We spoke with business consultant, Heather Smith, about what she sees as the issues facing business today and the forthcoming Future of Business report being released at Optus Vision 2013. Her analysis is that small and medium enterprises (SME) are driving adoption of cloud based solutions for all business.
This is the first in a series of Q&A sessions with business leaders and experts. If you'd like to be involved in a Q&A session with Optus Business, get in touch with us at @optusbusiness on twitter.
OB: Tell us about your work.
HS: I am a Chartered Certified accountant and a Xero Certified Consultant. I work with business during the start-up phase of their business helping them implement and use business systems that provide them with useful, reliable and timely information. This helps the business owner make informed decisions about their business.
I have just written the Xero for Dummies book that will be published in July by Wiley Business. New Zealand Herald business leader of the year and Xero co-founder Rod Drury contacted me over twitter and suggested I write a book about Xero and here we are a few months later with the book about to be released!
I am also a mentor at Brisbane River City Labs and the Sunshine Coast Innovation Centre.
The Gold Coast Brisbane Sunshine Coast triangle is a dense population of SMEs and it's exciting to be in the hub of it.
OB: What do you see as the major technologies influencing the future of business for small and medium enterprises and why?
HS: Cloud technology. SMEs who adopt cloud technology will be so far ahead of businesses who maintain old school technology - it is simply an unfair advantage. Time saved and information generated, provide business with the capability to grow and take advantage of opportunities faster.
To elaborate my point, let me take a few moments to explain how this works. I have just written Xero for Dummies. So I shall use that as an example. Xero is online cloud based accounting system. Xero works as a bank end accounting solution that can assist in the preparation of tax requirements and generating management information. Your bank, credit card and online payment gateways are connected to Xero, allowing transactions to automatically feed into Xero. Xero has a published API (Application Programming Interface) which means solutions that address other business processes such as CRM, eCommerce, time tracking etc. can be linked to Xero, and the data seamlessly flow from one solution to the other as required.
Let me explain this with a simple business scenario. I sell books online.
Old school: I am notified about a sale; I manually enter it into my desktop based accounting system MYOB, manually enter customer details into Microsoft Outlook, and write out an address label. I write an email to the customer to tell them I posted the book, wait for my bank statement to arrive and reconcile my bank account. I download my Paypal account information and manually reconcile my Paypal account. So that's taken about 15 minutes for processing each sale, and my data is updated at the end of the month.
New school: I am notified about a sale, my shopping cart automatically updates Xero with both the invoicing and customer information. My Mail Chimp newsletter list is linked to Xero, via a connection tool known as Onesaas, and the new customer is automatically added to my newsletter list if they choose that option. My bank and paypal feed is connected to Xero, so when I log on I can reconcile the transaction that has feed through automatically. The client automatically receives a thank-you for purchasing the book email and using the StarShip add-on a shipping label can be generated at the push of a button. Seriously this takes me less than a minute - at least 15 times faster. Also my data is updated within 12 hours!
Utilising cloud technology can massively boost productivity, and increase your capacity to serve more clients, grow your business and grow your profitability.
OB: How will the way we communicate change how we do business?
HS: The advancements of social media and technologies such as SKYPE mean that there are many channels of communication hurtling towards the SMEs. It can be rather overwhelming. Your accountant IM's you on Facebook, while a client in Panama tries to start a video call with you SKYPE, while a journalist is asking you questions across twitter, your Facebook fans are commenting on the post you uploaded in the morning, and in the background your mobile starts vibrating and then your landline starts ringing. It can be insane! My suggestion is to treat communication channels like an opera, not everyone gets opera, but most people respect its cultural significance. Respect the new communication channels, and decide which ones work for you. Do not feel that you need to stretch yourself thinly and be available on every medium. Assess what is appropriate for what you do, and what the return on engagement is. I personally generate a lot of interesting connections via Twitter and LinkedIN but they may not be suited to your business. I think it goes without saying a mobile device is essential for small and medium enterprises, enabling them to connect with clients and the office at all times.
OB: What do you see as the issues that will need to be addressed for businesses to stay competitive?
HS: Small and medium enterprises need access to reliable high speed internet connections. It shocks me that this is still something not readily available in a city like Brisbane. I work with large businesses that only have access to dial up connection, or businesses that lose the Internet for hours, after it rains! I hope the NBN resolves these issues.
Our small business tax regime needs to be simplified. I've just written Xero for Dummies for the UK, USA, New Zealand and Australian SME market. It covers standard reporting requirements for each jurisdiction. Sadly, the most complicated requirements were for Australian small businesses, by a long way. I believe in the spirit of Australians that we don't have a problem paying taxes, and supporting the infrastructure of society, but paying taxes should not be so time consuming and onerous. Taxation requirements on SMEs need to be simplified.
Following on from issues around taxation, payroll also needs to be simplified. In its current state it is far too complicated. It is ridiculous that a single person can attract eight or more pay items in a single pay slip. If you've not worked in payroll, you probably cannot fathom how ridiculously complicated, it has become. This comment also leads on to high wage costs and high cost of living...
OB: What opportunities lie ahead for Australia in the global economic market?
HS: If you were up in the clouds waiting to be born, and got to choose where to be born, you would choose Australia. We have so many good things going for us, our climate, our environment, and the stability and reliability of our infrastructure. Internationally many people like dealing with Australia, they have a fondness for us.
Realistically Australia needs to recognise freight is always going to be a costly issue if we want to build something, put it on a boat and sell it.
Therefore our opportunities lie in technology and bio-medical industry. Minimal freight costs and the potential for generating significant revenue!
OB: How will the consultancy work you do contribute to the future of business in Australia?
HS: Great question! I aim to find simple, economical solutions that small and medium enterprises can implement to assist them in maximising profit and managing their businesses. In the consultancy arm of my business, I work one on one with businesses, but as you can imagine money is tight for a lot of SMEs, so as well as my consultancy work, I speak at SME events and write business books. My last book "Learn Small Business Start-Up in 7 Days" contains every piece of advice I've gathered over the last ten years from working with and speaking to SME. I am passionate about helping small and medium enterprises, because I truly believe operating an SME can give you the opportunity to live your passion, and have a flexible and fulfilling life. Isn't that the dream?
OB: We do hope you can make it to Optus Vision 2013, but hope you'll be following from wherever you are. Can you let us know what matters you would most like to see addressed at the Optus Vision event?
HS: I love a good conference; they are an intensive, fun experience and the opportunity to connect with colleagues in the real world. The best takeaways from conferences are the mind blowing, perception altering unexpected learning's that catch you off guard and change the path you were taking. I want to hear how Australian businesses can expand their businesses to a global market.
We'd like to thank Heather for her time talking to us. If you'd like to know more about Heather, please follow her at @HeatherSmithAU or read her blog at http://www.heathersmithsmallbusiness.com. And don't forget to register for Optus Vision 2013 at http://yesopt.us/vision2013. Or, if you can't be there, follow #optusvision online on Thursday and watch sessions streaming live from the event.
All views expressed by interviewed person(s) are their own.