Bill Lang radio interview on 2GB with Michael McLaren

In this engaging radio segment, Michael McLaren explores the surging trend of young Australians venturing into entrepreneurship, as revealed by recent Commonwealth Bank data. Bill Lang, Director of Small Business Australia, provides insights into the challenges and triumphs of starting a business. The conversation covers the changing nature of small businesses, the role of online platforms, and the financial hurdles faced by aspiring entrepreneurs. Bill Lang emphasizes the importance of learning from mistakes, navigating regulatory challenges, and highlights the entrepreneurial spirit as the backbone of local communities. An inspiring discussion for those considering or currently navigating the dynamic landscape of small business.

Thinking of starting a business? Check out the Get The Edge program.

Radio transcript.

Tony Moclair  00:00

Bill Lang is Executive Director, Small Business Australia, you don’t have an economy without small business. It’s as simple as that. Bill. Good afternoon.

Bill Lang  00:13

Good day, Tony,

Tony Moclair  00:15

Bill, give us a scale of the impact for your members.

Bill Lang  00:19

Yeah well I think we’ve got a couple of million small businesses across Australia Tony, and it’s about 5 million Australians that work in them and depend upon them being able to operate to communicate with customers, collect cash and of course, these days, you know, without a reliable internet service and a reliable telephone service and reliable payment systems. You can’t communicate with customers, you can’t collect cash from them. And so therefore, many, many businesses that have been relying upon Optus are in a lot of trouble today.

Tony Moclair  00:47

Do you regard Optus as the worst of the ISPs or at the end of the day do they all roughly come out equal?

Bill Lang  00:55

Look it’s not something that I’ve got any empirical data on with respect to them. But we must remember that the NBN itself is a federal government owned, you know, monopoly utility.

Tony Moclair  01:07


Bill Lang  01:07

And that all of the retail ISPs connecting the up from the NBN perspective on that government owned monopoly. So that’s on that side. The mobile phone networks, of course, are very different some of 5g, some of 4g, and many cases, they get shared. But I couldn’t make a comment either way, Tony, but one important thing that every business owner is now learning is, you’ve got to have a Plan B with respect to your office connection, your home connection, your mobile connection and your ability to take payments. And so you’ve got to have, it’s no good trying to get Plan B organised when Plan A is the only thing you had, and it’s out.

Tony Moclair  01:43

Do you foresee something like a class action lawsuit on behalf of your members? Or do, can you imagine, let’s say if you don’t instigate that, do you think small businesses acting of their own accord will?

Bill Lang  01:55

It’s not the sort of thing that Small Business Australia gets involved with but I’ve already had two messages come through from class action law firms this morning wanting to have a call and have a conversation. So yeah, those guys work on success. If they can, they can see $1 there’ll be chasing the ambulance, Tony.

Tony Moclair  02:13

I think we all know that, we’ve all seen Better Call Saul, we know how they operate. So what would you advise then your members to do is just to take the rest of the day off or develop some sort of workaround?

Bill Lang  02:18

Well, look, we’ve already heard from business owners that have gone out and got themselves a prepaid SIM card that’s on another network. So at least they’ve been able to get some connectivity via mobile phones. Some are already rocking up with places like Officeworks and getting a modem that will automatically switch to, you know, 5g mobile phone, if the NBN goes down but, look, a lot of people will be reflecting on the impact of this. But in the internet world, Tony, nothing is guaranteed, nothing is 100% always going to be up. So you really got to be a bit more proactive and have a fire break in place. And that fire break is having your Plan B already organised. A prepaid SIM card, you can use, another NBN provider and certainly these days, point of sale on your mobile phone, they call it SoftPos. So if your major payment platform goes down, you can automatically get your customers, you know, paying via a SoftPos on your mobile phone in your shop.

Tony Moclair  03:20

There’s a word I did not expect to add to my vocabulary today. SoftPos, and we’d only get it from Bill Lang, Executive Director, Small business Australia. Go well, Bill, thank you for your time.

Bill Lang  03:30

Yeah, thanks a lot, Tony. Great to hear during the daylight hours, mate.

Tony Moclair  03:33

Good man. Thank you, Bill. Appreciate it

Tony Moclair  03:36

Well, they’re with me on the line now is Bill Lang, Director of Small Business Australia.

