This week, a government report revealed that many small businesses aren’t aware of the free help available to them to avoid costly disputes.
While just 19% of firms use government hotlines or websites to resolve a rift with another business, this lack of awareness isn’t confined to dispute resolution.
A host of government services are on hand to help small businesses, but are often overlooked by start-ups. From the ATO to the obscure, we list the 10 government websites that you should be aware of.
1 Enterprise Connect
If you knew that an experienced business advisor could spend four days at your start-up before compiling a comprehensive analysis of the strengths, weaknesses and areas of growth for the business, all free of charge, it’s likely that you would jump at the chance.
This is one of the, often overlooked, services provided by Enterprise Connect, an arm of the Federal Government’s Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research. There are 12 Enterprise Connect centres dotted across Australia, dispensing advice and support to small firms in various industries.
2 Commercialisation Australia
Morphing a piece of intellectual property into a viable, profitable business can be an arduous undertaking. Often, the process is both time and resource intensive.
Happily, Commercialisation Australia can provide cold, hard cash as well as advice to help turn your IP into something that will provide you with an income. There’s a wide range of funding on tap for the right ideas, such as up to $200,000 to engage experienced executives, up to $250,000 to test the viability of your concept and the potential of a $2 million repayable grant to develop a new product.
Another offshoot of the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, AusIndustry undertakes a raft of work to help boost small businesses domestically and internationally.
The agency oversees the Small Business Advisory Service, a 36-strong national network of centres that provide help on matters such as business planning and staff training. It also runs the Small Business Support Line.
This is just the tip of the iceberg, however, with AusIndustry administering projects such as the Green Building Fund, grants for the tourism industry, duty concessions for imports, commercialisation aid for emerging technologies and a range of venture capital programs such as the Pre-Seed Fund and Early Stage Venture Capital Partnership.
4 Grant Finder
Finding, and then securing, a grant for your start-up is a labyrinthine process that often ends in frustration.
However, don’t let this put you off. If you operate in a particular niche or are providing a certain benefit to the community, you may be pleasantly surprised at the public cash that is on offer.
Half the challenge is identifying the grants that are within reach of your business. Fortunately, the Federal Government’s main business portal, Business.gov.au, has a ‘grant finder’ tool that will help you access the available federal, state and local funds.
5 Australian Apprenticeships Centres
In the lead-up to the Federal Election, Labor made a headline pledge to spend $334 million in financial help for apprentices in sectors suffering skills shortages.
However, there are also cash incentives for employers to encourage them to take on and train apprentices. This is backed up by the network of more than 300 Australian Apprenticeship Centres, which administers these payments, as well as offering relevant advice. In 2008, the role of these outlets expanded to include Skills and Training Information Centres, aimed at boosting small business’ skills base.
6 FairWork Ombudsman
A slew of changes to the pay awards system has left many businesses, not just those at the smaller end of town, unsure over their obligations to staff.
Several recent court cases brought by Fair Work Australia have underlined the importance of not, even unintentionally, under-paying staff. The onus is on employers to get it right, which requires a good source of information on awards.
The Fair Work Ombudsman’s website has several tools that are of use, including a pay rates calculator, best practice guides and help on how to find out which of the 122 awards relate to you.
7 Scam Watch
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission runs a useful site called Scam Watch that highlights the various nefarious activities used to con businesses, as well as consumers.
The resource provides details on scams ranging from identity theft to work from home rorts. Crucially, the site is dynamic, adding new scams as they crop up and allowing small businesses to warn each other of shonky operators.
Sadly, most firms only become aware of Scam Watch after the event. Be proactive and wise-up on scams before you fall foul of one. Reading our top 10 small business scams feature is a good place to start.
8 Small business commissioner
Victoria’s reputation as the leading state for small businesses has been underlined in recent months by the envious glances cast by New South Wales at the state’s small business commissioner.
Since 2003, Victoria’s small businesses have had a commissioner to fight their corner on a range of issues, as well as help defuse any disagreements between companies. Although Victoria is the only state to have a small business commissioner, the NSW state opposition has pledged to create a similar role if it wins power and business groups are pushing for the idea to be implemented by other states.
9 DIAC skills matching
Start-ups requiring specific staff can be outgunned on salary by larger rivals or, due to location, find themselves in a skills black spot.
Fortunately, it’s now easier than ever to locate skilled employees from abroad and entice them Down Under with the promise of sunshine and hyperactive business growth.
The Department of Immigration and Citizenship has a Skills Matching Database that pairs up knowledgeable migrants with firms that require their particular expertise. Of course, this is no guarantee of visa success, but it offers a potential solution to skills shortage problems.
10 Australian Tax Office
The ATO is hardly an unknown quantity to start-ups due to its hovering presence in every tax requirement placed on businesses.
However, many firms may not know that the Tax Office has a friendly, helpful face as well as a stern, bean counting one.
The ATO has plenty of online assistance for start-ups, such as an application that allows you to work out whether you are employing staff or contractors and a refreshingly transparent insight into how the Tax Office snares tax cheats.
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