Guess what? One of the biggest drivers of employment and economic activity in Australia is almost never discussed, barely supported and I doubt if most Australians even know what it is.
I’m talking about micro business: businesses employing between zero and four staff. Sure, most people know about small business – and micro business it just a subset of that, right? Well yes… but the small business category obscures some pretty important facts. It covers businesses that employ up to 19 people. There is a massive difference between a business employing one person and a business that employs 18. The vast majority of small businesses (and in fact, all businesses) are micro businesses; micro businesses represent a whopping 92.3% of all small businesses, and 89.2% of all businesses generally!
Unfortunately, there is a dearth of data and attention paid to micro business. Most analysis and government data are amalgamated at the small business level. Given the differences between micro businesses and their larger small business cousins, Australia is missing a big opportunity to gain insight and better support our economy and the majority of our entrepreneurs.
Small business (including micro business) represents over a third of all value added by industry to the economy, and employs a higher proportion of the workforce than both medium and large businesses (44%). We know that in this category, it is micro business that is doing the heavy lifting.
Despite this, micro businesses are the least likely to receive government support. In 2017, 42.6% of large firms access government funding, 31.6% of medium businesses, 16% of small businesses and just 7.3% of micro businesses. There is a huge need to redirect and expand government support for this highly productive and extraordinarily valuable business sector.
Sadly, most government support targets businesses that are ready to scale and grow, often when they have moved out of the micro stage. Few government initiatives target support where it would be useful to the majority of entrepreneurs and would-be entrepreneurs – at the ideation, creation and early start-up phase of a business. There are some rare exceptions, like the New Enterprise Incentive Scheme, but even this scheme has significant limitations for many people (particularly single mums). Think of how many businesses could grow and thrive if our assistance were better targeted?
How many businesses have started in a garage or across the kitchen table, that have then grown over time and scaled globally? Sue Ismiel developed Nad’s a no heat hair removal gel from her Sydney kitchen in 1991 and now runs her global $40million+ business. How many more of these opportunities could be created if we better supported entrepreneurs in the early stage of business?
And maybe it doesn’t matter if these businesses don’t scale up or go global. We tend to idolize the “Unicorn enterprise” in Australian business culture: the tech start-up that grows from obscurity to a multi-billion-dollar success story overnight. But surely, just as exciting, is a diverse range of millions of thriving micro businesses that sustainably provide income, enrich lives and dutifully contribute to our economy.
At Global Sisters, we have seen the power of micro business to drive innovation, propel economic growth, create jobs and transform lives. We know that micro business is particularly powerful at helping women for whom mainstream employment is not a workable option – creating income, allowing them to pursue a passion and setting them on a path to economic security.
It’s for this reason we think it’s time Australia, and particularly our Government, bring micro business out of the shadow of the ‘small business’ category, and begin celebrating and supporting these powerhouses of our nation.