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Transport business owners working long hours with half predicting revenue growth

With more than half of Australian SMEs forecasting improved revenue, cash flow and property market issues must be overcome if they are to reach their growth potential.

The latest Scottish Pacific SME Growth Index has been released, with East & Partners providing a national snapshot of the thoughts of 1252 businesses with $1-20m revenues, across all states and major industries.

More businesses are in growth mode than at any time since March 2016. Scottish Pacific senior executive Wayne Smith said one in two (51%) are forecasting positive revenue growth for the next six months.

“The average projected revenue increase of 4.5% is the most positive sentiment since 2016 and reflects a promising rebound in underlying business confidence within the SME sector,” Mr Smith said.

However, there is a growing prosperity gap among SMEs – while more are forecasting positive growth, those performing poorly are in significantly worse shape than they were four years ago.

Transport & Logistics sector results
The transport and logistics sector most closely reflected the average national SME sentiment, with 51% predicting positive revenue growth over the next six months. Promisingly, their 5.1% average growth was above the all-sector growth expectation.
More than a quarter of businesses in the sector think revenue will hold steady.
“One-fifth are predicting a revenue drop, by on average 3.3% (below the all-sector average drop of 6%). So even those expecting to do poorly in the transport sector don’t think they’ll do as poorly as other sectors,” Mr Smith said.
“Transport business owners are putting in the hard yards to justify their revenue confidence – more of them are working 80-plus hour weeks than any other sector.
“Just over 8% of transport sector SMEs reported that cash flow could not have been better – this sits slightly above the average across all sectors and perhaps could be attributed to the sector’s high use of receivables funding (invoice finance), which eases cash flow issues.”

Cash flow tops the SME worry list
Cash flow is an increasing problem for the whole SME sector, and business owners are really putting in the hard yards (on average, spending 66 hours a week working on or in their business).
“Many business owners are cash-strapped, time-poor and confused about the options available to them to fund their growth,” Mr Smith said.
“With a declining property market and banks exercising caution, the concern is that a lack of credit could hamper growth prospects. Business owners will need to consider funding alternatives to traditional property secured lending.
“Those SMEs who find alternative ways to fund growth and master cash flow management will have a clear advantage over their competitors,” he said.
Continuing the trend of SMEs looking beyond banks to fund growth, 96% could name a key reason to borrow from an alternative lender, with fast credit approval and reduced compliance the main drawcards.
Almost one in 10 business owners (8%) say revelations from the Banking Royal Commission will prompt them to seek out non-bank alternatives.
The Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, Kate Carnell, said today that Scottish Pacific’s latest SME Growth Index identifies the issues most raised with ASBFEO by SMEs across the country.
“Extended payment times impact business cash flow, which is critical to SME day-to-day operation. Reduced cash flow impacts the ability to pay staff, superannuation and the quarterly BAS, and an overly complex workplace relations system inhibits employment, which in turn inhibits growth,” Ms Carnell said.
“The Index also points out SMEs are looking at alternatives to banks to access finance, including invoice finance, fintechs, government grants and crowdfunding. We’ve done considerable work in this space, recently releasing our Affordable Capital for SME Growth report and Borrowing from fintech lenders guide.”
CASH FLOW IS TOP CONCERN
• 79% of SMEs say cash flow issues cause the most sleepless nights, up from 73% in 2016. The opportunity cost of poor cash flow is staggering. With an average 17% revenue hit estimated by SMEs, East & Partners have extrapolated that poor cash flow costs the SME sector A$234.6 billion in 2017.
• SMEs are being squeezed at both ends, by customers increasingly paying late (a major issue for 31% of respondents) and suppliers cutting payment terms (the key stress factor for 19%).
• The issue that most impacts on cash flow continues to be red tape and compliance (nominated by 73% of SMEs and focused around BAS, the Fair Work Act and company tax concerns).

SMEs OPEN TO NON-BANK FUNDING
• Alternative lenders are firmly on the radar of SMEs, attracted by fast credit approval times (the key benefit cited by one in four SMEs) and streamlined compliance requirements (cited by one in five).
• Fewer than 10% of SMEs say they’d prefer to fund their business growth using property as security, and one in five cited not having to borrow against property as the main benefit of non-bank lending. In light of national property market falls, SMEs whose credit is tied to property will face an increasing challenge in funding growth.
• Despite an SME lending landscape dominated by the Big Four banks and their subsidiaries, only 4% of SMEs say they would never consider borrowing from an alternative lender. This is good news for the emerging fintech industry, and the long-established debtor finance sector, who are offering SMEs a broader range of funding options beyond the banks than ever before.
• Growth SMEs recorded a 2% drop in intention to fund growth by borrowing from their main relationship bank. This bank borrowing intention, now sitting at just under 23%, has continued to fall since the Index began in 2014.

BUSINESS OWNERS FEELING THE PRESSURE
• SME owners don’t clock off. Despite technical and digital innovations, more than 40% of business owners put in 60-80 hours a week on the job and one in five clock 80+ hours a week.
• Two-thirds of SMEs said their major cause of sleepless nights is not having enough time in the day to get everything done. This was the second biggest SME issue, only cash flow caused more concerns.
• A growing number of SMEs (25%, up from 17% in 2016) are worried about the potential for sudden disruption of their business model.

GROWTH PROSPECTS
• More than a third of respondents (37%) identify as growth businesses. It is these businesses who are really feeling the pinch from cash flow issues. 59% of growth SMEs are seeking additional finance to fund projected growth, with one in three looking to borrow $50,000-$250,000 and a similar proportion seeking $500,000-$2million.
• About one-quarter of SMEs expect revenue to hold steady, and one-quarter expect revenue to decline, by an average of 6%. For those with declining revenue, the range of predicted decline (5-13.5%) is almost double that of 2014.

By far the most common way for SMEs to fund growth is to use their own funds (89%), ahead of borrowing from their primary bank (23%), using alternative lenders (15%), taking on new equity (13%) and borrowing from secondary banks (10%).
“It’s crucial to have reliable working capital, yet nine out of 10 SMEs reach into their own pockets to fund growth rather than use options that help them retain working capital within their business,” Mr Smith said.
“Why are so many SMEs using inflexible, debt such as personal credit cards instead of more sustainable funding solutions that would allow them to grow without such intense cash flow pressures?”