Sunday, September 12th, 2010
Small Business September ushers in the launch of the Sydney Small Business Centre, established to help the owners of small to medium businesses use problem-based management training to power through business adolescence.

While the common wisdom has been that most business failures occur in the first year of operation, ABS statistics and a 2007 Veda Advantage study suggest that most business exits occur in business adolescence – between the second and fifth year.

The longer a business survives, the greater its chances of continuing to survive. If it also employs people (instead of being a non-employing business) the chances are greater still.

The first white paper released by the Centre, Puberty Blues: How to take your business from tiresome teenager to young adult, shows that the lack of general management, e-know-how and marketing skills are key reasons why businesses fail to make it through adolescence.

The white paper covers studies that reveal that:
  • Australian small business operators were the least likely – compared to their counterparts in Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore – to undertake even the most basic management activity such as stock and debtor control.
  • While e-commerce will be worth an estimated $27 billion in 2010, only 27% of Australian business owners accept orders for their products online and only 42% reported having a Web presence.
  • The management capability of many Australian SMEs is the main limiting factor to successful innovation and productivity improvement.
  • By utilising Web 2.0 tools, gifted amateurs are punching above their weight.

The Sydney Small Business Centre was established to help business owners bridge these gaps. Its approach recognises that learning on the job is still the natural orientation of many small business owners. Because of this, the Centre uses workshops and online training to help business owners learn by working on the problems of their own business. In the process of learning, they also create solutions to their current challenges but are also equipped to think through further challenges that will inevitably arise.

Founder and ex-corporate marketer Amanda Falconer says that she started the Centre on something borrowed from Confucius. “Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day, but teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime.”

“I know how bored I get just learning theory, and I know how things sink in when you work on problems that are real,” she says. “I’m passionate about helping small business owners have the conceptual tools to analyse their own business challenges and develop good solutions. I think we have a way at the Centre to blend learning by doing and solving by learning.”

Falconer says that after leaving over a decade as a senior marketing manager earlier in the year she could have walked straight into consulting. “I certainly had the offers to do that. But that only represents short-term value to clients, so I decided to take a different approach, she says.

“What I’ve learnt in corporate business is how to think and analyse. One of the things I’ve had the chance to do over the years is be a marketing specialist and learn from other specialists particularly in strategy and finance. When I left that environment, I walked out with an incredible kit bag of thinking frameworks that I can use to pick apart almost any business situation.

“When I go into a new small to medium business these days, I don’t walk in with the answers – but I do walk in with a way to get them. And that’s what I really want to share.”

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