The advent of Covid-19 has fuelled an influx of new business owners, freelancers and sole traders across Australia – but do we recognise the huge role they play in the economy?
Katriona Lee, global strategy director at financial software company Xero, was attracted to her role by the opportunity to help small businesses navigate the myriad of behind-the-scenes processes that keep a business humming, like accounting and payroll management.
“We don't think about it that way but small businesses really are the economic backbone of most major markets, representing 90 to 99 per cent of all businesses. That's huge,” she told TradeSquare’s Catherine van der Muelen in an interview that you can listen to in full via podcast here.
Given the influx of people new to small business accounting and management, education has been a key role in Xero’s strategy to support clients, giving them access to a community of like-minded people who understand what it's like to start and run a business.
“What are the things they need to do to get up and running again? There is so much information out there, we're drowning. So in a world where there's over information, how do we navigate all of that? Tools and solutions like Xero help small businesses, sole traders and freelancers dig through the noise and find the things that really help them succeed.
“So we give them a toolkit of resources and learnings to really do a good job and feel great about their success.”
Lee believes that Australia has done very well to get through the pandemic – “in no small part to the small businesses, the small business owners, the freelancers and the sole traders who have all done their part”.
She cites a variety of sectors in the community who have helped the country endure bushfires, a pandemic and then floods, symbolic of a nation which is determined and resilient.
“Parents who are balancing contributing to the economy, while homeschooling their children, are just phenomenal. Frontline workers putting themselves at risk to protect others; every member of the value chain that has put vital medical and food supplies in the hands of vulnerable populations; agencies and individuals that focused on protecting our most at-risk youth and creating economic opportunities for them.
“And then people that work at companies like Xero – I have to give them a shout out. They've been brilliant, collecting data to help small businesses, sole traders, freelancers make smart choices for their recovery and access vital government funds really helped keep us going.”
The need to share
Successes aside, Lee believes businesses across Australia could do more to build a sharing culture.
“What I mean by that is, as companies get bigger, and they get more complex, it's really important to work in silos. But what makes great teams and great organisations function is that everyone has something valuable to share.”
That means circulating ideas, finding ways to connect even through disparate views and noise. “It is really important to stay true to that sharing culture, sending messages, checking into how your people are doing, making sure that you're showing up in a way that is open and accessible. It's incredibly important. It sounds simple, but it is something that I am really passionate about and actively advocating through the organisation.”
Team building and fostering talent
Lee also shares her passion for challenging the status quo in building teams and talent.
“Historically, we look at past performance and make an educated forecast of how that person's going to do and what experience and credentials they bring to the table. But I've reframed that after having connected with lots of amazing ‘Xeroes’ [Xero staff] through the business and discovering their pathway to their current role. Some have been accountants, some have been customers of Xero who have joined the organisation because they're so passionate about the mission. And others have had amazing careers – in medicine, for example – and then joined the strategy team. It's all about how people solve problems and how passionate they are about small business challenges.”
She believes that thinking about talent and building teams based on real-world capability is much more important than focusing on past performance.
“For me, that's quite controversial. I'm not sure that everyone agrees with this point of view. It's something that I'm championing through the organisation. We're not going to be this next level of organisation if we are not thinking about talent, with a really innovative different point of view.”
Listen to the full-length podcast on TradeSquare’s TSQ channel.