Craig Hudson is managing director of Xero NZ

It can be really easy to underestimate Aotearoa and its people. We're on a small set of rocks in the South Pacific, doing our best to stand out on the world stage as we go about our business.

It's how we are going about our business though that is worth taking note of because as it turns out - we stand out more than we realise.

In May we launched Xero Small Business Insights - a dashboard snapshot of the small business sector's health, updated monthly. The metrics are based on anonymised, aggregated data drawn from hundreds of thousands of our subscribers.


This gives us a robust picture of business conditions that is far more comprehensive than most other statistics can paint. It also deals with hard data rather than opinion, meaning we get true insight into how small businesses are actually faring, rather than how they think they are faring.

Xero Small Business Insights is also available in Australia and the UK, which gives us a good opportunity to review and benchmark how Kiwi small businesses are performing compared to their international cousins.

Take cash flow for example. Cash flow is a critical indicator of how a business is coping, often preemptively marking moments of success, or worse, the beginning of a demise.

In New Zealand, the data shows that in the year to March 2018 on average, 50 per cent of small businesses were cash flow positive in any given month. This is no mean feat.

Now compare this to the UK - while New Zealand had several months where more than half of small businesses had positive cash flows, we can see that the UK only had two months of cash flow positivity (51.7 per cent in October and 50 per cent in November).

One of the primary factors affecting cash flow negativity is the speed at which small businesses are getting paid. For every delayed invoice payment there is someone at the other end trying to balance the books and ensure the business can stay afloat.

Considering this, it then makes sense to see that the UK also struggles with late payments with more than half (52 per cent) of invoices being paid late in 2017. On average 30-day invoices were paid after 40 days, nationwide.

It's become so much of a problem that it has attracted the attention of the UK Government which continues to offer pledges and policies to try and combat this - especially in circumstances where small firms are at the mercy of large ones.


There is a similar, albeit slightly more positive, story in Australia. There, 42 per cent of invoices are paid late and again we are seeing Government involvement with policymakers in Canberra, including the Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, calling on lawmakers to mandate 30-day maximum payment times for business-to-business sales.

Our experience in New Zealand is considerably more positive with the average number of days to pay a 30-day invoice in our part of the world at 34.7 days.

However, it's still important to note that while 4.7 days, which is close to a full working week, can seem like only a small delay, for a small business even delays of a single day can have a huge impact. For small businesses in particular, every dollar counts and if something comes late, it can throw out weeks of positive financial management.

If we delve further into the metrics we can see which regions are the best at paying on time and which are the worst offenders.

Perhaps surprisingly, the region that suffers the most when it comes to late payments is Gisborne with 40.3 days. On the flip side though, those in Tasman pay their invoices not just on time, but early - five days early in fact at 25 days.

In Australia the team noted that Tasmania experienced on-time (or even early) payments each month and concluded that part of the secret may lie in its size.

With a small population there are fewer degrees of separation between people which may encourage small business owners to make prompt payments, rather than risk a poor reputation within the community.

Considering this theory, it makes sense to see one of our smaller regions with such positive payment results. In fact, if we consider that on a bigger scale and compare the Kiwi population with that of the UK, suddenly our speedier payments make sense.

The numbers confirm what many Kiwis in business already knew – we are not to be underestimated on the global stage.

We need to use this opportunity to showcase our small business economy as one that other countries can learn from.

It is crucial that the small business industry maintains this confidence if we are to continue leading the way on the global stage.