It can be easy to think you are voiceless when it comes to government policy, but a former federal minister says you have more voice than you may realise – provided you use it.
Business owners face many issues, some of which could be fixed with a helping hand from the government: think tax changes, financial assistance, a more rigorous focus on payment terms and, of course, reduced red tape.
However, these issues – and their adverse effects on business growth – aren’t always brought to the attention of those in position to fix them.
Bruce Billson, former federal small business minister and now Efic ambassador, says the issues SMEs face are often ignored by government in favour of looking at big business.
“There are these big discussions around policy settings and all that, it is too easy just to go to the big unions, big business, even big government and not realise [the impacts on SMEs],” he says.
“One of the biggest issues that [has come] up with me is the rules are so darn complicated, you need a PhD in human resource management and linguistics to work out whether you're doing the right thing or not. It shouldn't be that hard,” he says.
In order to simplify issues, Bruce says that it is important for business owners to share their story and experience to highlight the practical implications of key issues on the ground, humanising them and providing examples that go beyond the mere theoretical.
“There's no substitute for the field evidence that someone in the game, in the contest, can bring to those kinds of conversations,” Bruce explains.
“If I had my time over again, I'd probably be more supportive and more forthright in saying, ‘Please, get involved. Tell the broader public about your story.’
“If you've not been in that life of a small business, it's probably hard to relate to the story because if you've always been a wage and salary earner and someone else has had to worry about paying the payroll, and it was someone over there that was the last person to be paid, that happened to be the founder: that story needs to be shared more.”
During his time as federal small business minister, Bruce would attend SME round tables and town hall meetings, and what struck him was how people shared their stories, from both business owners and members of the community.
“You don't have to be a small business person. You are a citizen that understands the centrality and how crucial small business is to our economy, our way of life, our opportunity for livelihoods,” he recounts.
“I think that narrative needs a bit more of a conversation.”
As such, Bruce encourages business owners from all walks of life to speak up – within their communities and directly to politicians, including their local member of parliament – and take an active approach in ensuring your concerns and ideas are heard.
“A lot of people are just too busy, so they look to their industry associations or their chambers of commerce or someone to carry that ball for them,” he adds.
“I used to throw this question [to business owners]: ‘You are Prime Minister for one day. What would you do? Now, that means don't just talk about what is annoying you or your grievances, or what's giving you the ear hurt. What positive action, step would you take? What would you do?’
“The insights that were shared had been really vivid, fantastic; and I might say informed a lot of my policies. People said, ‘Yeah, this, this, this. Yeah that's annoying me.' I understand there is only so much you can do about that but this thing – I can't understand why the government doesn't do dot, dot, dot, dot.
“It was a really rewarding way of getting into the thinking and the lived experience of enterprising men and women, and using those insights to help shape better policy. That helped with the small business budget package.”