How to Stay Connected as a Sole Trader
Business| By Bridget de Maine | April 3, 2020
Online, offline or in real life, we ask an expert where to connect and get support as a sole trader.
Between fluctuating levels of income, heightened financial responsibility and withstanding the day-to-day challenges of doing business without a safety net, being a sole trader has always been a challenging endeavour. Recent developments in the spread of the COVID-19 (coronavirus), however, have put additional stresses on owners of small businesses.
“The biggest challenge for sole traders is the lack of confidence in what the next six or so months is going to hold,” says Kate Carnell, Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman. “[They] had a work schedule going forward… and a lot of that has been cancelled, literally, overnight.”
Although there are significant blows being felt by Australia’s sole trading and small business community, there are ways you can plug into the wider sole trading network and weather the storm. “This is going to finish and it’s going to finish in months, not years,” Carnell stresses. “The challenge for sole traders and micro businesses is being in a position to ramp up at the other end.”
Here are some places you can go for support in these testing times and tips on how you can adequately prepare yourself for a climate in which your business is ready to thrive again.
Check Government Websites
In times of information overload, Carnell stresses that it can often be difficult to sift through conflicting advice and discern fact from conjecture. “There’s an awful lot of information out there from all sorts of sources,” Carnell says. “The real challenge is to make sure that what we’re all saying is right.”
Due to the fluidity of the situation, Carnell suggests checking in with official websites such as business.gov.au and australia.gov.au, where there are dedicated sections for COVID-19 (coronavirus) information for the most accurate and up-to-date information. Sites such as My Business Health are also useful for tips on how to maintain wellbeing as a sole trader through a stressful time.
Join Targeted Facebook Groups
One small consolation comes from the fact you’re not alone. Irrespective of country or industry, countless businesses and sole traders are currently facing the same uphill battle. If you feel you would benefit from connecting directly with someone who is similarly suffering, Carnell suggests finding someone in your exact field and area who can really relate.
There are Facebook and WhatsApp groups in the thousands online, she says, that are easily searchable on Google. “There’s a Facebook group called Lawn Mowing Contractors Australia, for example – down to that level. There are groups where people are sharing their experiences.”
Although some might find the connection helpful, Carnell stresses it might not be for you.
“The important bit is to have a look at the group and decide whether it makes you feel better or worse. Some of them are prophets of doom – and we are going to get through this.”
Connect with Your Existing Support Network
No one knows your business like you or those within your inner circle. So, don’t forget to check in with your accountant or bookkeeper to try to hash out a plan for future-proofing.
“Everybody should spend a little bit of time with their bookkeeper and accountant to put together a tailored plan on what the next few months look like. You need the activity plan – the things you’re going to do – and the financial plan on how you’re going to get through this period. And if you can see that in front of you, I think it will become less confusing.”
Look at Free Upskilling AppsIt might seem counterintuitive when cashflow has come to a grinding halt but Carnell stresses there is a way to use this time productively and effectively to better your business in this unfortunate lull.
“[As a sole trader] there are a whole lot of things you put off,” she says. “You’ve said, ‘I’ve got to do that’ but you just never have time. Can I tell you: now’s the time.”
Carnell suggests looking into sites and apps such as Google Digital Garage or Stock Control Inventory to help you streamline processes or advance your knowledge of social media. These projects can get you focusing on what your business needs next, once you are out of the dip. “It might be a new accounting software package, or looking at [your] website or marketing, or whether [you’re] selling goods and services online.”
“[Ask yourself]: ‘What are the things that, when the business is up and running again, will make my business better?’”