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Business women - do you make too many personal sacrifices

18 October 2019

The recently released Westpac Small Business Report found small business owners are still reluctant to grow their businesses by hiring new staff. Major barriers to employment include flexibility – needing staff only occasionally - and compliance issues, for example, payroll tax.

Looking at female small business owners, the report found they were more likely to make sacrifices around their entitlements than men: 39 percent of female small business owners will occasionally not contribute to super because of cash flow shortage compared with 30 percent of men. Knowing what we know about women living longer than men and retiring with much less super than men, this is a worrying trend.

Women were also more likely to have a second job or side hustle to supplement their income than male business owners (39 percent; cf. 25 percent males). When we take on board female business owners’ major fears - having no financial security (36 percent), no work/life balance (24 percent) and not being able to pay their staff (9 percent) - the propensity to skip their entitlements to free up cash and to have a second job to increase financial security make sense. In fact, you could say these latter findings contribute not just to the fear of having no work/life balance but to the reality of it.

Fiona White

Keeping the report's findings in mind, we spoke with Own Body’s Fiona White (above) about her experience in business.

Own Body Mobile Physiotherapy and Rehabilitation provides in-home physiotherapy for clients. Fiona founded the company 10 years ago when she put two and two together and realised, she was trying to fill a gap for better, affordable, more reliable in-home care during her spare time as a physio.

Own Body customers tend to be older, at home and available for appointments during the workday. The times of need are particularly suitable for clinicians who have caring duties and are less able to participate in the formal workforce. Fiona also says the business works for people supplementing their income and for those who are seeking a different sort of work/life balance.

Own Body now employs 55 clinicians, around 80 percent of who are women. The business operates in metropolitan Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Launceston, and has just launched in Newcastle.

Fiona, who is a 2019 Telstra Business Women’s award winner, says the key to her business success is people and investing in a culture that fits with the goals and values of the business and its people.

“Everyone works remotely,” says Fiona, continuing, “This is a mobile, office-less workforce, and that has both upsides and challenges for staff and the business.

“Clinicians who have their own caring duties can fit appointments in around drop off and pick-up times for kids, for example. They can take on as much work as they choose and will usually have clients near where they live. Of course, remote working comes with its own issues.”

Many working people who have home as their base will tell you there are new skills to be developed and they take time to embed. Designating an area where you go to work, learning not to use domestic chores as a way of procrastinating, making sure you remain in touch with colleagues and up to date on industry movements and learnings, mastering technologies you may never have had to use before to communicate with colleagues, etc., are some examples.

Fiona believes there’s not enough guidance and training around how best to work from home and is planning to deliver workshops to businesses teaching the skills needed (for more, contact her at fiona@ownbody.com.au).

She also notes the importance for remote teams to find ways to build a work culture.

“Simple things like thanking people for good work, congratulating each other on great performance and encouraging each other to share good stories empowers staff and helps build and engaged work culture. At the same time, we have established processes (e.g. feedback systems) based on our core values that help us ensure we maintain our culture even through large periods of growth,” Fiona explains.

The Westpac Small Business Report found that one barrier to employment is lack of flexibility. The need for staff can vary depending on the season, the business cycle, or even weekly changes in the length of the business owner's ‘to-do’ list.

Hiring a combination of casual and permanent team members and empowering them with flexibility helps Own Body navigate seasonal fluctuations, especially as school holidays often coincide with less demand for services. However, with new opportunities working with government and larger organisations, rapid growth has also had its pros and cons for Own Body: “As 80 percent of our expenses are labour, we now pay payroll tax, which is linked to wages, not profit. Just as the business starts to find our groove, this challenge hits the hip pocket and limits our ability to hire more support staff or give raises.”

When considering flexibility, the Westpac report found, it bites particularly hard in the education and agricultural sectors, where 44 percent and 40 percent of respondents in these sectors suggest that only needing staff occasionally prevents them from hiring permanent staff.

Around one in three small business owners in the report also say they have a ‘side hustle’. In some industries the percentage is even greater, for example: the agricultural and arts industries, where 52 percent and 45 percent of small business owners respectively work a second job.

In 2016 an Australian Government Small Business report found that 13 million jobs existed in Australia. Of these, almost 1 million were ‘secondary’ – side hustles – and not people’s main employment.

For business women and professionals living in remote or regional Australia who may wish to find opportunities to develop off-farm work or remotely-based work, the 2019 New South Wales\Australian Capital Territory Winner and National AgriFutures Australia Winner - Jo Palmer - has established Pointer Remote Roles. The online platform facilitates work opportunities by connecting businesses across Australia with talented professionals living in regional, rural and remote regions.

Jo’s AgriFutures project is to create a portal within Pointer’s platform that will help to alleviate roadblocks that hold many rurally based professionals back from engaging with work that can be performed remotely. Barriers such as a lack of confidence and understanding of new technology will be addressed through online resources, training and formal certifications for professionals looking to engage in remote work, as well as for business owners managing remote employees. The portal’s resources and training will also educate and support businesses to adopt people working remotely and could very well help tackle the ‘occasional’ need for staff by providing a pool of remote-based talent as well as providing opportunities for professionals to supplement their farm income with ‘off-farm’ work.

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