Politicians aren't renowned for speaking unscripted, but having now retired from government, former small business minister and Efic ambassador Bruce Billson is open and honest in his passionate support of the SME sector, and continues to advocate on their behalf on many fronts.
“I’m so positive about small business that even my blood group is positive!” he jokes.
Having operated his own family business before moving into politics, Bruce is all too familiar with the everyday challenges facing SMEs. Post-politics, he remains dedicated to advocating for them and connecting them with various support channels to keep the wheels of growth turning.
He is now an ambassador for export finance agency Efic, promoting exporting as a tried and tested strategy for Aussie SMEs to expand.
In a wide-ranging chat on the My Business Podcast, Bruce explores how business owners can tap into Efic as a means of overcoming export finance barriers, and the lessons businesses can learn from his time in government.
Enjoy the show!
Phil Tarrant: G'day, everyone. It's Phil Tarrant here. I'm the host of the My Business podcast. Thanks for tuning in. I'm joined by my regular co-host. Hey Adam Zuchetti. How you going?
Adam Zuchetti: Good to be back again, Phil. How are we going?
Phil Tarrant: I'm all right. Run on the back of a lot of SME type work in many, many different areas and angles. I love this new space. I'm an SME myself, more M than S but I've gone down the journey as you know of signing off a business in the front bedroom of my mom's house to now running quite a large company, so I know what it's like to be in the trenches and I guess with that introduction, I've invited someone on today who is connected with the story of most small businesses in Australia. I've got former federal small business minister, the Honourable Bruce Billson in the studio. How you going, Bruce?
Bruce Billson: Mr. T, I am fab. It's good to be here and we're all here energising enterprise and Adam's with us. I mean, it does look like a boy band.
Phil Tarrant: It does.
Bruce Billson: I think you're the best, Adam. It's quite incredible. I stopped on the way in and said, "What's your tour dates?" and I go "You must have me confused with somebody else". You could pull that off though. Phil you look like boy band.
Phil Tarrant: You reckon? I've got a good tan at the moment. I've been out in the sun.
Bruce Billson: Doing well. You're doing well. I'm a bit pasty; I'm from Melbourne.
Phil Tarrant: So we've got a bit of a challenge ahead of us, Bruce, because there's a whole bunch of things we can chat about and we're going to have to condense a really good conversation to about sort of 20-25 minutes. I've been thinking the best way that we can go with this and I'll say that we'll have to get you back on, we can talk about many other things moving forward, but today I want to have a chat with you about exporting SMEs. in particular, some of the work that you're doing around Efic. We'll get to that later, about some of the trials and tribulations and the challenges that a lot of small businesses have realising export potential because we as manufacturers and creators of ideas in Australia, are second to none. I think if we can look to empower SMEs more effectively, to realise global ambitions, I'm more behind that.
Before we get there, I just want to just a general chat around the SME world a lot of time in Canberra, before you decide to hang up the Parliamentary boots, you were a small business minister are very hands on with working with SMEs; how do you feel your average SME today sees the market, sees the opportunity, sees the reasons for being SMEs? Do you think most of them, by and large, are happy?
Bruce Billson: I think they're finding it character building. I mean there's no sloppy margins around. There are no easy profits, and I think SMEs understand that. They're close to their customers. They can feel the rhythm of the market that they're a part of, but they're also seeing the market changing around them. I think that's something that can be really quite challenging. You've had a good business, good business model, and you think if I keep doing more of the same I'll be okay, but then the market starts changing. One of the things that I kept trying to do was empower and build capability of enterprising men and women to not only see those changes in the market but make them their own. There is this delicious world of possibilities out there, but they're not a gift. You have to work hard to get them and then really being agile and responsive to that is a key part.
Technology, you know I did some work with Google and with Microsoft and some of the big accounting firms, and we found a significant proportion of SMEs are invisible still on the internet. Yet, four out of five consumers are making initial inquiries using this technology. They'll jump on their iPhone, not to complete the transaction, but they want to know whether that dog groomer is, there's one nearby. They want to know whether that piece of technology someone spoke about, well "Who is selling that and what can you do with it"; You know what I mean? So that interface with the consumer is now very technology heavy. Yet, if you're not even in that space, that can really thin your market out as well.
