphs and hurdles most small business face daily. They’re not coming from an academic or bureaucratic perspective but real, coalface, grass roots, dirt-under-the-nails hard yakka.
Maree Adshead said unless decision makers have been in business it is hard to understand the realities involved. “If you have not experienced it, it is hard to imagine the other side of the coin,” she said.
Terri Cooper said it is vital to remember there are different levels of small business. “We know not every one of the 2 million small businesses in Australia are growing or want to grow beyond where they are. Around 1 million of these businesses are solo traders who want to stay solos; businesses like tradies, micro business, and mums at home,” she said.
Maree Adshead said many of these micro businesses are the ones removing friction from our daily lives. “They are local and building trust. Yet the challenge is many do not identify as a small business. They see themselves as a painter, dog walker, or a shop keeper. This impacts how they access information and we need to work on how to empower these people to access the resources and help on offer,” she said.
Terri Cooper would love to see an official micro business category created. “This way these solo operators are not competing with a small business turning over up to $50 million. The needs and challenges are different, and putting them all into the same group is not as efficient,” she said.
“The nature of today’s workforce is changing and more people are taking control over their income and lifestyle, by becoming solo traders and contractors. I think this trend will continue as more people are seeking flexibility in their work lifestyle.”
The interesting thing about small business is the number of women starting their own ventures. According the 2016 Census, women make up a third of small businesses in Australia … and this figure is growing. The Australian Financial Review reported early this year there has been a 46 per cent increase in the number of female business operators in the country over the past two decades.
Impressive. Women are seeing problems and creating opportunities to fix them.
Kate Carnell, who has been around small businesses since the 80s, said it is not just younger women making the call to go into business but older women as well. “They are deciding instead of going back to work, they will set up their own business. More and more are micro businesses doing their own thing working in the shared or gig economy, making their work fit with life,” she said.
Instead of the other way around.
The key to help these new businesses thrive is making it easy to get started and keep going. Kate Carnell said the dilemma is around as a business grows as to how to resource it especially given the current industrial relations format. “Do people take on employees or contactors or seek help through the gig economy?” she asked. “IR does not fit well with the way business is growing.”
One thing is clear from all three – the rise of women in business will grow exponentially. With this are key questions that must be asked. Maree Adshead said things like superannuation have to be addressed. “It has become an issue and in the next 10 years, given how many women are in business, it will be a bigger issue,” she said.
The good thing is small business, regardless of whether it is run by a man or a women, has got three dynamos in its corner, prepared to ask and answer the hard questions.
The Publicity Genie