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Opinion: Why are we solo entrepreneurs always overlooked? 

- March 26, 2020 3 MIN READ

I am one of the over 70% who fall into the sole trader/micro business category. I have worked hard over the past few years to create a lovely business that has been humming along. I pay my taxes, I collect taxes for the government through quarterly BAS statement, I spend my money in the community. I support businesses like mine.

These micro businesses run by dedicated and passionate people have been described as the life blood of the economy. We are the mobile hairdressers, make up artists, remedial masseurs, bookkeepers, PR and marketing professionals, cleaners, landscapers, babysitters, dog walkers, naturopaths, chiropractors, writers, lawyers, and so many other professions pumping millions into the economy. We are the ones who took charge of our futures, found creative ways to make more from less and embraced the power of running our own race. We innovate, build humming networks and communities and support each other. 

Yet, we are the forgotten ones. Overlooked regularly by decision makers who focus on the employers and big businesses (which is only right). The one person bands, who went out on their own and built a small business, are in an economic wasteland. 

In the space of a week, like thousands of others, I am looking at months of little or no income. It is gone. Like thousands of Australians, I have listened patiently and with bated breath as the federal and state government have rolled out stimulus packages.

Not one level of government is looking out for sole traders or freelancers. Kate Carnell, the Small Business Ombudsman, went into bat for us a couple of weeks ago. She wrote to the PM asking additional support for sole traders and freelancers to keep them from going under.

What did that get us?  The option to go on Centrelink (paperwork overload anyone?), which means we basically have to be in dire straits to get help, or to go into debt with interest free loans or dig into superannuation (retirement is overrated). 

We cannot tap into six-month payroll tax deferral or instant asset write off (most of us would never spend $20k let alone $100k on assets – how many laptops do we have to buy to get that?). We have no staff so the $25k cash flow boost for employers is unhelpful (is it too late to employ my dog?) or access subsidies to employ trainers or apprentices, when we will struggle to pay ourselves.

It appears government doesn’t understand our contribution to the economy. I went looking for government stats on small business; all I could find on the Treasury site was figures from 2012. Outdated and not reflective of the status quo. How can you make informed decisions when the people with the money have stats out of date?

Look at how we show up in the economy:

Stats from Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman

  • Out of a total of 2,313,291 businesses –– 877,744 employ. 
  • Of the 877,744 that employ, 823,551 are small businesses (93.8%). 
  • Of the 823,551 small businesses, 627,932 are micro businesses (76.2%).

Figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics June 2019 show

  • In 2018-19 non-employing businesses accounted for 62.8% of all businesses with 69.1% of employing businesses had 1-4 employees and a 3.9% increase in non-employing businesses, increasing by 55,385 to 1,490,932.

That’s a lot of people working their behinds off to build a life for their family and pump dollars back into their communities. Why are we always overlooked? 

Sole traders and freelancers are not asking for a handout; the reasons they went into business was to march to the beat of their own drum and own their wins and losses. But these are not normal times. They’re not closing their ‘doors’ because of inept business practices or lack of skill; they’ve been infected by the virus that is decimating all. 

Here’s a way to help us. How about a BAS holiday? A couple of quarters of not paying GST.  Or a refund from the December quarter. Or a one-off payment, without asset testing or jumping through oodles of paperwork, to keep afloat for a couple of months?

This will give us room to breathe, regroup and find a new way forward as we’re encourage to pivot and change but there must be something left to change. We’ve plans to keep moving forward, we are malleable and quick to adapt but not invincible.

If we want industrious people like me and other sole traders to be here when this passes (and it will pass), to help the economy get back on its feet, governments need to back us to stay in the race.