Phil Tarrant: The mind boggles when I see SMEs or small businesses that don't have a digital presence because that's where people start.
Bruce Billson: Absolutely.
Phil Tarrant: Irrespective of the source.
Bruce Billson: I'm with you and we released some work that showed for those that the higher the degree of digital engagement, and that may well be through platforms like My Business or elsewhere, where they're getting to the eyeballs of customers, the higher that digital engagement, the better the business is enabled by the more resilient the business, the new market opportunity there. We see recruitment intentions are higher, profitability is higher, so I mean all those markers are there, but what we find is that most small business feel like at some point in their life they've been screwed by a technology vendor. They're like, "Oh, I wonder how much this is going to cost me?" We put on roadshows about bits to build your business. A little bit corny, but you know you can't have too much cheese and it gets people in and where SMEs were actually talking to other SMEs, saying "No one here is a technology vendor. He is someone sharing their insights as a pathfinder on what might work for you and here was their investment, and man, isn't that the best sum of money you've ever spent?" That was the change I thought was ... If we can get small business men and women talking to other small business men and women, that will really map a way forward and give some practical field evidence on how to do it. I still think that's the formula.
Phil Tarrant: I'm on a bit of a tangent here, but it just got me thinking about my experience with politicians ranges from 10 to 15 years in the media, but I was out the Avalon Air show last week, and the new F-35 Strike Fighter arrived, and Malcolm Turnbull and the two ministers, the Defence Minister and Minister of Defence Industry were there for the arrival. I set there and they did a great press conference with a backdrop of a plane. Spoke about capability building and all this other stuff. I've always wondered from a SME angle, the point of questions this guys got peppered with. A lot of questions which were very negative.
Bruce Billson: Yeah.
Phil Tarrant: It was all about why haven't you done this? Why is this happening, et cetera, and myself as a journalist, I like to look at the positive rather than rattling the can. I like to try and extract the good stuff out of people. In your time in Parliament, and it is a bit of detractor, but what is the best question that a journalist ever asked you about small and medium businesses? Is there anything in particular where you went, "Hang on a second. Here is someone which is actually looking at the positives rather than negatives."
Bruce Billson: It was interesting. The best thing that ever happened was someone asked me about it.
Phil Tarrant: Okay.
Bruce Billson: One of the things that I find, and there is a few exceptions, I mean Malcolm Farr and news.com, he's always had an appetite for the entrepreneur. The person with a sparkle in their eye and a fire in their belly and they want to turn that idea into investment and ambition into some kind of activity. I like the fact that someone really wanted to peel back what that journey is like. You've been through it and I've been through it. I was in a business with my wife. I'm sure your audience would know, there is no better form of contraception than having a business with your wife, you know? The pillow talk of cash flow and making this fortnight's payroll. I mean you're really living the dream, and I found that there weren't enough in the media that had experienced that. When you probed a bit further, it might've been a small business family they came from. It pricked their interest, but it wasn't a natural place for journalists to go.
I often remember we'd go to press conferences and people would want to talk about whatever their salacious sort of topic of the day, and I was "No, no, hang on". These people have mortgaged their house and their first born to create opportunities for themselves and others. In fact, half of all the workforce is employed by someone showing that courage. That is self belief, that drive to get ahead and a preparedness to invest and apply all of their know how to making that happen. Isn't that a great story?
Phil Tarrant: It's a great story.
Bruce Billson: It is a great story, and I just wanted to keep pushing that story forward all the time to say when 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, for instance, the Fair Work conversation that was happening with penalty rights and all that, I mean one of the biggest issues that comes 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. It shouldn't be that hard. I always said, "Let's start from the perspective of that enterprising man and woman. I know my work will be done when Australia is the best place to start and grow a small business."
When we go to graduation events and all that and the kids get up and they say they want to play in the front row for Melbourne Storm, who wouldn't? Natural thing. But when they get up and say, "I want to be an entrepreneur. I've seen what being in my own business looks like and I want a piece of that because I value my capability. I want to map my own cause. I want to write my own story and I can do that through my enterprise." That's the sort of ambition I tried to inject. When someone asks me about that, I thought that is fantastic.
