By Athena Thompson
Forming nearly a third of all actively trading businesses in 2018-19, are Sole Traders (28%). When looking just at small businesses this is very substantial, representing 62% of those businesses according to the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman Small Business Counts Report 2019.
Overall, this overwhelming 62.8% of all businesses of non-employing businesses accounted for according to 2018-19 Counts of Australian Businesses, ABS Statistic. When you tease out the words in that last sentence, ‘non-employing’, whilst great to be able to analyse statistics through the use of labels its causing part of the problem.
While a sole trader may not employ in the traditional sense as a company, they still impact the economy and the supply chain. In that they either employ contractors to deliver, or pay commercial leases that benefit landlords or have contractual obligations to suppliers or equipment fees. More importantly, they employ themselves and contribute to creativity and industry to our State’s economy. In the City of Maribyrnong alone there are 5172 sole traders, this is 65% of all businesses (7,856) in the region. Whilst people point out solutions like JobKeeper or negotiating deferral or reduction of fees, it doesn’t go far enough to help with overheads like maintaining a commercial property.
Recognising this issue, a team of women, all Sole Traders from across the western suburbs of Melbourne, have stepped up to advocate for the support of Sole Traders and small businesses with similar troubles. Liana Lucca-Pope, a long time Footscray resident and advocate for business approached Fiona Johnston, Belinda McLeod and Clare Martin Lapworh to work on a strategy to lift up others.
Liana, a graphic designer by profession runs two co-working spaces, once considered essential to creating a vibrant business community in the west. However, due to the nature of those businesses that use co-working spaces, her members have largely pulled the plug or are working from home as current stage 3 and 4 restrictions demand. Whilst her landlords have provided some relief it’s just not enough and she’s shut the doors at one of the spaces to save on electricity, while trying to find extra work as a designer to cover costs.
Belinda ran a successful massage therapist clinic in Moonee Ponds for 10 years full time. Out of duty of care to her clients due to the current pandemic, she has shut the doors on the clinic. She has been left in an impossible position, as social distancing is not practical and she forms part of the more vulnerable group at higher risk with asthma. In her situation, JobKeeper is barely covering the overheads leaving her no income for just living home expenses.
Fiona, a Chartered Accountant who works with small businesses has seen many SMEs devastated by COVID-19. She also runs a co-working space in inner west Melbourne that has been used by many local businesses to run workshops, meet with clients and work productively on their businesses. Since March Fiona has lost all of her coworkers and 100% of her co-working income, and although her landlord has been reasonable, she still has a commercial lease to pay. It is not practical, safe or possible to be earning an income from the co-working space at the moment, but the rent and bills still need to be paid.
Clare is a commercial photographer with a studio based in Footscray. Clare is the leaseholder of a space which houses another small creative business, which both have seen a direct impact on the ability to run the studios in the capacity for which it was originally set up. In the initial shut down period, Clare was able to negotiate a period of delayed payments, however as the year has progressed, she is now faced with the full rent along with the repayments from earlier in the year. Lockdown has specifically prohibited operation of the studio, resulting in the loss of substantive clients who are now forced to seek their photography needs interstate.
Whilst the group was primarily set up to assist Sole Traders with commercial leases, the team recognises there’s other businesses in similar positions. Many businesses have an operational expense that they are tied to contractually, yet cannot access Victorian Government support.
They are proposing that the Victorian Government Business Support package be amended to include Commercial Lease holders or Sole Traders with contractual business expenses over 25% of their income. They are not talking about hobby businesses here. Any business that has a commercial lease in place has worked hard to become financially viable and able to take on a commercial tenancy.
In lobbying the government, the group has had preliminary email discussions with Ms Katie Hall, Member for Footscray. Ms Hall indicated there was ongoing discussion with the Small Business Minister, and there is work underway to arrange support for sole-traders noting that it’s a complex process. The team plans to meet with the local MP mid-September.
To provide support to this initiative follow their Facebook page, ‘Sole Traders need equivalent Covid-19 support Australia’ . Or if you’re in the same boat or want to support our local business community let them know they can join the group, ‘Sole Traders need equivalent Small Business Support Australia’
Professional problem solver by day (business consultant at TechLever) and supreme question asker by night, exploring Melbourne’s west one curiosity at a time. Co-founder of the Inner West Women’s Hub, a group for women who live, work & play locally.