I was lucky enough to be invited to speak at Ku-ring-gai’s Business Forum hosted at CSIRO, Lindfield last week. The subject was “Let’s futureproof our local economy” and the other speakers were the Hon Paul Fletcher MP – Local Federal Member and Dr Cathy Foley – Science Director and Deputy Director Manufacturing CSIRO. Over 100 people turned out at 7 o’clock in the morning to help shape support for local business being organised by William Adams.
Councillor Cheryl Szatwo, the Mayor of Ku-ring-gai introduced the event with Walt Disney’s great quote: “If you can dream it, you can do it”.
Listening to the first two speakers it occurred to me that there are two types of innovation and the speakers focused on the first which is creating new companies whose sole concept is something new - that is those creating innovative new products, start-ups and those at incubator such as Stone and Chalk in the city.
The second type of innovation is in the processes and systems used by companies in order to be more efficient and provide the customers with the products and service they need. An example of this is Pablo & Rusty who are just about to open a store in Brisbane which is going to be cashless. They are going to be using reusable coffee cups as well is cards or phones to take money using Square payments technology.
There are four key areas which are a challenge for small businesses.
- The first is keeping up to speed with innovations that are relevant to them. There are several strategies that can be used to solve this problem-the first is to read widely and second is to network with other like-minded and challenging people. An example of the effectiveness of networking comes from David who, through networking in the city, met some people who had a new product that he could sell to his current customers. This is leading to an exciting expansion of his business.
- The second issue to consider is a new - the issue of data ownership. Yes there are a lot of innovative ways to do things but what is important is who owns that data. You can be sure that the owner of the data will be charging you to use it in the future. Many shops are now using Rewardle to engage their customers. The cost of introducing Rewardle to the shop is deceptively low but who owns those customers and controls the communication route to them?
- Testing ideas and abandoning those that fail is our third thing to consider. Our Prime Minister, the Hon Malcolm Turnbull, has been quoted as saying he will introduce new policies and where those policies fail will abandon or modify them. Of course for a politician to do this it is challenging because the press like nothing more than a failed policy. As a business owner we have none of these constraints. So experiment and if it doesn’t work try something else.
- In the last challenge is collaboration. And by collaboration I mean working with other people who have the same customer as you. This is a mindset issue where, rather thinking of somebody as a competitor, look to see how you can corroborate instead.
- In the question-and-answer session nearly all the questions were about how the government can help change the culture of Australia into being one that is more entrepreneurial and innovative. I would only make the point: That culture change has to start with each one of us. It is up to us as individuals to change our environment and make it what we would like it to be rather than waiting for some other power to do it for us. In the age of big data, it you don’t read the sensational articles the journalists will know to stop writing them!
And one last comment which follows on from the Mayor's comment: latterly I have realised that I am “limited by my imagination and that's a big limitation”. The only way to overcome this is to network and collaborate.
I will be holding a business seminar at the Roseville golf club with Ku-Ring-Gai Council on 12 May: “Cost down and profits up - How to innovate and to increase your business success”. I hope you can make it along.
Did you attend on the 31st March? What are you going to do differently as a result?