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Boss Insights 2021: The rise of the self-employed

Download the full Boss Insights 2021 report, Sole trader surge: small business in a post-COVID world.

It’s hard to believe that when we launched our first Boss Insights report back in February 2020, the word ‘pandemic’ had barely entered our collective vocabulary. Inside, we spoke of the great Australian dream of becoming your own boss, the ease of working from the cloud, and the regional hubs leading the charge. Since then, the arrival of COVID-19 has changed the way we live and work for good.

Despite the challenges that 2020 brought, our latest research shows Australia has yet again proven to be an overwhelmingly resilient nation. And while many businesses had no choice but to shed staff or close their doors, a host of Aussies were prompted to take the leap to self-employment. All of which goes to show that, while the ripple effects will undoubtedly be felt for some time, it takes more than a pandemic to dampen our entrepreneurial spirit.

Where our first report examined over 30 years of data to uncover where opportunity lies for small businesses, this edition focuses solely on 2020 – such are the requirements of a year like no other. Interestingly, a number of the patterns that we previously highlighted – growth in business ownership (albeit, this time strictly solo), increased use of technology, and the rise of the regions – have come back stronger in Boss Insights 2021.

The digitisation accelerator

So how have we come back stronger during a year of challenges? Well, we know that periods of economic downturn can often speed up the arrival of new trends, and in 2020 the acceleration of digitisation went into overdrive. Technology may have already allowed us to work anytime, from anywhere, but many were limited by inflexible schedules and office commutes. Then, seemingly overnight, 4.3 million Australians found themselves working from home.

In turn, some discovered that the economic uncertainty that sadly caused them to lose their jobs, had also brought about new potential. Various industries not only weathered the pandemic storm, but managed to grow considerably. From couriers to accountants, solicitors to IT and healthcare workers; there continues to be countless new opportunities to be found.

And while some did struggle, with many small to large businesses adapting and decreasing in size, we saw sole trader businesses increase over the 2019/2020 financial year. Suddenly, people everywhere from Mickleham to Maitland had the freedom (and incentive) to start something of their own. It is these brave souls, who launched into self employment, who are helping carry our country forward.Now more than ever, our future lies with the smallest of businesses. As unemployment numbers steadily draw closer to pre-COVID levels (and struggling industries work to recover), it’s time to support Australia’s newest bosses as they grow to take on their first employees. This is why Xero is committed to bettering the lives of people in small business, their advisors and communities around the world – all so we can keep moving forward together, step by step.

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