Opinion: Don't see the benefit of the NBN for your small business? You're not the only one.
The small business people we know are doing things like juggling tax deadlines, chasing customers for overdue payments and the day-to-day job of getting their work done - that's if they have time to get their head around the latest cloud accounting services, or fiddling with Google Adwords and social media.
So it's perhaps not so surprising that four in ten Australian small business owners surveyed by Roy Morgan don't expect any benefit from the NBN, according to a report released this month.
Who can blame them? With all that going on, the NBN mightn't be top of mind. Perhaps they mightn't have looked very far into the potential benefits.
Other factors at play?
But is that the only reason? Despite these time pressures, you can find free online information about the NBN - the NBN Co has simplified its summary down to this 2-page PDF, with a bullet point list of five benefits.
Yet, as the Roy Morgan press release states, small business opinion is "clearly negative overall". Four in ten see no benefit for their business, three in ten do, and the rest are unsure of what the benefits will be.
We wonder what other reasons there could be for this:
- The states with the harshest criticism of the Federal Government's "performance at fostering a climate of business growth" in the Roy Morgan survey were also the same states reporting the "most scepticism" about the NBN. Roy Morgan's press release suggests "NBN attitudes may connect to general small business opinion of the Federal Government."
- We're getting news regularly about construction of the NBN, but it will still be years before many can connect to the network, or know any close colleagues that have done it. Tasmania claims it will be the first state in Australia "fully connected" to the NBN and that's expected in "mid-2015". Until there are more real-life stories from people business owners know personally, it's all theory for a lot of people.
- We also wonder how many business owners who haven’t taken the time to look into the NBN have dismissed it out of mind as an "Internet business" thing. If you're not what you might think of as an "online business" (Shoes of Prey and BikeExchange.com.au come to mind), if you don't sell online, you might not necessarily think the Internet and the NBN have the same relevance to you.
What are some benefits?
Below is a list of potential benefits the NBN could bring for a small business. We've covered these before in various articles and our NBN eBook:
- It's not just about download speed, it's about running several services over the Internet and your connection coping. One user we spoke to in the past told us that day -to-day web browsing didn't seem much faster, but now he was now able maintain decent quality telephone calls via his VOIP service while uploading large files at the same time.
- Continuing on from the last point, download speed is just one aspect. The NBN also brings the option of faster uploads - this might help if, for example, you're sending large customer files or using Dropbox. In theory, videoconferencing is another task that will benefit.
- Again, following the same point, another potential benefit is the ability to have several reliable VOIP telephone "lines" running to your business using the Internet. This is something you could do before, but not necessarily with the same level of reliability. Last year the NBN Co announced business services with special high-priority levels of traffic for this purpose.
- Not everyone can get decent broadband now. One of the stated aims is to "prioritise the roll-out of the NBN in regional Australia".
- NBN business plans are generally faster for a lot less money than DSL-based business-grade broadband services. Prices for NBN services vary according to which provider, which plan and all sorts of factors. That said, if you're a small business that want a business Internet plan now, the NBN plans can be cheaper and faster than what you'd pay now for some business services over DSL, such as Bonded DSL and SHDSL.
VOIP, videoconferencing - these are things that you don't necessarily have to be an "Internet business" to take advantage of.
But whether these things are a priority for many small businesses surveyed by Roy Morgan is another question.
Whatever your opinions about the NBN, our advice is that it couldn't hurt to think less about specific NBN capabilities and more about the bigger picture when it comes to the Internet.
As Brad Howarth pointed out in his article in our NBN eBook, whether or not there is an NBN, the important thing is how the Internet will affect your business. Think about your customers searching via Google and competitors invading your turf by selling online. These are things you can do something about, without waiting for the NBN.
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