Small business stories

Small businesses are the lifeblood of our communities, and as a business owner it is often hard to keep on top of everything. It can be difficult to find the right support and even more challenging finding the time to work through any issues.

There is support available and our team are able to assist you – whatever the challenge.

The following stories are about Queensland small businesses that have navigated their way through the challenges to find solutions. We hope you find some inspiration and useful ideas from their stories.

Informal resolution of small business disagreements

Selina had a range of issues with her lease from a rent increase (applied at a time when it was unacceptable for landlords to raise the rent), to invoices being issued late, as well as a request for an early release from her lease due to a personal situation. Selina requested assistance from us.

Over a 2-week period, Selina obtained information and assistance and started email and phone conversations with the real estate agent representing her landlord. With the knowledge and tools at her disposal, Selina was able to take the emotion out of her communication and together with the real estate agent, they presented an offer to the landlord.

A credit was offered for the months where the rent increase had incorrectly been applied, an early termination of the lease was granted, and a small rent reduction was applied for the remainder of the tenancy.

Key learnings

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Finding the right support

Nic and Katie, like many of the border zone small businesses in the Gold Coast area, were experiencing an even greater downturn in revenue compared to 2020. On top of the financial stress, Nic and Katie also felt the emotional strain of operating a business in uncertain times. The couple were unaware of the support available to them. Nic and Katie were visited by the QSBC Assistance team temporarily located at the Small Business Recovery Hub in Kirra.

Through one-to-one assistance, Nic and Katie were able to map out a plan which resulted in the couple accessing a $10,000 COVID-19 support payment, additional hardship support for the border zone affected businesses including mental health support, and strengthened their connections to their local community.

Key learnings

Advocacy wins

Cameron's business had been listed by Queensland Health as a close contact venue. We reached out to Cameron to provide information and to hear her concerns. Cameron reported that she had engaged a professional to do a deep clean and her staff had been cleared after quarantine. Despite this, her business was still on the exposure site list and customers were cancelling future food orders.

We shared Cameron's story with the Chief Health Officer and relevant government departments. As a result, Queensland Health created a 'historical' section in their contact tracing content, so that businesses were no longer listed as active COVID-19 exposure sites once the required time period had passed. We also were able to advocate for an 80% reimbursement of the professional costs relating to her COVID-19 exposure site cleaning.

Key learnings

Negotiating rent and other conditions in 2021

Angelino owns and operates a small coffee shop and was able to successfully reach an agreement about rent relief with his landlord in 2020. Due to restrictions and lockdowns caused by the on-going COVID-19 situation, Angelino's business had not recovered as well as he had hoped.

Angelino contacted the QSBC for help which lead to him sending a letter to his landlord that draws on the principles set out in the National Cabinet Mandatory Code of Conduct. In his letter, Angelino was able to demonstrate the steps he was taking to ensure he could continue his commitment to pay rent at an amount to be negotiated, based on independent advice given to him from financial counsellors. We assisted Angelino by working with both parties to help them reach an agreement at mediation.

Key learnings

Sam is retired and owns a property in Cairns that he leases out to a commercial tenant; this is his only source of income. Sam negotiated rent relief in 2020 through an exchange of emails with his tenant using the Retail Shop Leases and Other Commercial Leases (COVID-19 Emergency Response) Regulation 2020 (the Regulation). Sam was aware that the tenant has up to 24 months, plus an additional 12 months in which to pay off the agreed deferred rent, however the tenant was yet to start making those repayments as agreed, and they had also stopped paying their current monthly rent.

Not knowing what to do, Sam contacted our office. With our assistance, Sam learnt about the rights and obligations for himself and his tenant, based on the Regulation. The matter was then referred for mediation where the mediator helped both parties resolve their issues. The mediator then drew up a formal settlement agreement saving Sam potentially thousands of dollars in solicitor's fees to draft an agreement.

Key learnings

  • Sam learn about his rights and obligations per the Regulation.
  • As a small business owner, he accessed financial advice from the small business financial counsellors.
  • Sam was able to access fast and fair mediation that enabled both parties to reach an agreement.

“I want to acknowledge and thank the landlords that have shown significant generosity this past year, even though so many are small businesses themselves and may have received little to no COVID support. The key to all rent and other tenancy negotiations is good communication and while it is no longer a legal requirement for landlords to offer rent reductions to tenants still suffering ongoing losses, we see many examples of landlords and tenants willing to work together to preserve a good commercial relationship. It is never too late to start a conversation.”

– Maree Adshead, Small Business Commissioner

Negotiating rent relief and other conditions in 2020

Mary's business was forced to temporarily close in July 2020. Her sales were severely impacted, and she was unable to negotiate rent relief with her landlord due to differing opinions. Mary had been on good terms with her landlord of 15 years, but when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the relationship became strained as both parties disagreed on the amount of rent relief that should be applied.

Mary submitted a request for assistance with the QSBC where she provided information to assess her eligibility for free mediation. After meeting the criteria, Mary and her landlord were provided with mediation where the independent mediator worked with both parties to understand their financial situations and work out the fairest form of rent relief.

Key learnings

  • Mary used the QSBC's template letter to open communications with her landlord.
  • She learnt about and accessed the Rural Financial Counselling Service to help understand her financial position and how much rent she could afford to pay.
  • Mary accessed fast and fair mediation through the QSBC.

“Since May 2020, the QSBC has assisted small business tenants and landlords with leasing and COVID related rent matters. Over 1,000 disputes have been lodged with us, resulting in hundreds of free mediations with a roughly 65–70% rate of being successfully resolved. Behind every one of those numbers is a family, employees and their families, their suppliers and their families, it goes on. Not every story has had a happy ending, however what the QSBC has managed to achieve for hundreds of tenants and landlords is to at least preserve commercial relationships, and hopefully the time and space they've needed to recover.”

– Maree Adshead, Small Business Commissioner