In less than a week, millions of Australians will cast their ballot in this year’s Federal Election. This is a chance for eligible voters to have their say about who will be our next prime minister and which parties will have the most influence in Federal Parliament.
For our nation’s self-employed community – comprising 2.4 million people or roughly 10 percent of the voting population – this election outcome feels especially important. As we look towards the years ahead, a clear pathway to pandemic recovery will be front of mind for many. But in order to realise a more stable future, we need the next government to back entrepreneurs and small businesses on the things that matter most to them.
New research commissioned by Xero explores exactly what these issues are. In a survey of more than 500 small business owners from across the country, we uncovered their top political concerns and priorities leading up to election day.
Embracing digitalisation at speed
Since the pandemic’s arrival, many businesses have had no choice but to digitise in order to keep their heads above water. As a result, we saw a permanent (and continually evolving) shift in the way businesses operate. However, our research reveals that small businesses are still lagging when it comes to tech adoption. The majority (78.6 percent) of those surveyed have concerns about tech or don’t consider it important in the success of their firm. Meanwhile, well over a third (40 percent) say they don’t feel prepared to move to digital initiatives like eInvoicing.
We know businesses that use digital tools thrive; which is why this needs to change – and fast. Here lies a huge opportunity for the next government to help more small business owners take advantage of technologies that will support them now and carry them into the future. How? By introducing education programs, funding and grants, and simplifying regulatory compliance to support and empower entrepreneurs to take the digital leap. Once we remove these barriers, digitalisation becomes a default mindset; not a nice-to-have.
Addressing staff shortages and supply chain stress
Between closed borders, lockdowns and the ‘great resignation’, finding team members is a major challenge for employers. For Meg Johnson of Melbourne burger institution Easey’s, a government grant to address rising wages and staff shortages is top of her wish list. She says, “We’re in the hospitality industry, so it’s tough to get stable staff. We usually have students and working holiday makers as part of our team, but after so many years of closed borders, there’s a huge gap in the employment market.”
Meg isn’t the only one facing these sorts of challenges. Our survey reveals that staff shortages are a concern for 21.3 percent of small businesses, while a similar amount (22.6 percent) are also worried about the rising cost of wages. In fact, Meg says it’s her biggest concern for the year ahead. “With inflation on the up and up, it’s going to be a huge issue for us moving forward,” she explains. Business owners can’t tackle these problems alone; they need the government’s support, and they need it now.
Finding stability in a changing world
While Australia continues to navigate COVID-19 (and its ripple effects), the road to recovery remains bumpy. As a result, small businesses are understandably nervous about how they’ll get back on their feet following years of turbulence.
According to our survey, a quarter (25.5 percent) are concerned they won’t recover to pre-COVID levels within the year, and 24.9 percent are worried they’ll need support packages to face future pandemic challenges. Despite this, those who are anxious about COVID-19 in 2022 feel more optimistic about the coming year than those previous – a true testament to the unwavering resilience of our nation’s entrepreneurs.
A whole world of opportunity lies ahead for self-employed Australians. But in order for them to embrace it, they need the incoming government’s backing on the policies and digital initiatives that will help them thrive. Because if our economy is to return to full strength, we need to help small businesses – and the people behind them – go full steam ahead.