Phil Tarrant: Obviously life after Canberra, life after politics, do you feel as though, and you're in a position then to make a difference, a lot of policy or legislation and a lot of time defending yourselves in the decisions that the government as made around SMEs or small business. Life after politics, do you feel a lot more enabled now to, not take greater action, but change the sort of influence we can have because you're not within the confines of a legislative system. You can go out and do stuff with that experience behind you.
Bruce Billson: Sure.
Phil Tarrant: How are you finding that?
Bruce Billson: Look, some days I am enjoying and other days I lament it. I have this saying, "The world is run by people who turn up." You've got to turn up to have an influence or some kind of impact. In public life, for all the foibles and all the faults that people point out about people in public office, elected officials, they've turned up and therefore to have the honour and the privilege to be in a position to actually do something. Being a cabinet minister, one of the 21 odd folks around the boardroom table of the nation, you can actually get stuff done. It's not easy. That's why my motto was always, "Positive: tick, passionate: tick, persistent: tick, tick." You've got to stay at it. That chance to actually bring about change, to have an influence that's durable and will improve people's lives, that is incredibly satisfying and fulfilling. I missed that part of it. Do I miss some of the BS that sits around it? Well, no, but that's part of it. It's a bit like saying you want to be a explorer of Antarctica but you hate the cold. It kind of comes with the traffic, so no point complaining about it.
Post public life, I said I wanted to keep trying to energise enterprise. I'm doing that in different ways. I can hopefully bring some insights and some influence to help that happen, but I know I'm a step or two removed from where the decisions are made so that can be a little frustrating at times. But you know, you still turn up.
Phil Tarrant: Before we move on, I want to hear about what you're up to now. Life after.
Bruce Billson: Sure.
Phil Tarrant: But if there was one thing that you look to dispel within the SME community, maybe some prejudice they have against our representative bodies and people to support growth and innovation, what would be that one thing?
Bruce Billson: I go back to what I was saying earlier. It's actually turning up. One of the things that is difficult, and I know from our business and you'd know and your audience would know, time is precious. You're always time poor when you're running your own business. Particularly in that early startup phase where there is just so much to do and you are everything in that enterprise. There is no one you can hand off to and say, "Hey, can you just shape this cap raised picture a little bit better?" It's like no, no. You've got to do it. That means you're often not a part of conversations that are important to the community. You're not on talk back radio talking about your experiences, and your challenges, and your insights. You're not the person who is at a town hall meeting talking about what can be done to let's use the phrase, entrepreneurial ecosystem more supportive than it could be. 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.
There's no substitute for the field evidence that someone in the game, in the contest can bring to those kinds of conversations. 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, you know what I mean? That story needs to be shared more. I went out of my way to have SME round tables, town hall meetings. We'd do, I can't remember how many of those we would do, but there was as much about taking the community with us, so that you didn't have to be a small business person. You were a citizen that understood the centrality and how crucial small business is to our economy, our way of life, our opportunity for livelihoods. I think that narrative needs a bit more of a conversation.
I love our athletes, and I love our Olympians. You can be a superstar and your challenge is once every four years. Now, I know that's an oversimplification, but in your field of excellence that's when the challenge is. You're a small business exporter, you're going to be world class every day. Every day. Here we're talking on a Røde microphone system. These guys are world class. They are outstanding exporters. They won the Austrade Exporters of the year awards. They are brilliant and they've got to stay world class every day while people reverse engineer their technology, pick it apart, try and say, "No, we can do something better", and they are going, "No, no. We're going to be even better tomorrow." That is something that deserves to be celebrated and I'd like to see more of that.
Phil Tarrant: I guess a good segue way into...
Bruce Billson: You're holding up a side saying segue way Bruce, segue way. Pivot. Adam is going quick, quick. Back on to exports. Was that okay? Was that a nice pivot? I think that was a nice pivot. It was a nice pivot, right?
Phil Tarrant: I'm going to reject the pivot quickly.
Bruce Billson: Oh okay.
Phil Tarrant: Because I want to get into that. I think a lot of small business are quite cynical about how they might be able to influence the agenda in their state or federal...
Bruce Billson: I think that it's a reasonable position to feel. I made a point of going out and engaging small business. And I need to hear your story.
Phil Tarrant: Yeah.
