Sustainability is a way of thinking – a principle we must be guided by
Small and medium size businesses are the backbone of all Pacific Island cultures – without them the economy would not survive or thrive. In this series I look at different ways in which we can grow and develop our small businesses sustainably.
Today my focus is on managing growth and development in a sustainable way.
This series is all about developing and growing our small businesses and over the last few articles I have focused on the help we can get to support us. Now I switch focus to what we need to do as business owners to develop our businesses in a sustainable way. Sustainability simply means development and growth that we can maintain over time.
Recently I was talking with a business owner who had been asked to supply a large hotel with her products – this was the biggest order she had ever had and, of course, she was very excited. Getting the order ready cost her a lot of time and money and meant that she could not concentrate on her other smaller customers. She didn’t think to get a contract or any payment in advance. She needed her staff to work long hours but didn’t have the money to pay them.
The whole exercise was very stressful and took her a long time – when she eventually went back to the hotel the manager she spoke to had left and they had already bought products from overseas! She has had to work hard to get back small customers and she is still in debt.
This is a true and cautionary story of attempted business growth in the Pacific. It is easy to get carried away with promises that are not sustainable, especially at the moment as we try to out the recent challenges behind us.
When considering ANY business idea which is about growth or development, think about the following BEFORE making a final decision:
• What is the idea and how will it help grow your business?
• What will it cost you? Think in terms of money, time, equipment or materials you will need to buy, additional staff, premises, technology, new skills. C
osts are often hidden at the time like more fuel or increases in power use or payment of overtime to staff or purchase of goods that you do not pay for immediately.
• How certain is it? If it involves other individuals or businesses, then it is essential to have some form of written agreement or contract before any work starts.
• Small steps are always preferable to big ones – they are always more sustainable.
• Do you have a strong business case for the new idea, or have you allowed yourself to be convinced by someone else?
• Do a plan BEFORE making a final decision – get some independent advice.
• Sometimes we all have to take risks but don’t let your heart rule over your head! Think things through first so any risk you take has been considered in an objective manner – talk to a coach or someone you trust.
• If you are thinking about borrowing money be very clear about what you need, why you need it, what the cost of the loan will be and will you be able to pay it back?
• How close is the new idea to what you are currently doing? Sometimes we run a successful business and then decide to go and run another business doing something different – the bigger the gap between the two the harder it is. Gradual growth allows you to use your current resources more effectively and efficiently without having to commit to too much new expenditure.
• Be aware of what is going on around you, locally, nationally and internationally, before making any new decisions. At the moment fuel prices are increasing steeply and rapidly so any business decision that requires more fuel needs to be reconsidered. Can you afford it and will you get your money back? Are you planning on growth that will help tackle climate change or that will add to it?
All of these issues are about sustainability – being able to sustain any growth especially when there might be problems ahead. Remember that you cannot always foresee problems such as weather-related ones or the current pandemic.
They all require careful planning, plenty of advanced thinking and creative problem solving and clear commitment from all parties involved.
Growing slowly but steadily is usually much more effective than fast growth which cannot be sustained.
In my next article I will focus on how to choose the right new products and markets for growth.
If you can’t think of where to start with growing your business, then email me and I will try to assist.
If you have any other suggestions or any questions or comments, please contact me.
Breadfruit Consulting (www.breadfruitconsulting.com) is a Vanuatu-based business providing advice, training, coaching, and mentoring to businesses throughout the Pacific islands. Breadfruit specialises in a range of business development activities including ‘business continuity planning and action’, helping businesses to survive in a crisis, designing and starting new, sustainable businesses. Contact email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org