Small businesses are a critical component of the South African economy. They account for 52% of the country’s GDP, contribute millions in tax revenue and help address the nation-wide unemployment problem by creating more jobs. The government does acknowledge this to some extent and has made some effort to support their growth – but more needs to be done.
The Department of Small Business Development launched in 2014. Its aim is to support South Africa’s entrepreneurial community. However, the initiative hasn’t quite achieved its objectives and, according to Xero’s 2017 State of Small Business report, only 4% of small businesses feel that the department has helped their organisation. A surprising 89% say it is has not helped their businesses in any way.
The reality is, the current national and global economic climate is putting South Africa’s small businesses under immense pressure. They require specific attention and support. The Xero report has gathered the top five priorities – as identified by South Africa’s small business owners.
1More funding options
Almost half (48%) of small businesses would like to see more help from the government with regards to funding. Currently, 85% of South African start-ups are self-funded. This route requires personal resources that are out of reach for many would-be entrepreneurs. And even those who do manage to fund their own companies, won’t necessarily have enough to grow their businesses to their full potential.
Related: Smart Money For Small Businesses
Access to outside funding options is thus crucial. If the government makes more money available to small businesses through subsidies and grants, then more new companies will be able to launch – and grow.
To limit the number of South Africa’s successful entrepreneurs to those with enough money to fund their own companies, perpetuates economic inequalities, frustrates individual ambitions and does little to help the country’s progress.
South Africa is a country of rules. Our regulatory environment is notoriously restrictive and 44% of entrepreneurs would like to see less red-tape. It’s not necessarily the regulations themselves that are the problem – but rather the level of bureaucracy. The government expects full compliance, yet offers little official assistance to help businesses navigate the corridors of power.
Small business owners, who typically don’t have much time to spare, have to spend valuable hours travelling to and from various government agencies and departments. The issue is the current lack of co-ordination between these offices and their individual legislative interpretations. Entrepreneurs are often shunted from one to the other, seeking a signature here and a stamp there – only to be told that they’ve missed a step and have to start at the beginning.
Compliance is of course, crucial. However, small business growth should not be interrupted by unnecessarily obstructive rules and regulations. If the government would like to boost the economy even further, it needs to create a legislative environment in which small businesses can thrive.
3Offer tax breaks
High taxes keep 16% of South Africa’s entrepreneurs up at night and 42% would like the government to offer tax breaks. Prohibitively high taxes can hurt the country’s economy: Businesses move overseas to more tax-friendly locations and take jobs and revenue with them.
Tax breaks benefit both the small business community and the government. They make it more affordable for would-be entrepreneurs to start a business. And, as more companies launch, tax revenue increases.
4Improve access to finance
Access to finance is a recurring issue. With so few subsidies and grants available, small businesses battle to secure the funding they need to grow. Banks are hesitant lenders, especially when it comes to start-ups – and 35% of entrepreneurs look to the government to help them access the financial solutions they need.
The good news is, the government can help. The Department of Trade and Industry, along with its various satellite organisations, offers loans with flexible repayment terms and lower interest rates. Of course, this doesn’t meet the growing demand, and more finance options need to be made available to help entrepreneurs get their businesses up and running.
The high unemployment rate in South Africa is compounded by a severe skills shortage. Small businesses need very specific skills and have to hire carefully – the wrong recruit can become an expensive mistake. Too many entrepreneurs struggle to find the right people with the experience and skills that they need – which limits their growth potential.
Almost a quarter (22%) of small businesses believe that the government needs to invest more in education. While this is no short-term solution, it is a necessary step towards building South Africa’s talent pool and safeguarding its economic future. If this doesn’t happen, neither the companies nor the country will be able to function at maximum efficiency.
The government has much to gain from working in the best interests of the small business community. The sooner the two parties are on the same page, the better for the economy.