Last Updated on Thursday, 13 October, 2022 at 10:34 am by Andre Camilleri
Business 1st serves to bridge the gap between entrepreneurs and government services, the CEO of the company, Marika Tonna, said.
In an interview with The Malta Independent on Sunday, Tonna explained how the company’s main goal is to be the first point of contact for business-related government services.
Business 1st offers information and assistance on government-to-business services to entrepreneurs and micro-enterprises.
“We offer the necessary support to businesses to apply for incentives and schemes offered by Malta Enterprise and by the Government of Malta,” she said.
Tonna highlighted how Business 1st, now celebrating its fifth anniversary since it joined the Chamber of SMEs, helps and supports start-ups and entrepreneurs.
“We sit down with start-ups and offer certain information even if they do not ask. We would like to give a service which is slightly professional but also informal. Ultimately, we are here to help,” Tonna said.
Tonna said that Business 1st wanted to give the impression of “one stop shop” for the government. So it offers an amalgamated service to assist entrepreneurs and micro-enterprises by simplifying the process of applying for government services.
Therefore, instead of a business or entrepreneur interacting with several different government departments going through different processes, they can do all this directly through Business 1st which represents a number of government entities.
Although you are celebrating the five-year anniversary since establishing Business 1st Ltd, it had actually been offering its services before?
I like to call this Business 1st mark two because Business 1st had originally been established years before. It was a department within Malta Enterprise, and it offered a number of services.
Five years ago we decided to revamp Business 1st completely, so we set it up as a limited liability company with the Chamber of SMEs because micro-enterprises were our main clients. We help everyone who comes to our doors but our main clients are still micro-enterprises.
We have also established ourselves within the servizz.gov network. So on one hand we have the push of the private sector, so the private sector is telling us what to do and what is needed. On the other hand, we have servizz.gov which has established service delivery standards.
What is also different from the original Business 1st, is that now we offer amalgamated services. So if you want to set up a business before you used to have to go to the VAT department. What has changed is that now you can go to one officer and that one officer will guide you from A to Z.
Which government entities are represented here?
At the moment we have our own, Malta Enterprise, so we offer a holistic service to help start-ups and guide through all incentives.
We have the Commissioner for Revenue (CFR), and there are representatives on a daily basis for income tax and the VAT department.
Every day we also have the Malta Tourism Authority (MTA), so anyone who is interested in obtaining a licence for short let, restaurants or hotels then there is a holistic service there. How it works is that you register your business with us and then you move on to MTA desk, but all in the same place.
We also have agreements with other entities such as Environmental Health and the Planning Authority whereby if you have any questions we contact them online instantly as we thrive to provide a holistic service as much as possible.
What have been some milestones in the last five years?
The realisation that from day one we wanted to give the impression of one stop shop for the government. We realised that an entrepreneur or a start-up company that has never done business and does not know all the government entities required, they do not know their way around departments.
So what we did was we got all the forms starting from self-employed, there were around 8. We made agreements with all these departments, and then we amalgamated it into one form and nowadays to become self-employed you just fill in this one form.
We also worked very closely especially with CFR so that the holistic service is improved, and if you want to register as self-employed, by the time you are out of Business 1st you would have had your VAT number, Jobsplus etc. all set up.
We also sit down with start-ups and offer certain information even if they do not ask us, like how to pay your social security or explain the certain obligations that come with having a VAT number.
So we answer all their queries, but also give them information that they might not have thought about. So if they tell us they want to set up a pharmacy for example we tell them ourselves, ‘look you need a licence,’ even if they do not ask us. So we try to guide them.
What does the future hold for Business 1st ltd?
We are working on a very ambitious project at the moment. We obviously want more services at our offices, because we do believe that some people no matter how many online services we offer, would want a personal touch.
Business 1st is currently working on a business portal which would incorporate 38 different entities.
So when you are starting a business the portal will start asking you questions through which the system differentiates the type of workflow offers to the user.
We got together hundreds of forms, and we have divided them into life events, for example, forms for starting a business, forms for paying taxes, forms relating to licences, etc.
This portal is based on sharing information with the ‘once-only principle’. So once you give a piece of information to the government, another department will not ask for it.
Next year we will be implement the first services of this portal and we are all looking forward to this project to come into realisation. Our role in simplification of business is crucial for the government system and this portal is the culmination of such efforts.
What was the role of Business 1st Ltd during the Covid-19 months and the 26 months of government assistance package managed by Malta Enterprise?
CEO of Malta Enterprise, Kurt Farrugia had asked us whether we would accept to be the front, the customer liaisons, with the businesses that wanted to apply for the wage supplement. I obviously accepted immediately without knowing what it entailed.
They were interesting times …we got thousands of calls, and we were busy coordinating our teams as necessary. Do not forget this was a period when we were all working from home. I had no doubt that our staff would work hard, but we were still concerned about the impact on the wellbeing of our employees this would all have.
Initially, it was very difficult because we were not used to dealing with clients some of whom were desperate, some of them were panicking, and they tell you the story of their life. So even for us emotionally it was quite difficult, but we are very proud that we managed. Not only that, but we went out of our way to help them if certain details were not correct, to guide them about the forms they had to fill in to correct their data because until the wage supplement came along certain businesses did not realise how important it was to keep your data with the government up to date.
When the wage supplement came around, because the wage supplement was totally online, I had one person working round the clock helping clients fill it in online very patiently explaining it to them. It was quite a simple form but for people who did not know how to use a computer, it was quite difficult for them.
How would anyone approach Business 1st to access your services?
We are on the main road at Mriehel. We are open from 8 am to 4 pm Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. Then on Wednesdays, we are open from 8 am till 7 pm. We stay open late on Wednesdays because we understand that some people would want to come here after work. Then on Friday, we are open from 8am till 1pm.
It is a drop-in service, you do not need to set up an appointment, you can if you want to but we have a charter whereby you should not wait very long. Then there is our phone number, 144, which is open from 8am till 4pm. You can also contact us through our website businessfirst.com.mt or send an email on firstname.lastname@example.org.