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Small business initiatives making a difference

18 June 2015

Small Medium Enterprise (SME) is defined as a business with a turnover of $5million or more. According to Julie Rynski (Westpac General Manager Small Business) of all the business in Australia about 90 per cent sits in this category.

On gender issues around disadvantage, according to a Westpac-Melbourne Institute Small Business Index, women and men do not see eye to eye.

More than a third (39.2 per cent) of female small business owners or decision makers believe women are disadvantaged when it comes to starting a business. Less than a fifth (16.1 per cent) of male small business owners recognise that disadvantage.

The Index found that having to split time between work and family is the most commonly identified barrier to women who are starting or running a small business. Almost nine in 10 (88.7 per cent) women see balancing work and family as a barrier to other women, with 65.9 per cent of men agreeing it is an issue.

“Australia has a lot of inspiring female entrepreneurs who are really driving the small business sector,” says Julie.

“SMEs are the economy’s backbone. The thing to remember about SME owners is they’re time poor,” says Julie, “and that’s where the bank’s new - and unique - business unit and its initiatives are providing support.”

One of those initiatives, the Connect Now hubs, allows business owners wherever they are placed in Australia easy access to finance and business specialists. A branch or business centre with high speed video conferencing technology connects back to a Connect Now hub allowing the business owner in their one appointment at the branch or business centre to tap into the specialist knowledge and support located in the hub via the technology.

For example: a business owner might be looking to get a new car to reliably deliver goods or pickup stock coming in from overseas. A conversation with Connect Now specialists might include sorting out the best way to go about securing the car, deal with tax implications, and could also highlight any importing or exporting issues that need to be solved. The specialists can then provide next steps and the support the business owner might need, including financial, to bring the whole thing to a speedy conclusion.

“The Victorian hub,” explains Julie, “was the first to come online and has been up 12 months. Western Australia followed and in late March, 2015, NSW opened. We’ve served 7000 customers, all up so far.”

There are all types of businesses.

Just the other day, Julie met a woman who produces ‘fairy doors’: “little mock doors with added embellishments, depending on what you want to order, through which the tooth fairy might come to leave a gold coin in exchange for a baby tooth.

“The business is definitely happening but it began on a kitchen table.”

Julie goes on to explain that “women are far more prepared when they go into business, especially when it comes to their business plan and strategy. Women owned businesses have a lower default rate than men. They think things through and approach the business in a less gung-ho manner.

“Knowing our clients and how their business works and being able to mine the data that is available to us through transactional histories and our relationships with our customers means we are able to support them with finance initiatives.

“A lot of the time, rather than come into the bank and jump hurdles, business owners will resort to using a credit card to fund purchases. That might be a legitimate strategy but it often isn’t the best way to go. It makes sense to investigate your options, especially following the federal budget small business incentive announcements.”

The successful Business Innovation Forums held in 2014 will be back in July 2015. An important focus at the forums for Westpac business customers will be on collaboration: business owners coming together to learn from one another. Younger businesses can use the advice and learnings to get up to speed more quickly and skirt hurdles. Social media and its uses, as well as effective marketing strategies will also feature. Successful entrepreneurs will be on hand to talk about how they turned their dream into a reality as well as providing their tips on how to avoid pitfalls and utilise opportunities.

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