"Online technologies now create real opportunities for small businesses to compete beyond their geographical audiences."

Social media, SME taxes, broadband access and productivity were among the key issues discussed at 2014’s Future of Small-Medium Business Summit in Sydney.

Hosted by Sensis and The Australian newspaper, the event was attended by more than 200 small business owners to hear how the sector can embrace technology to reduce costs and red tape while improving productivity.

The panel included Birdsnest CEO Jane Cay, RedBalloon CEO Kristie Buchanan, Telstra CEO David Thodey and the Shadow Federal Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Brendan O’Connor.

The Summit was held following the launch of the Sensis® eBusiness Report 2014, a annual survey of 1,800 Australian SME owners and 1,000 consumers on how they are using online technology.

Sensis CEO John Allan kicked off the discussion with some of the report’s key findings including two-thirds of SMEs who have a website with 26% being mobile optimised, up from 17% last year. He also noted that smartphone use among Australians is at an all-time high of 76%.

He said online technologies now create real opportunities for small businesses to compete beyond their geographical audiences.

For RedBalloon, social media and email marketing have been vital to their success while Birdsnest CEO Jane Cay says she has used the internet to grow her business from an audience of 100 people in NSW-town of Cooma to a global phenomenon.

According to the report, more than 39% Australian businesses are using social media in their business with the most common platform being Facebook.

RedBalloon is one of these businesses. Kristie said they have realised greater efficiencies through social media as well as cloud-based software and apps that assist with productivity like Trello.

“Social media has been fantastic for us to humanise the brand [RedBalloon] and that’s great for other businesses too. It gives the brand a personality and a sense of credibility, particularly if you are a small business and someone searches for you they can see people are talking about you that you really exist. It’s also effective for driving promotions and community building,” she said.

Jane admitted to finding social media a challenge initially but said she became more at ease when she realised it was just another way to have a conversation with their customers. “Our Facebook page is at the forefront of what we do.”

Federal politician Brendan O’Connor says social media has transformed the way government ministers conduct themselves and in some ways it has been challenging while in others it has been liberating.

When asked how the government could help businesses in Australia, Kristie said there were three areas where the government could play a greater role to help the sector become more competitive.

They included keeping costs down by reducing taxes, supporting innovation and growth through grants and providing more information to small businesses so they have more assistance readily available.

“The main impact we have is cost-based so the government can certainly help by reducing taxes. The second area is through supporting innovation… supporting growth of small and medium businesses through grants. Certainly RedBalloon benefits from the R&D tax incentive so we see quite a positive benefit,” she added.

Telstra CEO David Thodey added that the government could support innovation by creating the right environment that encourages people so SMEs can compete on a global stage more easily. “They should create the framework to let small business flourish,” he said.

The Sensis® eBusiness Report 2014 is the largest of its kind in Australia and comprises research from 1,800 Australian SMEs and 1,000 consumers about their use of online technologies. Download Sensis® eBusiness Report 2014 here.

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