Fighting for small businesses

The Cayman Islands
Small Business Association was formed in 2009 to represent the specific
interests of small businesses. Rhonda Kelly, the president of CISBA, says she
wanted to do something for small businesses for years and when she mentioned
the idea of launching an advocacy and interest group, the feedback from small
businesses owners was resoundingly positive.

The political
environment also appeared to be favourable, as the premier mentioned small
businesses in many of is speeches and the topic became a sort of “political
football”, says Kelly.

The initial meeting
of the organisation was already very productive in addressing all objectives
and formulating a mission statement, she says. “That was very easy to do
because despite the variety of businesses that were in that meeting, everybody
was feeling the same thing.” 

Encompassing small
businesses as diverse as a nail salon, event organisers, IT companies and a
dental clinic, member firms are united by the need for a true representation of
their interests as well as a common exposure to the current state of the
economy.

“I have owned my
small business since 2002 and we have had challenges, but we never had
challenges like we had this past year,” she says. “A lot of the small
businesses that I talk to are going through the same thing.”

Although not all the
issues faced by small businesses are the result of the recession, most are
amplified by the economic situation.

Other business
organisations certainly have their purpose and merits but they are often unable
to speak specifically for small businesses, says Kelly.

CISBA, in contrast,
is going to tackle a number of issues identified by its membership. To this end
the association has formed subcommittees that will formulate action plans and
constructive proposals that can then be submitted to either government or
business partners.

For example, Kelly
says: “We are going to fight for small retailers.”

A banking and
financing subcommittee is currently preoccupied with the conditions offered to
small businesses in terms of financing and banking fees. Large retailers such
as supermarkets for instance pay lower rates for the use of debit cards by
their customers than smaller retailers, explains Kelly. “But small companies
are the ones that cannot afford it.”

She adds: ”We want to
find a way to leverage our power with the banks in order to get these kinds of
fees and rates lowered and show that we do have the numbers that are worth
listening to.”

Health insurance will
be another area where small businesses may benefit from better terms if they
were represented by CISBA, she says.

Fees are also an
issue as far as the government is concerned. “There is no way you can justify a
company the size of Cable and Wireless paying the same kind of work permit fee
that I pay for a manager,” Kelly says.

“There has to be a
scale and it has to be fair and equitable across the board.”

In order to implement
such a differentiation in future legislation, the law would first have to
define what constitutes a small business. Current plans define a small business
as having fewer than 10 employees, not including the company owners. This
definition may in the future also feature a financial component through which
companies can demonstrate that they qualify for certain exemptions or lower fees.

CISBA has adopted the
definition. Thus to become a member of CISBA a business must have less than ten
employees.

Further issues the
association is currently concerned with are the problems that businesses have
with debt collection and the small claims court.

“The judicial system
is quite cumbersome,” says Kelly,”so we have founded another subcommittee that
is going to deal with judicial issues in regards to helping small businesses
get through these things and get through them quicker.”

In addition to
identifying these problem areas for small businesses and formulating
constructive proposals, CISBA will offer cross-promotional and knowledge
sharing benefits. Cross-promotion is endorsed by the organisation and Kelly
explains that members “have been able to recommend each other, give each other
work and support each other”.

Many members, she
points out, are willing to share their knowledge and experience, for example in
IT or marketing, with other members for free. Moreover the association plans to
host  presentations by successful local
entrepreneurs.

CISBA started to take
official memberships in January 2010. Some obstacles remain. Its application to
be recognised as a nonprofit organisation is still being processed. The
near-term objective is to grow the membership to gain more political weight
with the government and be in a better negotiating position with business
partners.

The government has
already expressed interest in what the organisation has to say and Dwayne
Seymour, the minister who is tasked with small business issues has attended a
couple of CISBA meetings.

“We have not really
heard a lot from that, but to be fair we have not given solid proposals yet.”
The association’s executive committee is due to meet in September to formulate
more definitive plans.

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