Video transcript: A champion of Victorian small business

Business Insights Judy O’Connell - Victorian Small Business Commissioner

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Georgina Jerums

Judy O’Connell is Victoria’s Small Business Commissioner, and in her role she advocates for small businesses in our state to ensure they can operate in a fair and competitive business environment.

Judy welcome.

Judy O’Connell

Thanks Georgina it’s great to be here.

Georgina Jerums

In a nutshell what is actually the role of the Victorian Small Business Commissioner?

Judy O’Connell

So it’s really about making sure that there’s a level playing field.

It can be really tough trying to work with large business and government agencies who can be bureaucratic.

So really, the role is there is to advocate on behalf of businesses where I need to, to sort of advise them of their rights and their responsibilities, and also to help them resolve any disputes that they might have.

Georgina Jerums

Judy, what is the definition of a small business?

Judy O’Connell

There’s so many definitions for a small business and that’s half the problem.

You know, I think a lot of times in Victoria it’s under 20 employees, or it could be under two million turnover are sort of the normal definitions.

And I think when you talk about the 576,000 small businesses that’s around those with less than 20 employees.

Georgina Jerums

How many interactions Judy do you have each year?

Judy O’Connell

So we get about 12,000 phone calls a year, and that’s around providing guidance, we don’t provide advice that’s for lawyers, but guidance about what you should be doing, whether you know, does this contract look right, or I’ve got this problem and how I should resolve it.  

We get about 1,700 disputes a year.

Georgina Jerums

Let’s touch on the dispute resolution service a little bit more.

How do businesses actually access it?

Judy O’Connell

They can call us or they can go online and register a dispute.

They just will give us the information about what the dispute is about, who the other party is, and then we can try and resolve it for them.

Our dispute resolution officers will contact both parties, and in about 40 percent of the instances it’s enough for somebody to write a legalistic type letter for that other party to actual say oh okay, if it’s they haven’t paid for goods or services they’ve received, they’ll say oh okay, I’d better pay for this.

In those cases that can’t be resolved just by talking to both parties, we have mediation services, and it’s $195, so heavily subsidised by the Victorian Government, where both parties come in with a mediator who in the main is sort of a professional barrister in some instances, who will sit both parties down and discuss the issues with both parties.

And about 80 percent of those are resolved, so that’s a really good outcome.

It keeps it out of the court system.

Georgina Jerums

You are huge advocate of the Australian Suppliers Payment Code.

Why is the Code good for all businesses?

Judy O’Connell

If you ask small businesses in the main, cashflow is the number one issue.

And a lot of time it’s because they’re not getting paid on time, or they’ve got long payment terms.

We did a national survey in 2016 and 50 percent of the small businesses that said that they had payment terms of 60-90, worst case scenario 120 days before they were getting paid, and not only that, 40 percent of them said that they were paying late.

So they might have 60 days but they weren’t getting paid until 75 days, and I just don’t think that’s fair, it’s just not on.

How can you try and manage your cashflow when you’ve got such long payment terms?

Georgina Jerums

Your top tip Judy for people starting a small business?

Judy O’Connell

Well, the number one thing that comes to our office is that the small business owner hasn’t read their contract, so they haven’t looked at the fine print.

I think in business it is really important to read that fine print.

So I say to anyone, when they’ve got a document take out three highlighters.

Everything you have to do highlight in blue.

Everything the other party has to do highlight in green.

And, anything you don’t understand highlight in pink and go and talk to a legal advisor about what you should have to do.

Georgina Jerums

How do you read the future of small business in Victoria?

Judy O’Connell

I think it’s pretty exciting at the moment.

There’s a lot of growth happening.

You know, if we listen to the predictions over the next 20 to 50 years then we’re going to need an awful lot of small businesses to support them, so I think it’s a great opportunity at the moment.

Georgina Jerums

Judy, throughout the state you’ve conducted speaking engagements talking about the personal, emotional management when it comes to running a small business.

Can you share some insights about that?

Judy O’Connell

It’s more about being mentally healthy, so really turning around and saying, you know, you’ve got a business plan, you’ve got market the plan, you should have a mentally healthy plan, because if you’re not on top of your game then your business is going to suffer.

And make sure you have time out for yourself.

A lot of small business owners are home-based and it can get quite isolating.

So having your plan, make sure in your day plan that you take time out for yourself, and that might be go for a walk, go to the gym, or go for a glass of wine or a cup of coffee with a friend.

And by doing that we’re hoping that you can sort of try and help prevent some of these issues from occurring.

Georgina Jerums

General career advice for small business, anything else that comes to mind, or even life advice?

Judy O’Connell

Running a small business you know, you often here it can be tough, but it can be great.

You know, you’re your own boss.

You can be creative, you can be inventive.

And for a lot of people it’s a really good life choice.

And someone said to me the other day, and I thought yeah this would be really good, wouldn’t be great if four-year-olds said I would like to grow up to be a small business owner.

And I thought yeah, that’d be good.

Georgina Jerums


Judy, it’s been a pleasure speaking with you today.

Thank you for your time.

Judy O’Connell


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