Fighting the cause for small business owners

The Cayman Islands Small Business Association has been gaining steady momentum in recent months, holding informative meetings with keynote speakers, rallying members to speak out on matters of collective interest and generally showcasing the benefits of joining such an organisation for Cayman’s hard working small business community.

Rhonda Kelly, president of the CISBA and co-owner of event planners Kelly Holding has been a busy woman in recent months. As well as guiding her own small business through tough recessionary times she, along with a dedicated executive board, has been instrumental in helping others develop their own small business across Grand Cayman.

Established in 2009 the CISBA now boasts a robust 40-something membership and new recruits are joining in a steady stream.

Top priorities

When the organisation first formed, several small business owners from a large cross section of business types brainstormed to drill down to the top issues of concern for small business owners, in a bid to set priorities for the association.

“Finance is a huge issue and is No. 1 on our list of priorities,” Kelly explains. “From both the perspective of obtaining finance in the form of loans as well as the unfair drain on finances for small business owners when it comes to across-the-board fees to be paid to government (such as immigration and duty fees) which remain the same cost whether your company has five or 50 employees,” she says.

Kelly says a way needs to be found whereby government gives some form of support to small businesses, because finding the funding necessary to grow and develop a small business in Cayman is extremely difficult.

“We would like to see government either guarantee loans for small business owners or force banks to lend to small business owners based on the merits of the business and not purely on the collateral they can provide,” she comments. “An injection of cash by government on a modest scale of say $500,000 would help to start up a ton of new businesses.”

The issue of fees paid by small business owners is an issue of huge importance to CISBA members upon which they have just begun to lobby government.

“Small business owners are finding it hard enough struggling to pay their bills at the moment. Government simply cannot justify charging a small business the same fee for obtaining a work permit as it does for a large company,” she says. “It’s completely unfair for the small business owner.”

The initial step in this process is to have government define exactly what a small business is. Once the definition has been made then small businesses can enjoy any benefits that the government decides they should be allocated. But defining the term ‘small business’ is easier said than done.

“For the purposes of the CISBA we define a small business as having 10 or less employees,” Kelly explains. “But there are problems associated with the definition. For example, some business owners say that the possible benefits they may receive if their business is defined as “small” may inhibit them from growing their business greater than ten employees. Nevertheless we believe we have to start somewhere.”

Kelly also believes that it is imperative that government ensures that every business owner pays the fees required of them as a business owner, including trade and business licence fees, pension and health insurance for their employees, as conscientious employers who pay up suffer when bad employers don’t.

“If government departments work together these payments could be verified,” she says. “When an employer applies for a work permit to the Immigration Department, for example, they must confirm that they are paying pension and health insurance for that individual. But there is no verification required. Monitoring by Immigration once the work permit has been granted could be one way of ensuring payments are being made; another option might be to establish a more vigilant inspectorate, to ensure that all employees are properly covered in this respect.” A classic example of breaches in the law that harm conscientious small business owners is the proliferation of gift basket and flower sellers that occur on the side of the road in the lead up to occasions such as Mother’s Day, Easter and Valentine’s Day.

Kelly says she is sure that these individuals have not paid the requisite fees, to the detriment of small business owners who do.

“If someone has breached the law when it comes to pension and health insurance payments, they really should not be granted work permits,” she says emphatically. “And as a precaution, Immigration should request that employers produce pension and health insurance statements when they apply for any renewal of a work permit. I believe they also ought to conduct random spot checks of such proof,” she says.

Increased benefits

From the beginning it has been the intention of CISBA to provide members with benefits that are unavailable to non members.

“We really want members to feel that they have got something out of their annual membership fee ($100),” Kelly says. “We’ve worked hard to arrange informative events, such as the recent discussion on immigration with keynote speaker Sherri Bodden-Cowan who is the head of the Work Permit Board and leads the Immigration Review Team, as well as a look at trade and business licence reform with Dax Basdeo, chief officer in the Ministry of Finance.”

At the time of writing Kelly and her small team of CISBA board members were organising their next meeting looking at the impact of social media on small businesses and how businesses can market themselves using this technology.

“We should all be marketing ourselves on Facebook, as it’s an excellent way to get information out about our goods and services” she confirms. “There are a great many people conducting business through this medium. Websites are extremely affordable – we have some great web designers in our membership.”

Kelly is also organising the CISBA’s first small business expo, slated for mid May and to be held at the Mary Miller Hall, which she anticipates will give members the opportunity to showcase their business to the public.

“We are going to make it extremely reasonable for members to obtain a spot at the expo so they can properly interact with potential customers and make everyone aware of what they can offer. It will be a valuable tool for members,” she confirms.

Kelly says she thinks that the public is not really aware of just how much of the Cayman Islands are run by small business owners and that the message really needs to get out about what an important role small business owners play within the local community.

“The CISBA is playing an increasingly vital role in educating the public about small businesses, while at the same time championing the cause to ensure that small business owners are treated fairly and given all the opportunities they deserve to grow and prosper,” she says.

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From left, Madhavi Mathura, treasurer; Debbie Hand, director communications; Rhonda Kelly, resident; Joel Scott, vice president; and Annice Sambula, assistant secretary. Missing from photo is Magda Embury, secretary.

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