Bruce Billson: I mean I used to sit around in a room, walk into a town hall meeting and there might have been 120 people there. I didn't know who any of them were, but I was happy to say, "Hey, I'm here as one of the handful that are running the country. I'm your advocate. I'm your ambassador, and I'm more evangelical about what you're doing than probably you are, but tell me a story. Tell me what we can do better." I used to throw this question and they'll say, "You're 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 hurts. What positive action step would you take? What would you do?"
And the insights that were shared, really vivid, fantastic, and I might say informed a lot of my policy work were people said, "Yeah, this, this, this. Yeah that's annoying me, but 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." And I said, "Well, tell me what those dots are." And it was 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, you know? That was a fantastic piece of work. I was happy to be the author of that and make the case for it, but there's a lot of insights that have come from a town hall meeting.
Phil Tarrant: So the message then is to engage your local member.
Bruce Billson: Yeah.
Phil Tarrant: Actually, you can have a voice if you choose to have a voice.
Bruce Billson: Yeah. I know it's tough, but turning up is so important because if it's not your insights, or your perspective, or your ambition filling the heads of our elected representatives, it will be someone else's. So why not make it yours?
Adam Zuchetti: Some big businesses have such loud voices as it is, so you really need to get in their and make yours heard.
Bruce Billson: Look, Adam, that is an excellent contribution. I thought he was just here as eye candy. You've hardly said a word, but that is good, I like... can I pick up that one?
Adam Zuchetti: Yep, go for it.
Bruce Billson: That's right. I used to say, "Look, the big bend of town has got their lobbyists in Canberra and they can afford it. You don't. I'm your lobbyist. I'm at the table. I'll upset people," and apparently, I did occasionally from going to hard advocating for the interests of enterprising men and women, but that's okay. That's why I was there. You know? That's exactly right. Others have got channels to earlobes. We need enterprising men and women to have their story heard and understood. Also, if things are annoying or standing in your way, or a headwind, or a needless hurdle to your success, share that with your elected representatives, but then go to the next step and say, "Well, here's what I reckon you should do about it." Even turn up at a Chamber of Commerce meeting and chew the fat with other people who have got a similar experience. You might also find some insights from those people. Sharing that knowledge, now the pathfinding opportunity, and guess what? They might say, "Hey, I've just put this new website up. Didn't cost me 15 grand. Cost me 175 bucks and now I'm an exporter."
Case study. When I was in Kalgoorlie, I went and talked to people in Kalgoorlie. Mining exploration was down. I can't remember the exact name of the business, but the guy came up to me and he goes, "You know, I'm an exporter Bruce." I go, "Wow, is that your plan?" And he goes, I don't know whether we can swear on here.
Phil Tarrant: Swear away.
Bruce Billson: It was along the lines of, "Golly no." I said, "What happened?" He goes, "Well, we're a bit quiet. My tech genius over here runs all the kits, and analyse all bodies and all that. A bit of a computer genius whipped up a website and now we've got an order from South Africa." Why? Because he had a website. Why? There is no substitute for getting in front of people's eyeballs. There at a very modest outlay he became an exporter. He was pretty pleased about that.
Phil Tarrant: For exporters now in the trade marketplace, and we touched on it when we started chatting opportunities abound for forward thinking, smart Aussie businesses to look at markets outside of Australia, and we're fortunate that we have a growing economy here, a growing population, so there is opportunities for SMEs to grow locally. Looking abroad, I think a lot of SMEs are worried, or they think it's expensive to start exporting, or they don't have the skills and capabilities to start exporting, or don't have the money to start exporting. You're doing a lot of work now with Efic. Are you still flying the flag for SMEs? Can you tell us a little bit about what you do with those guys?
Bruce Billson: Well, Efic one of the greatest secrets for exporting SMEs in the country. They're actually a government created export credit agency because what can happen is you can beaver away secure an export contract. Get back home and talk to the team and say, "Oh, guess what? We've just won this contract. But, that's six months of production we need to get out the door in six weeks. How are we going to have the working capital to scale up and actually execute on that contract?" They might then rock around to their regular bank, and the bank goes, "Look, that's really exciting. Good on you. Congratulations, but no cash from us because you've maxed out your line of credit. Do you have another house that you can bring forward as security?" Even from research that we were doing looking at the experience through the 2016 Australian International Business Survey, now that surveyed over 900 Australian companies. High degree of export ambitions, but a third of them said they couldn't obtain finance. Of that third, two out of three basically, said they didn't have enough security as the main reason.
