A feature of my role as the Small Business Commissioner is that I am often asked about emerging issues in the small business landscape, particularly as each new year commences.

While I sometimes wish for a clearer crystal ball, the benefit of having a network of peers across business and all levels of government, as well as having access to our in house Policy and Advocacy and Business Investigations teams at the SBDC, is that I am privy to a range of information about the changing factors that may influence the small business landscape over time.

2024 trends

This is what I see as some of the main emerging considerations for small and medium businesses in 2024.

  • While there are signs that the interest rate rises are pausing (welcome news for those of us with mortgages and business loans), consumers are still exercising financial caution due to the tight economy. This impacts on spending in small businesses, both for what we would consider discretionary items, as well as increasingly for more everyday costs such as groceries.
  • The Federal Government’s proposal for mandatory climate disclosure will include climate reporting requirements. While SMEs are not initially covered by this legislation, if they are supplying to larger organisations who are required to report, it can be expected that requiring Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) compliance from smaller suppliers and partners will become a more common aspect of contracts. This is another capability for small businesses to develop, or more likely, another cost to pay to have consultants advise on this specialist area.
  • Cyber security again makes the list, because its importance grows each year – particularly as cyber criminals devote their efforts to finding more devious ways through existing protections. The Australian Signals Directorate’s annual cyber threat report for last financial year reported an astonishing 23 per cent increase in cyber crime reports, with email compromise, business email compromise (BEC) fraud and online banking fraud the top issues affecting business. As we seem to increasingly live our lives and do more business online every year, this threat will only continue to escalate.
  • The tight employment market continues to present a challenge for many industries, although there are signs that the acute post-COVID workers shortages have rebalanced to give employers more options. However, this issue is exacerbated by housing shortages for workers, especially in regional WA.

Positive signs for small business

While it is always essential to be aware of potential risks in the small business environment in order to plan to mitigate them, it’s just as important to be aware of the positive signs for the sector.

  • There is a growing awareness at all levels of government about how important small businesses are to both the economy and communities. While the pandemic threw a spotlight on this, I’ve very pleased to see that awareness is still high. One of the changes I have seen (and my team at the SBDC has continued to contribute to) is the development of many more resources tailored to the needs of smaller enterprises. An example is the ATO’s new online learning hub which features more than 20 short courses (with more in the works) and a calendar of key lodgement due dates to support small businesses. My team has also been hard at work developing new free tools such as the one page business plan, which has already proven an extremely popular download from our website.
  • Similarly, there is a growing awareness about the dangers of the ‘hustle culture’ and the importance of protecting mental and physical wellbeing. Again, there is continued support and resources available to help small business owners who may be struggling.
  • A growing area of interest around innovation, and how technology (in particular generative AI) will impact almost all small businesses. While some are concerned about the threat, I am excited about the opportunities this new tech will bring, if business owners are given the tools and support to maximise its potential. Recently, Deloitte Access Economics and the Deloitte AI Institute reported that employees who use some Gen AI tools daily save 5.3 hours per week – which could be a game changer for time poor small business owners.
  • In a similar vein, the continued evolution of digital environments and lowered barriers to entry mean present some great opportunities. Virtual collaboration, hybrid working, automation, and e-commerce are far more accessible and widely used than they were just a few years ago. Today’s smart phones mean that even workers who are on the road have access to more power and information in their pockets than office based workers had just a decade ago.

What will the SBDC be doing this year?

This year heralds the 40th anniversary of the SBDC first opening its doors to support the small business owners of Western Australia, in 1984. I was a young (inexperienced) entrepreneur, and can well remember those days of shopfronts, paper-based records (including double entry bookkeeping), pay packets, landline phonelines and faxes and yellow pages ads.

The environment has shifted seismically since then, particularly the rate of change which seems to increase each year, but some fundamentals remain. Namely, small businesses without armies of highly paid professional consultants or executive teams still need good, practical advice to deal with the day-to-day challenges of running a business. And we are still here, offering this largely free, dependable support on behalf of the WA Government (although some of us have lost the pigment in our hair!).

While in 2024 the SBDC will continue to support small businesses by offering advice, skills development, business tools, dispute resolution and more, we – like the small businesses we serve – continue to evolve.

New services on offer

In the first months of the year, my team has already launched three new packages and features to serve our customers better:

  • The Business Kickstart Package which launched in January offered a package of online workshops and information sessions to help brand new and intending business owners get off to a great start.
  • The Propel your Business Program, currently open for ticket sales before starting in March, is a three month-long structured coaching program, offering mentorship, peer connections, and business transformation for established entrepreneurs.
  • We have opened up an online advisory booking facility on our website, to make it easier than ever to make a time to book with a member of our experienced business advisory team on the phone or virtually.
  • We have also refreshed our customer promises to help us meet the modern expectations of business owners, our customers, and continue to fulfil our purpose of ‘unleashing Western Australians’ entrepreneurial business spirit’.

In the spirit of innovation, the SBDC will continue to ensure we are keeping up with the rapid changes in the small business space by evolving our services to ensure they are what the business owners of today need. What won’t change is our commitment to offer the personalised, knowledgeable service that WA entrepreneurs have turned to for four decades.

I look forward to bringing you more news about our plans for our 40th anniversary and services we will introduce this year in due course.

In the meantime, I wish you a very successful year in business for 2024.

David Eaton
Small Business Commissioner

SBDC news
23 February 2024