It is one of the oldest clichés in small business but it is one of the most misunderstood. It says one of the greatest problems with small business people is that they spend too much time working in their business and not enough time on their business.
When it comes to government assistance and contracts there are so many business owners out there with their heads down, “doing it, doing it, doing it” as Michael Gerber has said in the past, that they don't see the opportunities just waiting to be discovered.
Gerber, the author of the E-Myth Revisited, a perennial international best-seller, differentiates the entrepreneur from the technician, who simply does the work in his or her own business. The entrepreneur works on the business.
Working on doesn't just mean thinking laterally about market opportunities, which searching for government contracts – at federal, state and local government levels – could mean. It also means thinking about government assistance out there that could make you take your business to the next level, to a new overseas market or to network into other groups who could tell you something you don't know and create opportunities for you at the same time.
Two classic suppliers of government assistance that every creative business owner – let’s call them entrepreneurs – should think about are AusIndustry and Austrade.
AusIndustry provides grants that can help bankroll research and development (R&D) and ultimately innovation. The R&D Tax Incentive (jointly administered by the Australian Taxation Office) encourages industry investment in R&D, and applies to R&D activities conducted in income years commencing on or after 1 July 2011.
The two components of the program are:
• a 45 per cent refundable tax offset for eligible companies with an aggregated turnover of less than $20 million per annum; or
• a non-refundable 40 per cent tax offset for all other eligible companies.
Meanwhile, Austrade’s Export Market Development Grant (EMDG) has become a great encouragement for entrepreneurs who think outside the domestic market square. Its purpose is to encourage SMEs to develop export markets, by reimbursing eligible businesses up to 50 per cent of eligible export promotion expenses above $10,000 provided that the total expenses are at least $20,000.
I recently saw a guy who has patented an invention, all on his own time and it cost him tens of thousands of dollars to develop the concept and patent it. Luckily for him, while he was too busy working in his business to see the opportunities, his accountant did his thinking on the business for him and put him in touch with an expert adviser who took him to AusIndustry.
The advice he received helped him add protection to his patent for overseas opportunities and showed him how to access government grants. This guy was lucky to have a lateral thinking accountant – most business people don't and miss out.
For inventive business owners committed to R&D, looking for money to make their dream come true, be aware that AusIndustry has helped thousands of businesses and many have received hundreds of thousands of dollars. AusIndustry has opened the doors for many exporters and its EMDG offers assistance in defraying the costs of the promotion of a product or service overseas.
The bottom line is if you are making money overseas, whether it is via transporting products by plane, ship or Ebay, there are many monetary reasons to contact Austrade.
If you are too time poor to work on your business, use a search engine – contact government bodies or industry groups to find expert consultants who know how to help small operators tap into government assistance.
Finally, if you are a afraid of the expense of using experts to position yourself for government contracts or assistance, then start putting on your networking thinking caps.
Many businesses have targeted various government departments by putting their hand up to serve on various government-related committees. Some offer their time and expertise to be judges for awards or offer to help in business community groups such as Business Enterprise Centres.
By being on the boards of these groups they have worked their way into the favour of government departments and public servants, winding up with lucrative contracts.
Where there is a will and a damn smart plan, you can put yourself in the right place at the right time to pick up a plum public prize.
Or see this article to work out if your business is eligible for an EMDG.