What Efic does is it steps in. You've got an export contract? Great. We will provide you with some finance facilities to help you execute on that. Now, it might be what I think is a fantastic small business export line, you've got turnaround times, decisions sort of within nine days. That's exciting. It's a facility that's available for up to $250,000. That may be exactly what you need to get over the line and Efic will take the time to check out your contracts, your track record, your ability to execute on the contract, and they won't take security, or they might work with your bank to actually secure their provider a guarantee or something of that kind. That's just one of the ways that Efic can help. That's why I'm such a fan of Efic because they're there providing solutions to exporting small to medium size enterprises that have got export contracts.
Income from our country almost in their fingertips, and then find an inability to get working capital or some funding to execute on that contract standing between them winning the contract and then seeing the benefits of it. That's why I'm a big fan of Efic.
Phil Tarrant: if you're an SME and you're thinking about export opportunities, what would you be doing to gear your business so it's in its best light to be able to capitalise on these opportunities? Whether you manufacture themselves or if they come organically?
Bruce Billson: Yeah look, a couple of things. I was very involved in the FTA Road Shows. The thesis being, it's great winning those free trade agreements, but they are diplomatic achievements unless someone uses them. We had a conversation about well, how do you make best use of them? We had these road shows running around the country and it explained what AusTrade's role was, what sort of information is available through the Export Council of Australia. What's DFAT's contribution? What's an export market development grant look like and what do you need to qualify? What's Efic? What's it's role and how can it play a part? So there is quite a tool kit available, but making people aware of them was a central part of what we're trying to do, and it is still what I'm trying to do for exporting SMEs about Efic.
The other thing we heard as I was touching on earlier, case studies, pathfinders. People who have done it themselves, who can sit there and say, "Hey, don't think this is some summer romance where you've got three months of joy and this commercial happy ending is going to come your way. It just doesn't work like that. You know your export ambitions need to be embedded in your business strategy. It will take effort. You will need to prepare. You will need to understand the market and the nuances within the market. You will have to ask some tough questions. Can we execute?"
I was working with a business in my electorate. They did moulded carpet for the foot wells in cars. I hope none of your audience is this, but why do people put carpet on their dashboards? Anyway, that is a discussion for another day, but that's what they did. They're all working hard saying, "We've got the best product in the world here and the best techniques." They went to Walmart, and Walmart, you know how they have their generic auto parts bit? Well, Walmart said, "We'll give it a trial just up in the New England northeast of United States. Just a trial, short period, only some of our stores." They thought that was fantastic, and then they got told what a trial consignment looked like. It was like two years production. They're going, "Oh, careful what you wish for. It might come true." Those questions about what you're able to do, do you understand your markets well? Have you applied the same rigour to this as you might introducing a new line or a new service domestically? Well, this is the same but on steroids. It's turbocharged. You need to do all of that.
A couple of things that we do. There's a great app around called Export Essentials. If you're already inside, I'd get onto that. That's something that Efic has done with the Export Council of Australia. This Exporting Essentials, it's great. It talks about the sorts of questions you need to ask yourself and just how prepared are you? Are you able to resource this commitment to navigate a new marketplace and understand the customer so there's demand and appetite? Have you got the supply chain? Can you get stuff delivered? Big issue in some of the Asian markets. Your outstanding food product might leave the shores here spectacularly well and sit on a clearance dock somewhere for a while while it's going slightly off it's best self. These are real life experiences. Have you got the partnerships on the ground? Do you understand the relationships? The regulatory environment? The good thing is increasing numbers of small business are navigating that space. Learning, and listening, and drawing from experiences, we've got a whole bunch of Efic SME briefing workshops coming up.
Phil Tarrant: Okay.
Bruce Billson: Where? There's one in Melbourne later in the week. We had one in Perth last week. They're great and guess who is there? Exporting SMEs talking about their experiences. It's just a fantastic way of gaining not just the confidence that you too can do it, but the competence in knowing what you need to do in the capacity you need within your business to do it well and that is such a key part of it.
Phil Tarrant: How can people find out about those?
Bruce Billson: Efic's website.
Phil Tarrant: Just got to efic.gov?
