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ALL businesses have to focus on being as productive as possible. This is the first of a series of short articles on how to run productive businesses inspired by a recent visit to Nasinu Chamber of Commerce.

I was recently honoured to run two workshops on planning — business and the local economy — for members and would-be members of Nasinu chamber. It was great to see a local chamber taking such an initiative and especially doing it in association with the Nasinu Town Council. This was collaboration in action!

The topic of the workshops — planning — is closely linked to productivity.

Productivity is for all businesses and organisations — large and small. There is nothing magic about it! Productivity is about how we can do everything better and smarter; it is about being open to new ideas and to continuously making improvements; it requires us to focus on the little things. Above all productivity is everyone’s responsibility and is essential to creating more successful workplaces and businesses.

There are seven main drivers of productivity for all organisations — better leadership and management; organising the work; networking and collaborating with others; invest in people — build winning teams; encouraging innovation — use technology to get ahead; positive workplace cultures; measuring what matters.

The focus of this article is on networking and collaboration.

An old-fashioned view of business is to put the blinkers on and pay no attention to anyone around us — we share nothing and tell no-one anything!

No business can afford to take that view today. Small businesses need each other. We have to overcome our resistance to sharing with others. If we spend all our time competing with each other we are wasting our time — surely we need to collaborate and focus on how we can best meet the needs of our customers by providing better products and services that will inevitably come from working with others.

This is especially true in the Pacific where we have a number of small markets and many producers and service providers all competing for them. There are several key elements to successful collaboration:

1. Explore making as many links as you can with other small businesses and with agencies such as chambers of commerce & Industry that support SMEs — join up and participate in meetings — if you do not get what you want then join in, get on the committees and work to make a difference! Pick up the phone, send an email, go and see people. Follow the lead set by Nasinu chamber and develop a network of vibrant and linked chambers all over Fiji!

2. Join in with local businesses and consider yourself as one team — for example if you run a market stall then work with other stall-holders and work out how between you, you can add value to your customers by providing better service and products. As we discussed the development of the local Nasinu economy it was clear that this will not happen unless people and businesses join forces and combine their individual strengths and experiences.

3. Work hard to build constructive and positive relationships with your staff, suppliers and customers. If you are in the tourism business then get your customers to put good comments on Trip Advisor. Good relationships are worth their weight in gold — poor relationships cost you money! If you build a reputation for being good to deal with then that reputation will go before you. People will know about you before they even do business with you! I suggested that a possible goal for Nasinu could be to become known for the best customer service in Fiji!!

4. Build contacts with your local media — newspapers, newsletters, TV and radio if you have them, online media — tell them good news stories especially about businesses and organisations working together.

5. Make better use of your scarce resources by good collaboration — try sharing equipment or buildings or even staff! We all need help from time to time — don’t just wait for a crisis to help others — make it normal and train your staff to do it too.

6. Collect details of every new person you meet. Build a good customer database and use it — keep in touch with people — let them know what you are doing and what new products or services you are offering.

7. Use technology to contact businesses in other parts of the Pacific. If you are growing coffee, talk to other coffee growers and share tips and ideas. If you have a problem with your virgin coconut oil, the chances are that someone else somewhere in the Pacific will have had similar problems and may have found a solution. We will never know unless we ask.

No one will have a successful business if we are a well-kept secret or if we wait for people to come to us! Imagine moving from being three separate businesses all selling similar things and all trying to attract the same customers to one business where we each bring our experience, our products, our ideas, our resources — working together we can create a larger business which is more attractive to more customers. Between us we earn more money — this makes good business sense to me!

Successful collaboration needs us to be visible and to be confident enough to go and approach people. We have nothing to lose and we have a lot to gain! It is time for us all to give it a go!

* Chris Elphick is a director at Pacific and for any feedback or comments please contact him on ;

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