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Taking care of busy-ness: productivity battles for SMEs in lead up to tax time

New Zealand’s small businesses are known for their hard work and all-in ethos, however, a new poll reveals that while SMEs are continuing to work harder, productivity continues to wane and many aren’t seizing opportunities to help ease the burden of growing workloads.

The survey of more than 500 SME owners and decision makers commissioned by MYOB, found that nearly three-quarters (72%) of SMEs are doing admin tasks outside of work hours, while more than a quarter (29%) of SMEs say they are spending between six and 10 hours a week doing tasks not directly related to their job. One-in-10 spend more than 10hrs - over a quarter of the traditional working week - on such tasks.

Perhaps unsurprising given their workload, it seems being ‘busy’ has become part of daily life, with more than a third (35%) of SMEs admitting they respond with “busy” most times someone asks how they are.

But despite these feelings of busy-ness, over half of those polled feel they are only productive for just over half the week. Nearly a third (30%) of SMEs admit they only feel truly productive at work around two days a week or less, while 25% admit they feel productive for about three days a week. In comparison, 41% of SMEs say they feel productive most of the time.

Jo Tozer, Head of Go to Market at MYOB, explains that while they might feel productive, SMEs aren’t employing simple tactics to help ease the workload and boost productivity further.

“Despite heavy workloads and increasing ‘busy-ness’, this research suggests that most SMEs think they are being productive with their time, but many are still not employing simple tactics like task delegation or technology use to ease the load.

“According to our findings, a significant proportion of business owners and decision makers are reluctant to hand over work, with more than a third of SMEs (38%) saying they rarely or never delegate tasks when their workload becomes heavier than usual. Sharing the load and delegating work not only provides business owners or managers with more time to tackle bigger picture strategies or decisions, but also empowers employees and team members by giving them a chance to upskill or try their hand at something new.”

End of Financial Year preparations
With the end of financial year (EOFY) fast approaching, time spent on business administration is likely to peak for New Zealand’s SMEs over the next few months.

When asked how long they estimate it will take them to complete their EOFY preparation, 24% of SMEs estimated it would take them between five and six hours, while more than a quarter (27%) estimated it would take seven hours or more.

Compounding existing challenges around workload and time management, MYOB’s study also revealed a concerning number of SMEs are still using time-consuming processes to track their finances throughout the year. In fact, 26% of SMEs are using Excel spreadsheets to log income and expenses, while 21% rely on printed and filed paper records. Combined, this is more than the 42% of SMEs leveraging online business management platforms to manage their accounts.

“With a range of technology and software platforms available that are designed specifically to simplify financial admin and help crunch the numbers in preparation for tax time, it’s worrying that so many SMEs still rely on risky and time-consuming tactics to manage and monitor one of the most vital parts of their business,” says Jo.

“Not only do digital solutions reduce room for human error – they also bring everything together to create a connected system enabling SMEs to save time, accurately forecast cashflow, understand how the business is performing in real-time throughout the year, and make decisions with confidence.

“SMEs have no problems knuckling down to achieve their goals, but it's important they consider how they’re investing their time and take advantage of the tools available that can improve productivity, ease day-to-day stresses and help them reach these goals faster and more effectively,” she adds.

Tax time concerns  
As the focus shifts to closing out another financial year, MYOB’s research revealed SMEs have three key concerns on their mind as they work through the process to file their assessments and returns in 2022. Topping the list, 28% of SMEs are worried about complexities relating to COVID-19 financial support, while 27% are worried they are missing receipts or invoices, and 20% are concerned they may not have paid enough or paid too much tax.

“COVID-19 has thrown more than a few curveballs at our local businesses and at a time when every dollar counts, it’s understandable that SMEs are concerned about how the range of financial support from the government should be accounted for or that they may be missing important documentation,” says Jo Tozer.

“What’s key to remember though, is that SMEs don’t need to go through their End of Financial Year preparations alone - local accountants and bookkeepers are well-versed in navigating some of these areas of concern and are just a phone call away. Chatting with them before getting started will not only address any additional considerations and ‘need to knows’, but more generally will set businesses on the right path before they get in the zone. Fortunately, we’re seeing many SMEs are taking this step.”

Four tips to get ‘good busy’ this EOFY:

  1. Getting in the zone. Everyone has different routines or tactics to help spur productivity and get in the zone before tackling important tasks – from starting with a strong cup of tea or coffee, to morning exercise, to putting in some headphones and listening to music. Find what works for you and you’ll also find your productive outputs increase at tax time.  

  2. Arrange your calendar to reflect your priorities. MYOB’s research shows the first hour of the day and earlier in the week is the most productive time for SMEs. Businesses can take advantage of this by prioritising their most important tasks for this time, and ensuring time allocated to this in the calendar factors in time to plan, in addition to doing the work.

  3. Set boundaries. In a work-from-home world, it’s important to establish parameters that help separate work and home life. From using an out of office response on email afterhours, blocking out the calendar for key tasks, or notifying colleagues when you’ll be ‘head down’ with a challenging task or project like preparing your tax assessment. Each will help create boundaries and give you a better sense of achievement as you design the day your way.

  4. Use technology to help increase productivity. The right technology can help remove time-consuming administrative tasks for EOFY like sourcing and submitting all income and expenses, recording payroll changes and calculating tax. By investing in a platform that automates these tasks, business owners or managers will find themselves with more time to get ‘good-busy’ and capitalise more on productive moments.