Bruce Billson: Efic.gov.au and that'll give you that information. The Exporting Essentials app, just go through your regular app stores.
Phil Tarrant: Just find it.
Bruce Billson: It's a freebie, but actually it runs through I suppose decision support tool as well. Have you thought about? How is this going to work for you? I think that's a really good part of just working out am I ready to do this? Is this something that I want embedded in my business strategy and it's a good story.
Phil Tarrant: As part of that, how soon should you be thinking about how you're going to finance export sales? Should that be quite early on in the process when you're rationalising?
Bruce Billson: I would because it's all about execution. We have an outstanding story and particularly in our region and beyond, great appetite for what we're able to do and what we do well. If we can't fulfil those expectations, the eyeballs will go somewhere else. Even the FTA into China puts Australian businesses at an advantage over the rest of the world. There's 132 other countries that are wanting a piece of that extraordinary market. Because we've got the FTA, we've got a head start, but over time that advantage will diminish as other countries and other markets look to have similar improved access arrangements. That's something we think, well I can't dawdle about this. Someone else will take a piece of that action, but am I well prepared to sort of venture into that part over the next stage of my business growth?
It's exciting stuff. The volumes of export activity from SMEs is growing. The services economy, which is you know, you've got sophisticated markets, particularly growing middle classes, particularly in our region, wanting our services offering. Our services are, you know, you're at the heart of it here, Mr. T, with the business that you're doing. 70 per cent of our domestic GDP is a services economy. Only about one in seven of our export dollars are in the services sector. Again, there is a delicious opportunity, but working out how to bring that know-how out of the markets is a key part.
Phil Tarrant: Adam, you look like a guy with a whole bunch of questions, rustling on through your head.
Adam Zuchetti: I actually wanted to ask you Bruce, as someone who has come out of government, obviously government can have quite the reputation of being difficult to deal with, particularly from an SME point of view. Given that Efic is a government agency, how are they to deal with and to apply for grants, and assistance, and support with?
Bruce Billson: That's been a key change. A little bit of history, Efic has been around for a very long time. In its early stages, it was all about woollen and things of that kind. Now, the market has evolved in its sophistication and so has Efic. They've now got a dedicated team of SME advisors available. You can give their small business export line hotline a call 1-800-740557, and you'll talk to a real person. On the website, it'll guide you through the different offerings and what sort of expectations Efic has like small business export lines. Really quick turnarounds there. Online, easy application process. I mean they've really stepped up because some years back people were saying, "Why are you in existence Efic? We've got banks. What do we need an Efic for?" Well, the answer is there's a market failure there. The big banks don't want to get behind exporting SMEs, particularly if they've already got the exporting SME's house and they're first born and every bit of collateral going around. They're not going to throw extra finance just to help secure a contract that's already in hand and just needs working capital to get it done.
That's the unsecured loans targeting SMEs. That's fantastic. The application process is through an easy portal. It's usually less than nine business days to get a decision, and you can have a conversation about your flexibility around repayment periods. If you've got certain markets, it might be a 60 or 90 day payment arrangement. You don't want a three-month payment turnaround if you're not going to get paid for 90 days. You can have those conversations. They're really very open to it. You're looking at businesses with $250,000 turnover up to $10 million. That's two and a half million businesses and the process is very good.
There's some examples. We saw McLaren Vale based Wine Company Zonte's Footstep. They've got a big, 60 per cent of their revenue is export. They want to push it out to 80, then they've got an increased order from Ontario that put real pressure on that business' cash flow. Proven performer, executed previously on export contracts, right size, sales have gone up five-fold in the last seven or eight years for this business. Cash flow was tough. All of the sudden they thought, "I know. Efic, SME export loan is just what we need." They got one and they're happy campers. They'd maxed out their security with their other banks. Even some of the technology platforms as business could LearnToPlayMusic. They're a global, online music education provider, but the platforms are changing. How do you keep servicing the platform you've got while you're pivoting to new delivery modes? Again, this is something that the Efic small business export loan can help with.
Even up North, there was a tour operator that secured a deal with a Japanese tour company to bring in all the Japanese tourists to go on one of their adventures. They didn't have the equipment to be able to support that, but they had the contract. None of the big banks would finance them. Efic stepped in, said, "You've got the contracts. You've done all the hard work. You've won the market. You're a quality provider. Here is the Japanese tour company that only wants to use you when people are in town." All of the sudden, Efic was able to step in and get them the kit they needed to actually execute that contract. That's exciting stuff. It's really exciting stuff. I get pumped about it because this is success.
