Website optimisation is just the tip of the iceberg of what going digital can do for a small to medium enterprise.

Go digital and grow

Want an extra 10 hours a week to work on your business, not in your business? The answer for most small business owners is, of course, a resounding yes. Xero Australia, opens in new window Managing Director, Trent Innes, believes the solution is at hand.

Going digital can be great for financial health: cutting payment times, reducing the burden of administration and compliance, and even seeing an increase in headcount.

New Zealand-based financial software developer Xero has enjoyed an extraordinary rise over the past eight years. Its cloud-based accounting and invoicing systems are in use in more than 580,000 SMEs across Australia, up from less than 100 in 2010. Innes has been with the company for six years and at the helm for the past three.

Small businesses spend, on average, 10 or 11 hours a week on paperwork according to Innes. Their burden is almost as great as that of big business when it comes to red tape and complexity.

Business drivers

“Australians go into business for lots of reasons – passion, a dream, necessity, lifestyle – but very few do so because they want to do paperwork,” Innes says.

“In most SMEs, this job falls to the owner or their spouse and they end up doing it at nights and on weekends.”

Technology is changing some of the ways we do business. However the key challenges faced by small businesses today are in fact the same as ever, Innes says.

“Managing cash flow, access to capital and staff hiring – those are still big issues.”

Embracing apps

Small businesses that go digital across multiple areas of operation stand a good chance of getting some or even all of those administration hours back.

Using accounting and invoicing software as a foundation and plugging in specialist apps can provide SMEs with big business infrastructure. All for a fraction of what such a set-up would have cost in the past! Think rostering, reporting, expense management, point of sale, inventory, online payment services and marketing.

“Historically, small businesses have been underserved by technology – they were expensive to reach and hard to deliver to, but digitisation has changed that,” Innes explains.

“Businesses no longer need to spend big money on hardware and custom-built software and an ongoing relationship with a system integrator to support it, in order to get the benefits.

“There’s a whole ecosystem of apps that connect with Xero – more than 700 and there are more in development.

“Installing an app is as simple as signing up – often for the price of a cup of coffee a day. It takes very little time to get up and running.”

Big benefits

The digitisation of the economy is pushing businesses to make the shift and there are compelling benefits for those that do.

Initiatives such as the Australian Tax Office’s Single Touch Payroll, opens in new window (STP), are also making some shifts mandatory. Single Touch Payroll requires businesses with 20 or more employees to report payments (like salaries and superannuation) electronically to the ATO at the time they’re made.

“We’ve done some research that shows a direct correlation between the number of apps an SME uses and their employment and growth figures,” Innes says.

“There’s a perception that if you digitise your business you’ll employ less people but that’s not the case. Many of our small business customers are telling us they’re experiencing the reverse – that digitisation has been the catalyst for expanding operations and taking on additional employees.”

Cost reduction strategies

NAB Executive General Manager, Business Direct and Small Business, Leigh O’Neill says digitisation is at the heart of the bank’s quest to make things simpler, faster and better for its small business customer base.

“Running a business can be very satisfying but day-to- day administrative tasks can take up a lot of time,” she says.

“Making some of our processes digital frees up time for our SME customers, which means they can focus on running and growing their businesses.”

Xero’s alliance with NAB has resulted in a number of digital and data-driven initiatives. Mostly to give small businesses more capacity to focus on things that matter – customer needs, for example.

Direct feeds from NAB’s internet banking platform to the Xero platform mean transactions don’t have to be manually entered; they can be imported automatically overnight.

Alerts are triggered when an account balance is low, or a payment has been received. This allows small business owners to keep their finger on the pulse of their financial health.

A beta program running since early 2018 has streamlined the payment process for joint customers by enabling them to pay bills directly from the Xero platform. The technology removes another ‘friction point’ and makes the payment process quicker and more secure than the previous manual method.

“All small businesses are unique. Some jump on board with digitisation very quickly but the challenge for many is taking the time to step outside the business to get themselves set up in a digital environment,” O’Neill says.

“We’re committed to helping them do that.”

Time to act

Graduated from the shoebox school of accounting but not sure how to make the leap into the brave new world of digital? Don’t stress – it’s not as daunting as it may sound, Innes says.

“The technology industry has a nasty habit of creating scary terms but there’s nothing scary about digitisation.”

Help is readily available from accountants and cloud integrators for those who don’t feel confident tackling the task themselves.

“It’s really just a utility that can help solve challenges and free up time in your business.

“If you can use a smartphone or tablet, you’re well on your way.”

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Important information

The information provided in this article is intended to be of a general nature only. It has been prepared without taking into account your objectives, financial situation or needs. Before acting on the information in this article, National Australia Bank Limited (ABN 12 004 044 937, AFSL and Australian Credit License 230686) (NAB) recommends you consider whether it is appropriate for your objectives, financial situation and needs. NAB recommends that you seek independent advice before acting on any information in this article.