Bush businesses doing it tough but optimistic for the future

- February 14, 2023 3 MIN READ


Sixty per cent of Australian rural and regional business owners haven’t had a pay rise in a year, while half of regional business owners do not pay themselves a wage at all, according to the findings from the 2022 BIG Small Business Survey.

While the cost of living and rising business expenses are a concern for many Australians in 2023, the BIG Small Business Survey findings showed that business owners are currently concerned about keeping up with demand, managing their workloads and staying on top of wellbeing and mental health issues. They are also feeling the pressure when it comes to managing rising costs and finding staff.

Yet many rural and regional business owners remain optimistic, despite having dealt with a slew of natural disasters and the pandemic followed by inflation and a slowing economy.

Bush businesses, in particular, anticipated plenty of opportunities in the coming 12 months, with 56 per cent expecting to increase sales overall and one in three anticipating an increase in online revenue. A further 27 per cent and 28 per cent, respectively, were looking to expand into new markets and increase prices.

Staff shortages impacting workload

While seven in ten rural and regional businesses did not have any issue finding quality staff, staffing shortages were still impacting businesses. 56 per cent of business owners said they expect to work more hours in the coming year due to staff shortages.

More than a third say the result is that they’ll also need to look at more innovative ways of doing business, as a third of bush businesses were struggling with keeping up with demand, with 22 per cent citing burnout as their biggest challenge over the last twelve months.

Cash flow remains an issue for bush businesses

Three in ten regional and rural businesses say their biggest challenge is finding customers, while 29 per cent struggled with cash flow. Many business owners said financial pressures were impacting their mental health, with over half surveyed saying they had experienced a mental health challenge over the past few years.

Although 40 per cent of the rural small businesses surveyed had a turnover of under $50k, business owners still said they loved the flexibility and freedom that comes with being in business for themselves. 58 per cent loved the flexibility of running a business and not having to answer to someone else (44 per cent).

Bright future ahead

When it comes to plans over the next 12 months, over half of business owners indicated that they intend to increase their marketing spend. While 83 per cent of bush operators used social media to grow their business, 59 per cent said they weren’t concerned about the impact of new technology on their business. The majority of business owners (70 per cent) said they did not see technology replacing human roles in their industry in the next five years.

Spend With Us co-founder Sarah Britz, who was one of the facilitators of the survey, said rural and regional business owners are highly resilient and innovative operators.

“Thanks to technology and social media, these businesses are able to thrive in a competitive global market. As regional businesses tap into new markets and achieve more business efficiency, they will be able to bring more revenue back into their local communities,” Britz said.

Co-founder Jenn Donovan adds, “Online platforms are enabling businesses to increase their revenue streams and reduce their vulnerability to local market conditions. The next 12 months are full of challenges, but also plenty of opportunity for growth. Small business owners are therefore right to feel positive about the future.”

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