Peak small-business body on the biggest issues facing SMEs today

The Council of Small Business Australia (COSBOA) is the country’s peak body representing the interests of small-business owners and their employees. Following COSBOA’S recent National Small Business Summit, ISB spoke to CEO Peter Strong, about the biggest issues facing our sector and the key take-outs from the summit.

ISB: Now that you’ve had a few weeks to digest and ponder everything you heard at the 2019 COSBOA National Small Business Summit, what do you consider the key “take-outs” of the event to be for SME owners?

PS: The business community needs case studies and real-life examples – not theoretical ideas – to be engaged in change.

This is why the National Small Business Summit is key, so we can bring together leaders who represent small-business people, to understand the key issues, and then determine how we can influence policy to positively impact the small business community.

The biggest take-outs from the Summit in 2019 included:

  • Local Government in Victoria are committed to providing small-business owners with the tools and resources they need to grow
  • Regulators are focused on reducing complexity
  • There is a new generation of small businesses leveraging the entry of younger people to the workplace
  • The gig economy is triggering confusion with policy for contractors and small-business people employing on-demand workers
  • Energy – is going to be a hot topic for a while
  • The Australian Banking Association (ABA) revealed key data showcasing people believe access to finance is stopping them from fulfilling their entrepreneurial dreams
  • The COSBOA Small Business Champion 2019, Sustainable Salons, is demonstrating how small businesses can lead the way for sustainability and waste management
  • A large section of the small-business community still demonstrates a lack of knowledge for the digital economy: Only a) 41 per cent of small businesses know how to post on social; b) 20 per cent are managing an online database of customers; and c) 21 per cent know what SEO is.

ISB: I note that you recently commented on the complexity of workplace laws, recent high-profile cases prosecuted by the FWO have been larger corporations, so what do you see as the problem of current workplace regulations for small businesses specifically?

PS: The FWO is doing the tough job of trying to regulate a complex issue across all the industries. The problem is; if it is too difficult for big business then it is close to impossible for small

businesses. What we need and want is to have an easy to follow, easy to comply system that small businesses and employees can understand and conform to. It’s the only way compliance will be widespread across the industry.

ISB: Looking at the most frequently recurring themes on ISB this year, it would appear that payment times by larger organisations to their small-business suppliers and cybersecurity are huge issues at the moment. Firstly, do you see any progress on payment times since the ASBFEO’s recent inquiry into payment times to small businesses?

PS: There has been a definite change in attitude by many big businesses who are either paying much earlier or attempting to do so. Late payments have always been a massive hindrance to small businesses and their access to cashflow, and now we are finally seeing an industry-wide change; in not only attitude, but action.

Persistence by the business community to raise awareness of this issue has aided the result, and there is now an overwhelming sentiment and need to be fair to small-business people and pay invoices on time. This will continue to be reflected in 2020.

ISB: And do you believe small-business owners are aware enough of the risks cybersecurity poses, and the fact that they are more vulnerable than larger organisations as many do not have the manpower or budget to develop robust cyber defence strategies?

PS: Small-business people are probably aware of the risk of cyberattacks, yet still do not find time to check their systems or have the cash to employ someone to do it. We – the Government and industry Associations – need to provide better education, information and support to the small-business community.

ISB: Finally, what do you see as the most urgent issue facing small business today that we haven’t already covered here?

PS: There is a push by some academics and ideologues to make the small-business person responsible for the mental health of employees. Many factors contribute to mental health and having business be responsible and liable for employee mental health would be impossible to regulate or achieve. This system also fails the small-business owner, who often carries a massive mental load.

COSBOA is a valued partner of Inside Small Business. The 2020 COSBOA National Small Business Summit will take place in Brisbane.

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