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Government launches live chat service for start-ups

Thursday, 2 December 2010 | By Michelle Hammond

Start-ups with business queries can now chat to live operators online, in a new feature of the Federal Government’s Small Business Support Line.

 

Small Business Minister Nick Sherry officially launched the Live Chat service yesterday, although it has already been running for more than a fortnight.

 

“In the first four days of operation… 27 discussion topics were started on Live Chat. It covered important issues for small business such as starting a business, registration and licenses, and occupational health and safety issues,” Sherry said at the launch.

 

Live Chat, which is delivered via www.business.gov.au, allows you to chat online to a Small Business Support Line agent. According to a spokesman for the minister, up to 15 agents are available at any one time.

 

“The Small Business Support Line is staffed by agents who have owned, operated or worked in small businesses and have strong customer service skills,” the spokesperson says.

 

“Chats initiated by customers are generally responded to within 60 seconds.”

 

Live Chat open on weekdays from 8am to 8pm but is closed on national public holidays. If the service is closed, you can still ask a question or provide feedback by leaving a message.

 

Technical problems are dealt with by contacting the Small Business Support Line on 1800 777 275.

 

The support line was launched earlier this year to provide a one-stop-shop for information and referral services available to small businesses.

 

Sherry says Live Chat was set up to assist tech-savvy small business owners and those who prefer an alternative to asking for assistance over the phone.

 

Peter Strong, executive director of the Council of Small Business of Australia, says Live Chat is an excellent initiative, particularly for start-ups.

 

“When start-ups need help, they need it straight away… It also means that you’re dealing with the person, not the business, which is how small business owners should be treated,” he says.

 

Strong says as the service gains publicity, the government may need to look at extending its contact hours to the weekend to accommodate more small businesses.

 

“The government needs to respond to the behaviour of small business owners, who nearly always do their books after-hours or on the weekend,” he says.

 

“The classic small business person will often do their accounts on Sunday morning, for example.”

 

Strong says the service will work well for office and home-based businesses, but is less suited to mobile businesses with limited access to the internet.

 

In addition to launching Live Chat, the Federal Government has congratulated the winner of the Small Business Award at the 48th Australian Export Awards held in Sydney recently.

 

The awards recognise the economic contributions of exporters in Australia.

 

Start-up firm Epichem, a contract drug company, was founded seven years ago by two scientists in WA and now exports to 18 countries.

 

It uses its expertise in synthetic and medicinal chemistry to deliver tailor-made products and services for customers, and generate intellectual property.

 

At the awards ceremony, Sherry commended Epichem for its scientific and business innovations.

 

“The company has been recognised for its clear international marketing strategy and the strength of its relationships with research institutes and international drug companies,” Sherry said.