Bill Lang  03:44

G’day Tony.

Tony Moclair  03:45

Bill as a barometer of economic activity, people under 40 starting businesses, it’s it’s a real roll of the dice. You don’t know what could happen. Is it a good sign?

Bill Lang  03:55

Oh, look, it’s it’s great news. And I think we should have great sense of optimism about the future that, you know, we’ve got young people that have been out working for a while and become young adults and throwing their hat in the ring at you know, having a go at having their own business and you know, these incredible benefits for them and for all society, Tony.

Tony Moclair  04:13

To what extent is in terms of life experience, ignorance, bliss, if you’ve never started a business before you don’t know the obstacles or the pitfalls, is it a good thing to be, let’s say ignorant?

Bill Lang  04:26

Well look, I think, let’s have probably informed ignorance is doing some basic research. But of course, until you get out there and put it in front of customers, you won’t really know whether customers are going to buy it. So in some cases, you’re being totally ignorant. Not a great idea but informed ignorance and having a go of good thing.

Tony Moclair  04:48

Technology makes it possible, doesn’t it?

Bill Lang  04:51

Absolutely. And these days, you know, for very low costs and sort of you know, paying as you go you can get a website, you can do some digital marketing, you can test some ideas. Whereas several years ago that would be costing you 10s of 1000s of dollars just to get a website built so that the costs of getting going and trying are the lowest they’ve ever been. And, and now we’ve got access to customers all around the world, Tony, if they’ve got the internet, now they’ve got the potential to be a customer.

Tony Moclair  05:15

So in terms of satisfying those customers and shipping to them, how much does the large, massive, immovable regulatory state stand in their way?

Bill Lang  05:30

Look, I think it varies from country to country, and in some cases, you know, within countries. Now, this is sort of an area where, look, if you can’t get across all of the regulations that are out there, you know, sort of question whether any politician can actually tell us what they’ve got in place. There’s no doubt there’s too many of them. But, you know, get going. And, you know, as someone who was taught by the Christian Brothers, in some cases, rather than sort of seeking permission, says ask for forgiveness Tony.

Tony Moclair  05:54

Yes. Good advice. All right. And if you don’t seek forgiveness in this life, there’s always the next I’m sure they told you that to Bill. How long does it take, for the average small business started by somebody under 40, to turn a profit,

Bill Lang  06:09

I’ll look at that very much varies Tony by the industry, the location, what the costs are, that you’ve actually got. So you know, at the end of the day, you know, profit is revenue, exceeding cost, and ideally generating some money for the owner to live on and to generate a return. So it varies a lot. But look, you can get a very small business going and throw your hat in the ring online and doing some online retailing, you know, for literally under a couple $100 a month and yeah sell a few items and make a 50% margin and you could be profitable within three or four months.

Tony Moclair  06:38

What would be your advice, your director of Small Business Australia, your advice to somebody in their 20s with a smartphone or a computer, and an entrepreneur, an entrepreneurial urge, what would you advise Bill?

Bill Lang  06:51

Look, I reckon the first thing is, have a look in your, if you’re living at home having a look in your bedroom, or have a look around the house, what’s there that no one’s using and get something on eBay or get on a Facebook group and have a go at selling it.

Tony Moclair  07:02


Bill Lang  07:02

So start, start learning about promotion, selling, you know, dealing with customers, dealing with the general public. Very easy to get going. And then every time you interact with a business to say to yourself, how could this be better? How could this business be improved? And you know, what, do the business owner a favour and make a positive, proactive, constructive suggestion because we want every small business to do better and to survive and thrive?

Tony Moclair  07:25

I saw one, one young entrepreneur was talking about the size of their business. And she said, we don’t have a marketing budget so relationships are key, can you just expand on that?

Bill Lang  07:36

Yeah look, the most valuable asset in any business are loyal customers. And the way to think about customers, if they’re loyal is they stay, say and pay. So they keep buying from you. They say great things about other people, about you to other people that give you positive reviews, they review you. And they’re quite happy to pay a premium. So you know, and it’s about relationships. And technology can’t really have relationships with you, people have relationships. So the entrepreneur is spot on Tony.

Tony Moclair  08:00

Good work. Thank you for your time this afternoon, Bill. Bill Lang, Director of Small Business Australia