When ex-Sydney Swans AFL player Adam Goodes launched the Indigenous Defence and Infrastructure Consortium (IDIC)Opens external site almost three years ago, he had no idea it would have such an immense impact on other Indigenous-operated SMEs.
The IDIC currently works with a consortium of over 80 Indigenous small businesses, bringing them together to help them engage with and secure major Australian infrastructure and defence contracts. "Today, the businesses we work with offer more than 500 different services," he says, representing everything from "civil and IT companies to web and design, videographers and cleaners."
The idea for the IDIC began in response to a government white paper detailing defence spending of more than $200 billion over the next 10 years.
"The Indigenous Procurement Policy had just been launched, and yet that money [the defence budget] was sitting outside its reach. We recognised the need to help Indigenous businesses build their capability to win opportunities in the defence and infrastructure space," Goodes says.
"The first 12 months of the IDIC's life was spent lobbying the government to make sure we could have Indigenous engagement as part of those big defence spends. Any defence policy you see now will have an Indigenous engagement component, and that was because of the work we have done with the policy writers in Canberra."
"Then the last two years have been spent working with the tier-one primes (large companies who have secured contracts) in defence, like Boeing, BAE and Fujitsu, looking at how we can help Indigenous businesses infiltrate their procurement."
Goodes and his team spend a lot of their time flying across Australia to meet inspirational Indigenous business owners to discuss their capabilities and the projects they work on.
"I love seeing how the business owners we work with are such positive role models for their children and their employees," he says.
"Australia's Indigenous business sector is growing by about 300 businesses a year, and all are SMEs. Plus, the Indigenous business sector is 100 times more likely to hire Indigenous employees than other people."
"If I can filter as much money into this sector [as I can], more Indigenous people are going to benefit from that in the community. It's a proud moment when businesses don't need our services any more – when they've grown to be so big and capable, they can take the clients we've been working with and support them from afar."
"The great thing about being a SME is that you're the boss. You get to choose who you work with, the direction of your company, when you take time off, who you employ," says Goodes.
"The best advice I ever received as a SME was to have smarter people than you in the room at all times. I've been very lucky in that my three business partners have all been working in the Indigenous business sector for the last 15 years, and corporate Australia for the last 30 years. To learn from them, be challenged by them, hear their advice – it helps me grow and improve, and helps me be a better leader."
"Owning a business, you get to really understand how tough it can be but also see the immediate rewards. You have to be passionate about what you're doing as a SME."
Goodes believes that one of the most important factors contributing to the success of Australian SMEs is being able to deliver on your product or service.
"The key is understanding what your business is and the market you're going in to, work out your point of difference, and what you need to deliver on. Where I've seen businesses fail is when they take too much on," he says.
"You need to be true to your business values and behaviours. Understand your partners, your responsibilities, what you're signing up for. And make sure you have fun when you do it. It's tough, but it's rewarding."
"As fulfilling as life as a relatively new SME is, it's never easy," says Goodes.
"The biggest challenge for us, and other SMEs I imagine, is that everyone is heads down, bums up, working in the business. Like other small companies we face obstacles such as winning contracts, paying bills, paying employees, getting funds from clients.
"If you think of any SME and the challenges they have, it multiplies when you have an Indigenous business. We've only had 50 years where we've been able to vote, get educated or have a loan, so while there's a lot of knowledge sharing and support among members of the indigenous business community, we're starting from a long way back. We're good at overcoming adversities in our lives, and there are some real role models in the business community now. There's no better time to be an Indigenous person when it comes to opportunities in the workforce."
"As a small business owner, one of the greatest benefits I see of being a Qantas Business Rewards member is that all employees can personally earn Qantas Points every time they fly work, while the IDIC earns points at the same time. It's like the business is getting rewarded twice.
"The main way IDIC earns points is through flights – we travel all across Australia – but you can also earn them through other everyday business expenses. There are more than 50 different ways and businesses that you can earn Qantas Points through, whether it's upgrading your business' technology, purchasing office supplies, hiring cars, topping up on petrol… These are all inevitable business expenses but now you can actually earn Qantas Points when you make them.
"So far we have used points accumulated to book flights and for flight upgrades. It's a great way to give employees a reward for their hard work. The business could use these points any way we like, whether it's to book other flights, hotels or for car hire… it's quite amazing that there is a rewards program that SMEs can tap into to earn personally and for the business at the same time."
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We pay respect to Elders past, present and emerging.