Small businesses are the lifeblood of our economy. More than one million of them operate in Australia, accounting for a staggering 97 percent of all private sector businesses. They employ around 3.6 million people, representing 33 percent of our workforce and 49 percent of all private sector employment.
They have to be their own marketer, accountant, lawyer, salesperson, OH&S expert, HR manager, IT technician and administration officer – and have a complete knowledge of all the legislation they need to comply with.
If they fail at any one of these jobs, they potentially lose everything they own. On the other hand, big business, with its multiple layers of management, guaranteed financial backup and knowledgeable managers in each department, shares advice and support internally and doesn’t risk ruin with each day-to-day decision.
Small business owners don’t expect or want hand-outs. Neither do they expect someone to run their business for them. So what helps them thrive?
Basically, just a little TLC and hand holding, in effect creating a “virtual” big business support system for them. An example of the benefits of this approach recently occurred in Penrith where 15 home-based operators created 35 new jobs in the last 12 months.
The keys to this extraordinary outcome were small business operators who were motivated, good at what they did, keen to learn and quick on the uptake. Add to this:
- training workshops that were short, sharp and relevant, including marketing and business planning, with accompanying tools and checklists
- appropriate and relevant information, such as economic data, business statistics and legislative changes that would impact negatively on the businesses if not complied with
- advice from consultants on innovation, copyright, IP protection or legal issues
- an environment conducive to productive networking
Most importantly, the business owners had the opportunity for one-on-one sessions, somewhere to drop in for a visit, or someone they had faith and trust in, just a phone call away.
Small businesses actually source 85 percent of their business from networking. However, networking for many is uncomfortable as it takes you outside your comfort zone. As a result, networking can end up being a waste of time, money and effort.
A key success factor in the Penrith case was to create a social environment for productive networking that allowed for trust to be built, information sharing, new customer development and social interaction.
To change a daunting experience into an enjoyable and productive one, the Penrith businesses were taught the following simple rules when networking:
- Make sure you can say, in 30 seconds, what you do and how well you do it.
- As listening is the key for identifying business opportunities, qualify who you are listening to – a potential customer, alliance partner or supplier.
- If you don’t make an appointment on the spot, jot on a business card any notes you need and follow them up the next day.
- Set your goals prior to joining a networking meeting, i.e. ten business cards, two appointments.
- Most of all remember that everyone else is there to network as well, so they expect to make appointments.
Successful small business owners/operators are quiet achievers. They are creative, knowledgeable, hard working and are worth every piece of support we can give them. Imagine the outcome if every single one of them grew by just “one” job!
Jane Holdsworth is the Chief Executive Officer of Penrith Valley Economic Development Corporation Ltd. Contact [email protected] or phone: (02) 4731 5711.