In less than a week, Australians will flock to the polls to cast their vote in this year’s federal election, the outcome of which will shape the next chapter in our nation’s pandemic journey.
Following a turbulent few years, it’s a choice that feels particularly momentous – especially for small businesses. So how will this 2.4 million-strong community use its collective polling power come 21 May?
The top election priorities for small businesses in 2022
To get a feel for what voters are thinking, Xero commissioned a survey of more than 500 small business owners from across the country to learn about their top election concerns and priorities.
When it comes to the ballot, over 40 per cent said policies that support small businesses are the main driver in determining which party they’ll vote for – and rightly so. After three years of natural disasters and pandemic disruption, the road to recovery remains bumpy. Which is why our incoming government must lead the way on issues that matter most to the self-employed.
Helping more small businesses digitalise
Since the pandemic’s arrival, small businesses have been forced to digitalise at high speed. Now, almost three years on, many are realising that the migration towards tech isn’t a quick fix; it’s a continuous state of change.
Why is this distinction important? Because technology is no longer a nice-to-have, but rather, it’s essential to how we operate in today’s world.
However, our research reveals the majority (78.6 per cent) of small business owners have concerns about tech or don’t consider it important in the success of their business. What’s more, 40 per cent of those surveyed don’t feel prepared to move to new technologies like eInvoicing.
This presents a huge opportunity to boost productivity for the government. Not only to introduce education initiatives to help self-employed Australians understand the benefits of digitalisation, but also to get them excited about tech’s almighty potential.
So what does this look like in practical terms?
Entrepreneur Jamie Shostak of app development and growth startup Appetiser, suggests taking inspiration from our global counterparts. “Digitalisation often starts from the top. We’re seeing governments around the world adopt some incredible initiatives – like Singapore’s TraceTogether Bluetooth tags to track the spread of COVID-19, to full-blown digital citizenship in Estonia – all of which has a ripple effect for small businesses,” he says.
Alongside this, introducing education programs, funding and grants, and simplifying regulatory compliance can all help in empowering more entrepreneurs to adopt new technologies.
Finding stability through uncertain times
Although tech will continue to play a critical role in helping small businesses bounce back from the pandemic, challenges lie ahead. According to Xero’s survey, a quarter (25.5 per cent) of small businesses are concerned they won’t rebuild to pre-COVID levels within the year, and a similar amount (24.9 per cent) are worried they’ll need support packages to face future pandemic turbulence.
Beyond the widespread economic toll, there’s no denying that the pandemic has changed the way we live and work for good. One outcome of this is the ‘great realisation’ (with many re-evaluating when, where and how they work), leaving employers struggling to find new team members. Well over a third (40 per cent) of those surveyed said their small business has suffered from a tech skills shortage over the past two years, and nearly a quarter (24.7 per cent) admit they’re relying on a new government and policies to help them hire new employees.
For small business leaders like Jamie, making sure his staff are healthy and happy is also a priority. He says, “As a business with a sizeable Australian team, we’re always thinking about how we can take better care of our people. We would love to see more investment from the government to get Australia back on track – from a health and an economic perspective.”
Whatever the outcome of this year’s federal election, these findings clearly show that the needs of small businesses – all 2.4 million of them – must be core to government policies and programs moving forward. At the centre of this is addressing their concerns around tech support, digital resilience, and upskilling workers (as a starting point).
Why? Because small businesses are essential to our nation’s prosperity, all the more so as we recover from the pandemic.
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