Our first letter in this series is from James Boston, Co-Founder of Paperlust and Xero customer, who shares how changes to the Export Marketing Development Grant have the potential to help small businesses grow their export market and boost the Australian economy.
Small businesses have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. Data from Xero Small Business Insights tells us employment in small businesses across Australia was hit twice as hard as businesses overall.
As we turn our attention to the nation’s economic rebuild, all eyes will be on the upcoming Federal Budget on October 6. Will it recognise the integral role Australian’s small businesses will play in the road to recovery?
In this series, ‘An open letter from small business to the Treasurer’ – and its complementary Xero On Air episode – we call on small business owners to identify key areas of additional support that they believe could fuel small business health and growth.
An open letter to the Treasurer
I know that you have already introduced many schemes to help small businesses survive these challenging times, but I believe that one, small change to an existing scheme could help drive small business recovery.
In 2014 I co-founded Paperlust, a Melbourne-based business that supports local artists to design and print high-quality wedding invitations, save the date cards, birthday invitations, Christmas cards and signage like wedding welcome signs.
Like many other small businesses, we took a big hit during the initial stages of the COVID-19 crisis. Our business dropped 75% during the first few weeks of the lockdown period, with the restrictions on large gatherings resulting in many cancelled events.
While COVID-19 has had a significant impact on our business, the good news is that Paperlust is showing signs of recovery. Since restrictions have been lifted in some states and territories, people have started planning weddings and other events. Our online traffic is strong and we’re hopeful this will translate into conversions as restrictions continue to be lifted in the future.
Despite this, there’s still plenty of uncertainty in the air.
The support we have received from the Federal Government has undoubtedly helped to keep us in business. Emergency measures such as JobKeeper and cash flow boosts have enabled us to retain staff and pay bills during challenging times. For this we are incredibly grateful.
But beyond emergency financial assistance, there’s another way the Federal Government can help small businesses like ours. And the best part is that it uses funding already budgeted for.
Support for exports
As recipients of the Export Marketing Development Grant (EMDG) we receive back a percentage of the funds we spend on increasing our presence in international markets. Since Paperlust has already reached market maturity in Australia and New Zealand, the EMDG is vital for us since looking further afield is key to driving business growth.
Currently, businesses receive EMDG funds 12 – 20 months after the investment has been made. Considering the challenging trading conditions small business owners currently face, a lengthy delay in payment is holding us back.
I believe that allowing businesses to claim on a quarterly basis would support the export push required to get the Australian economy back on track. I know I’m not alone in waiting for EMDG funds to arrive before making further investment in developing our export market.
The way I see it, switching to quarterly payments is a win-win because it would a) improve the cash flow of small businesses and b) improve the workflow of the department tasked with processing the backlog claims.
Trading out of a crisis
Realistically, I don’t see the Australian market returning to where it was 12 months ago anytime soon. A V-shaped recovery isn’t likely, so we need to focus on reaching the millions of customers available to us in export markets.
In our industry, the USA is ten times the size of the domestic market, while the UK and Canada are double our market size. We already know our product is well-suited to these markets, so this is where our revenue growth will come from. Even accounting for a global economic downturn, we still view these markets as lucrative.
Pre-COVID, our international customer base was on-track to represent 50% of our business. If the pandemic hadn’t hit, we would have already been an export-first business.
As an online retailer, we need as many eyeballs on our product as possible. Investing in content marketing strategies to boost our visibility within foreign markets is essential, but we need the funds to make this happen.
There’s plenty of opportunity for Australian small businesses to recover if we invest in our export programs now. The sooner EMDG funds are released to small business owners, the sooner we can collectively make investments to boost our export markets.
By delivering EMDG payments quarterly, I believe that Paperlust and many other Australian small businesses will have a good chance at trading out of this crisis.
James Boston & the Paperlust team