'It’s been extremely difficult’: How female sole traders are rebuilding after COVID

‘It’s been extremely difficult’: How female sole traders are rebuilding after COVID

This special feature is supported by managed invoicing, tax and insurance service for sole traders, Hnry.

Sole traders are often considered the backbone of our economy. With 1.5 million of them dispersed across Australia, they contribute over $90 billion to Australia’s GDP every year.

One of them is Sydney-based Debborah Nohokau, who started Glean Cleaning Services, a commercial and domestic cleaning business, back in 2013.

Before the pandemic, Glean Cleaning Services was a successful operation, employing four people and serving businesses and households in the Sutherland Shire area. But in March 2020, when COVID-19 hit, Nohokau says she lost all her clients in what seemed like an instant.

“When COVID-19 hit and that first lockdown was imposed, everyone stopped needing cleaning practically overnight,” Nohokau told Women’s Agenda recently.

“Both the domestic and the commercial sides of the business just stopped.”

Having lost her income as a sole trader, Nohokau was eligible for a government grant that went some way to covering what she had lost and her ongoing expenses, but much of the damage to her thriving business had been done.

Debborah Nohokau of Glean Cleaning Services

Without clients needing her cleaning services, she took on extra days as a receptionist at a law firm she had previously worked at to get by. Two years on, she’s starting to slowly rebuild and is gratefully reconnecting with past clients.

But she no longer has any staff and says after an exhausting two years of stress she doesn’t necessarily have the energy to train new people.

“You have to have a lot of courage to be a sole trader,” Nohokau says. “The majority of us begin because we have a passion for it. When time are tough, extra support especially with things like tax and invoices, and working out what grants you may be eligible for, can go such a long way.”

According to new research conducted by Hnry, an online accountancy service for sole traders, the financial impacts of the pandemic have been detrimental to the mental health of sole traders.

Hnry’s research found that sole traders who have been financially impacted by COVID-19 are eight times more likely to report poor mental health. Meanwhile, just 12 per cent of sole traders believed their business had done better since March 2020, a statistic that highlights the massive struggles continuing to face sole traders.

Further, just 23 per cent of Victorian and 25 per cent of NSW sole traders – who have been most affected by lockdowns – said the financial performance of their business was “good” or “very good”last year.

Makeup artist Maree Orerel, whose business Makeup Maree provides services between Yamba and the Gold Coast, has felt this same sting.

She says her stress levels have risen significantly during the pandemic, and feels frustrated that she’s now in a position where she’s working for her business, more than it working for her.

“It has put a much greater strain on me and my family trying to work around things that I wouldn’t normally necessarily take on because of a desperation to get work when it’s available and to compete in the industry more than ever,” she told Women’s Agenda.

Orerel says there’s a lack of understanding around how much work it takes to get things back on track once COVID-19 restrictions ease.

“Doing weddings and events and things like that, they take time to plan again before it filters through to the vendors. So, when things open up it’s not just like ‘bang, it’s busy’,” she says. “Sometimes it feels like that’s what everyone believes and it’s a convenient message that the government also pushes. It takes time for business to rebuild.”

Orerel is now working overtime in Makeup Maree, making up for all the lost business during COVID-19.

“You literally have no downtime because you’re trying to make up for such a long period of flux and uncertainty in which business was flat-line,” she says.

“It’s been extremely difficult and I know it’s not just me. It’s a lot of other people who are in the same situation. There’s just been a lot of anxiety and angst because you don’t know if you can keep up with what you’re taking on, and the pressure of what is expected of you.

“You’re also trying to keep a level of perfection and pride in your business, and not wanting to let the ball drop at all. So the pressure is pretty immense.”

Maree Orerel with her family

Orerel says she’d like to see continued support from the government now that JobKeeper has stopped.

“With the stop and start that’s gone on over the past two years, the money that I make goes directly into supporting my family and keeping on top of things, but there’s been very little excess profit,” she says.

“Any kind of funding which might go toward helping sole traders re-do websites, support advertising costs, streamline tax and accounting and help everyone get back out properly in market would be hugely valuable.

“There’s so much work that goes on behind the scenes and when you’re a one-person team, it really leaves little time or energy to put into those additional facets of the business outside of the daily running of operations and trade.”

This special feature is supported by managed invoicing, tax and insurance service for sole traders, Hnry.

Are you self-employed or freelancing? Make it easier for yourself with Hnry, the online accountancy service that calculates, deducts, and pays your taxes as you go. Hnry’s accountants will also review your expenses and lodge all of your returns whenever they’re due. They’ll even chase unpaid invoices for you. Join Hnry now.

Stay Smart! Get Savvy!

Get Women's Agenda in your inbox