Firstly the whole tone was different due to the major sponsor being Kochie’s Business Builders rather than Virgin Blue. While Virgin was a good sponsor, and I do travel on Virgin, I think the connection with small business was much stronger with David Koch, and I am not just saying that because I am one of the authors on Kochie’s Business Builders website.
Firstly the politicians and government representatives.
The keynote for the Summit was given by Dr Craig Emerson – Minister for Small Business.
In discussing the work done by the government in avoiding the recession, he gave special tribute to small business owners who, rather than laying people off, reduced working hours (made possible by a much more flexible workplace laws – something the minister did not mention) to ensure that unemployment was minimised. He did admit that small business owners in many sectors were struggling with their margins cut with all the sales that are occurring.
One of the initiatives the government has taken to assist is that the 12 month interest free payment of tax owing by small business will be extended by a year. About 100,000 small businesses have taken advantage of this benefit so far.
In 2012, the government will be introducing the ability to write off the value of any asset up to $5000 in a single year – a benefit welcomed by many (although there were ere some complaints that the threshold could be higher).
The minister also mentioned the intention to reduce corporate tax rates by 1% to 29%, and while he pointed out this might be small, it was better than it going the other way.
A little later, Tony Abbott – Leader of the Federal Opposition spoke.
He also spoke of the difficulties for small business. He mentioned someone inspiring he had met earlier that day called Kevin who had to overcome adversity in his job. He hastened to add it was another Kevin at the Brisbane Market, who was a small business owner who had lost his legs due to a medical condition, but still attended the markets every day to manage his business. He described him as example of the passion of small business owners.
He then stated that Work Choices was dead, but said it was still important that reform continued to increase freedom and flexibility.
He spoke about his paid parental leave scheme, to be financed from corporations whose taxable corporate income exceeded $5 million. He also made the point that it would be fully administered by a government agency, and not by the employer, unlike the current government’s scheme which would create an additional burden on small business owners.
Abbott then spoke about the need to keep interest rates low and the need to reduce government debt and deficit. He introduced Bruce Bilson, who as shadow minister for Small Business would, for the first time, have a position in cabinet in recognition that nearly half the GDP and half the private sector employment in Australia was due to small business.
He would create a Small Business Ombudsman who would be a policy activist working across government to ensure that small business was not disadvantaged in new legislation. He gave as an example of what currently happens, in the mining dispute the present government only negotiated with the 3 biggest miners and excluded the small miners altogether.
He would provide some form of unconscionable cntracts protection for small business, not dissimilar to the protections already provided to consumers and would provide advice to business to ensure that their contracts would not fall within this net. He also mentioned the concerns that independent contractors had on the existing personal service income provisions in the tax act, and the apparent intention to change these by the current government so they would be treated as employees.
Both Dr Emerson and Mr Abbott took questions in a lively question time. Both looked at ease in this environment.
The Australian Taxation Commissioner, Michael D’Ascenzo then spoke about some of the things the ATO was doing to assist small businesses in these difficult times, including the interest holiday on tax payments, and PAYG adjustments and individual repayment programs for viable businesses experiencing cashflow difficulties.
He also mentioned some of the compliance initiatives, such as the extensive data matching they are doing against benchmarks they have established. They expect to query 100,000 businesses about their income levels and GST compliance and audit 26,000 - so watch out!
At dinner, the Deputy Prime Minister and Australian Treasurer, Mr Wayne Swan gave the keynote address. Unfortunately, there was nothing new in his speech, which was peppered with a lot of platitudes. The one great thing about his speech was it was mercifully short, compared with the keynote provided by his former mate Kevin last year where he droned on for an hour complete with Power Point Slides while we waited for dinner!
The rest of the Summit included a number of panels providing some great advice for small business owners. Just some highlights:
Richard Binhammer, a core member of Dell’s Social Media Advisory Council discussed the key elements of their strategy. They use social media to listen to their customers. They talk about you anyway, so you should go where they are and listen, learn, and only then engage. With traditional marketing companies just push. Dell’s strategy is to listen, pull, push and then engage. He made the important point not to force feed social media. When using Twitter, Dell provides news, offers, customer support and technical support.
Ciaran McGuigan, co-founder of Strike Force Sales, by way of contrast, focused on the fundaments. He talked about budgeting the activity that gives the result, and not just the result. He described a very simple strategy any business can employ ‘10Before10’, that is make 10 phone calls before 10 o’clock. With all the new technology about, it is easy to forget the basics.
Robert Gerrish of Flying Solo discussed the results of his Understanding Micro-business Survey where he described the top 4 issues facing business owners, that is: Finding Customers, Being Overwhelmed, Efficiency/Productivity, and Wearing Too Many Hats.
A common question raised multiple times was the issue of how small businesses could raise their prices and overcome their fear of losing customers. Just as well I am about to release a new book on how to increase your prices without losing sales! (watch for details)
Another great conference with great networking opportunities. Watch out for details on next years conference on the COSBOA website
Over to You. What do You Think? Post Your Comments Below.
Dr Greg Chapman is the Director of Empower Business Solutions and The Australian Business Coaching Club and is Australia's Leading Advisor on Emerging Businesses and provides Coaching and Consulting advice to Australian Small Business Owners in Marketing & Business Strategies Planning & Systems. He is also the author of The Five Pillars of Guaranteed Business Success and Price: How You Can Increase Your Prices Without Losing Sales.
The Australian Small Business Blog