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Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman 6 mins read

27 June 2023

Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman Bruce Billson interview with Rebecca Levingston.

ABC Radio Brisbane


Subject: Micro, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises Day,

Small Business Matters data report, Queensland small businesses


Rebecca Levingston

In a moment, the Small Business Ombudsman on the state of small business today. You're going to hear a story after 9 o’clock of a pie shop - love, hard work, dedication poured into pies. But this weekend, Pie Town is closing down. Why? Well, Susie Yang will tell you. And can we still claim that small business is the backbone of this country if we don't support our small business owners? If you run a small business, tell me your story this morning.

Do you have a dream of owning a small business? Dream of being your own boss, leading a team? Small business is worth about half a trillion dollars to the Australian economy, according to a new report. Employing more than 5.1 million people.

But that same report found that 43% of small businesses failed to turn a profit. 75% of owners take home less than the average wage. After 9 o’clock this morning, you're going to hear from Pie Town owner Susie Yang. This is the West End Pie Shop. Susie's made the difficult decision to close.

Susie Yang

I think for me it was a combination of some very personal reasons on my part. I've been doing this for over six years by myself now. And the economy, I think as everybody's seeing, just seems to be getting worse. And I think it was just the last week of having to do all my recipe costings and all my staff costings for the rest of the year. And I just couldn't do it anymore.

Rebecca Levingston

That’s Susie Yang. More from Susie and her pie shop after 9 o’clock this morning. Bruce Billson is the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman. Bruce, good morning.

Bruce Billson

Bec, fab to be with you and your listeners.

Rebecca Levingston

It's hard to hear when a small business closes down, isn't it? What's your reaction when you hear of one having to shut for good?

Bruce Billson

Oh, I just ache for Susie. I mean, she is sharing the very personal and challenging story of owning and leading a business. It's a big responsibility. There's headwinds in the economy, there’s price pressures. And she's also reflecting something that's often not well appreciated. The business owner is often the last to be paid. And, you know, when things are tight and energy costs are going up, she'll be using energy with baking her products, all the input costs, staff costs. It can be a big responsibility, not always with the material rewards that you're looking for.

And that's what we're trying to shine a light on, on this International Micro, Small and Medium-sized Enterprise Day, Bec. A shout out to the Susies of the world that this is a challenging economy right now. But the courage, the entrepreneurship, the innovation that comes with business owners grabbing an opportunity and saying, we're going to have a go.

Not all are successful. And our report highlights that for many, they're not super profitable either, but making vital contributions to our economy. The number of jobs you've mentioned, over 5 million that are made possible by enterprising men and women like Susie. You know, there's a half and a half a trillion dollars, $506 billion of economic contribution.

And right across the great state of Queensland and the nation generally, these small and family businesses add to the community fabric. It's where young people get their first job opportunity. Our report also highlights that those small business owners are the real contributors as well in many aspects of the local community, community leadership and volunteering. That's the story of small business men and women and that's why we wanted to celebrate it on this International Day.

Rebecca Levingston

I'd love to give a shout out to small businesses. If you've got a story to tell this morning or want to give a shout out to someone sent me a text 0467 922 612. And you hear from Susie after nine who really says to people, if you've got a small business, an independently owned business in you suburb, chances are it's a family or an individual, like you’re saying Bruce, they'll be the last to be paid, they'll be juggling all of the responsibilities 24 hours a day. And Susie really says, you know, support those businesses.

Just by definition, what is a small business, Bruce?

Bruce Billson

Well, it's an enterprise that employs less than 20 people. So there are various definitions. That's broadly the one that's used through the data set that we were using. People would be familiar with other definitions used by the Tax Office that goes to the turnover within the business. And there's other dimensions that go to the size of certain transactions and whatnot.

So there's quite an array of descriptions, but we're using a well-regarded data set from the Australian Bureau of Statistics. And one of the big things that it calls out is the number of people that are actually self employed.

So they've chosen a path for their livelihoods where they're not employed by anyone else, they're self employed. And what a vital opportunity that is for economic contribution, particularly for mature age people.

We see more mature age people actually self employed than employed by somebody else. And we also see, in terms of women's entrepreneurship, a real uptick, almost doubling in the percentage of businesses owned and led by women since the seventies.

And many women share with me it's the scope, the flexibility, the chance to adjust, you know, timetables to not only the business and livelihood interest, but other priorities in their life.

And in Queensland, it's one of only two states where there's more small businesses outside the capital cities, and that's something to really be celebrated. And even, you know, during the COVID financial year, which is where this data is drawn from, we still saw a 5% growth in the number of small businesses in Queensland.

So there's vitality there. There’s people that are involved in it for a whole range of reasons. It gives purpose and meaning to their life. It's a way of earning a living. It's also interwoven in with their personality in many cases, and for some it might be the best mode of engaging in the economy that suits their life objectives.

Rebecca Levingston

Yeah, some really interesting figures that you've just run over there. Doubling of women running small businesses since the Seventies. Fascinating to see that just 8% of small business owners are under 30 compared to 17% in the mid 1970s. Why do you think that is?

Bruce Billson

I think it could be a range of things and these are only hypotheses because we're doing a bit more work on that. We're trying to make an entrepreneurial life, the jam of young people, something that really excites them, it jazzes them, it gives them freedom, you know, march to their own beat, pursuing a range of opportunities.

But I think when the economy was, you know, nearing high levels of employment, there's probably some fairly attractive other options as ways of earning a living that don't involve some of the significant responsibilities that Susie alluded to that you'll be talking with her about later.

You know, it is a big responsibility owning and running a business. There are accountabilities, there's red tape, there's responsibilities that you need to turn your mind to. And even there's legal structures that you need to do certain things to have certain legal protections that the business has its own legal personality, separate from you.

And then when the family's brought in, I mean, there's an interesting mix, isn't it, whether the dining room table becomes the boardroom table and you’re navigating family dynamics as well as trying to run a business. So we're hoping to have a bit of a look at that. To use a phrase that I use regularly, energise enterprise, and have young people see this as a real opportunity for their future.

And we see many young people with side hustles. When I was recently in Brisbane, I met an awesome young woman who had a pet that, well, frankly, it was incontinent. And she loved this pet. And the vet was saying, no, no, no, let's not do this. You might have to put the pet down.

She was horrified by that as an idea and went on and created nappies for dogs. Now, that was a problem solving approach that she as a young woman, and I might as well give her a shout out, she runs Dundies. She's an awesome, awesome human and to talk with Emily about that, Emily Martin, one of your residents in your city, about her story of problem solving that led to other people wanting a piece of her solution. And before you know it, she's got a national business employing 15 seamstresses all around greater Brisbane. That's a fantastic story and that's the kind of inspiration we hope to draw attention to.

Rebecca Levingston

Wow, that is entrepreneurship. Nappies for dogs,

Bruce Billson

Nappies for dogs. Dundies.

Rebecca Levingston

Great to chat this morning. Appreciate it.

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