Phil Tarrant: Testament our listeners that Bruce is really excited!
Bruce Billson: I know. I'm sort of waving my arms around which is-
Phil Tarrant: What I like about that Bruce is you've spoken with literally, I imagine, thousands of small businesses and you would have heard the great stories, and you probably would have heard a lot of the down and out dire stories. Let's remember that. A lot of small businesses don't survive longer than a couple of years in Australia. Us, our agenda is to try and support them with information and motivation and guidance, and you know what? It's okay to say it's tough. It's bloody hard running a business, but I don't like seeing businesses not realising their growth potential because they just can't ... They go out and they win the work, but they can't fulfil it because they haven't got the cash.
Bruce Billson: I never want to see a business not succeed because they didn't have access to information that is there. That was one of the reasons why I created the Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman role. It's why Kate Carnell is there, just to be constantly focused on information flow and just making sure government agencies understand what's going on. That's why we were talking earlier about technology. Technology is also important to get information out in a timely way. When you're up Sunday night doing your BAS, your probably not looking for a press release, and you're not sure quite where it's coming from, but if you can get some feed, some insights. That's why what you do is so important.
Phil: Podcasts are great!
Bruce Billson: That's right. You can consume them in your time of your convenience. We need to realise that's part of it. Efic is part of that tool kit that helps exporting SMEs succeed. Are they the only thing you need to have going in your favour? No. I tell you what, you can have everything else going in your favour and then not get financed. Finance is the oxygen of enterprise. You can't have it, you're starving it off. Efic is part of that tool kit and that's why I'm thrilled to be pumping air in their tyres because they make such an important contribution. For our story of growth and improve prosperity, exporting what we do well into markets that want a piece of it is an essential part of that story.
Phil Tarrant: Yeah, I completely agree. Here, here. Bruce, I really enjoyed the chat.
Bruce Billson: Thank you.
Phil Tarrant: Let's get you back on. I know a big part of our audience, are people in franchising space.
Bruce Billson: Yeah.
Phil Tarrant: I know you do a lot of work with the Franchising Council of Australia, so we'll get you back and we'll chat about some of the trials and tribulations of not only choosing the right franchise for yourself, but expanding your franchise, or even at the point where you grow your business to a point where you start thinking, "Hang on a second, the way to scale creating a franchise system."
Bruce Billson: In my view, few better forms of enterprise than franchising. How good is that? Being in your own business, but not on your own? All that know-how we were talking about come along to join your own entrepreneurial skill. Your own local market knowledge. Your own capacity. That's why I'm pumped about franchising.
Phil Tarrant: It's good. Well, I appreciate your time Bruce. Just for our listeners, a couple of things that Bruce mentioned that is probably worth checking out. Efic.gov.au there is a number of stuff on the web around how to prepare yourself for exporting and I've checked that out and that is a very good place to start.
Bruce Billson: Exporting Essentials app.
Phil Tarrant: Exporting Essentials app and also these SME workshops that you have on the way right now. All online. If you've got any questions for Bruce or ourselves around exporting, I'm happy to get in touch. You can contact the team [email protected] mybusiness.com.au. Anything specifically for Bruce, I'll package it up and send it over to him about just I guess your life. Working with SMEs and Efic.
Bruce Billson: I'm so positive about small business people, even my blood group is positive.
Phil Tarrant: There you go. Leave it there. Remember to check out mybusiness.com.au. We're on all the social platforms. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn. If you want to follow me, @philliptarrant on Twitter. If you want to follow Bruce, what's your Twitter handle?
Bruce Billson: Same.
Phil Tarrant: @philliptarrant?
Bruce Billson: No, @brucebillson.
Phil Tarrant: Nice. Did I miss anything Adam? Is that it? Good?
Phil Tarrant: Brilliant. Okay. Thanks for tuning everyone. Appreciate you joining us. Remember those five star ratings on iTunes. We're trying to get as many Australian SMEs listening to this podcast as possible, so the more you share it, the more that we can build the community. We'll see you next week. Bye bye.
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.