Starting or operating a small business is never easy, however since 2020, business owners have had to deal with truly unprecedented challenges. Whilst the world has finally emerged from COVID-19 restrictions, the events of the past 2 years are still impacting the viability of small businesses across the country.
Small businesses are paying the price for poor management of Governments and world leaders of the past. For example, the Morrison Government ushered out vital skilled workers when the pandemic struck, and understandably these workers are not rushing back to our shores. In addition to this, the stimulus measures taken had to be rushed out and therefore the targeting of the stimulus payments resulted in only a modest proportion of the funds being received by those who needed them the most.
So, today, owners are battling the Australian Tax Office (ATO) chasing deferred debts, inflation impacting cost of sales, wage increases and difficulty in sourcing viable finance - and trumping the list of challenges is a severe lack of labour.
Mentally and physically exhausted small business owners are rolling up their sleeves and working 80-hour weeks just to cover shifts. I have witnessed firsthand friends and family members coming into hospitality businesses and volunteering on weekends or in the hours around their day jobs just to keep the doors open.
The loyalty many business owners provided to staff during COVID has not been returned, as many of the same staff are now leaving to take advantage of the record low unemployment. This has created a unique situation where sign on bonuses are being provided or employees are being recruited into positions that historically their skills and qualifications would not allow them to jump into.
The situation has created the position that working from home on a permanent basis is now a requirement, despite it being a measure introduced only to survive COVID. Apparently, team meetings are more effective through a computer screen these days, so it’s clear that the flow on impact on businesses paying city rents based on pre pandemic foot traffic is not being considered.
Now, there are opinion pieces being written out there that have a counter view. One such piece is an article written by Ross Gittins (Economics Editor) and published in the Age. In it he says “my guess is that we’ll be hearing complaints about labour shortages for years to come. And I’m not sure that will be a bad thing.”
Whilst I understand this could be preferable to high rates of unemployment, this is not the point that we are striving for. Additionally, I would be surprised if anyone with this point of view had ever started, owned or operated a small business.
Furthermore, the argument that if you can’t attract staff, you should pay them more is nonsensical. Wages are a by product of what people are willing to pay for goods or services less the cost of those goods and the costs of operating that business.
I recently wrote an opinion piece called ‘The medias crusade against the $7 coffee’. In it, I highlighted the fact that employees were wanting significant pay rises to fill positions ahead of time and to skip the career journey that provides them with the skills to reach their potential. But at the same time, everyone complains when the small business owner on the street passes on a small percentage of the cost increases being absorbed.
Most businesses in Australia strive for a 5% to 10% net profit margin - there are only so many slices in a cake.
I recently saw a job advertisement on Seek that had been put up first in 2019. Back then, the role received over 300 applications (with 10 – 15 of those qualified and experienced enough to get it). The same job role is being advertised again in 2022 with a 25% increase in salary, and it only attracted 10 responses (with none of them qualified and experienced enough).
If there was to be a canary in the coal mine, it would probably be the fact that large companies are now doing on the spot job interviews. This is not practical for small business owners, and more importantly, this is not an effective way to find the best person for the right position. It’s a temporary, band aid solution likely to provide ramifications to both the business and employee in question (lack of required skills and experience) and the economy as a whole.
Finally, to add insult to injury, the Federal Government has provided an unexpected additional public holiday on Thursday 22nd September, to mourn the passing of Queen Elizabeth II. With all due respect, The Queen lived to the ripe old age of 96 and (not diminishing her dedication and duty to the people) she also lived a life of luxury. So, throwing another public holiday into the mix is simply taking a day of earnings away from most small businesses who cannot afford it.
And remember - in Victoria, this week now has a 4-day weekend, as Friday was already an annual public holiday for the Grand Final Eve parade.
There are few small business owners in comparison to employees, so therefore, the popular vote will not always be to cater for the small business owners. However, everyone needs to understand that over 95% of the total businesses operating in Australia are defined as small businesses. Furthermore, these SMEs contribute over $420 billion to GDP annually.
The viability of small businesses in these times is critical and everyone loses if these operators are pushed too far.
Tim Roberts – Director