OPINION: One of the problems with long held beliefs is they are often long held without good reason.
The tedium of empirical evidence and substantive proof is often not for those who want us to be 'believers', because lifting the skirt of objective enquiry might just reveal a pair of ripped knickers.
Two such long held beliefs were that small business owners are not reachable and, if they could be 'reached', only a small minority would have anything sensible to say.
I've heard politicians and their officials mumble this, waving away dewy-eyed private business owners in the vague direction of The Ministry of Economic Developments' small business website - which in all fairness is very accessible and a good resource. But it doesn't give small business owners a voice.
My wife, Sharon Hunter (co-Founder of PC Direct), and I first talked about what we can do to support SME growth early last year, given the positive impact this sector can have on the New Zealand economy.
It was clear that Government needed encouragement to take a greater interest in small business, at an earlier stage, given the fact that 97 per cent of all New Zealand businesses are SMEs; employing 19 or fewer people and yet accounting for 38.6 per cent of NZ's total economic output (on a value-added basis), and employing 31 per cent of the NZ workforce.
So we started the New Zealand SME Business Network.
Our purpose in doing so is to give small business owners 'a clear voice' through the creation of a 'Network-of-Influence'.
Together, we will have the ability to encourage Government to recognise that by changing New Zealand's business environment - to one of stimulating growth by lifting our innovative capacity and enabling an increase in our business sophistication - we will grow New Zealand's economic performance.
That will positively change New Zealand.
SMEs are a vital part of New Zealand's economy, yet get limited support. So our secondary objective in starting this group was also to provide support to small business owners by those who have a track record in successfully growing SMEs here and abroad.
After talking to a few government officials and consistently hearing the one thing that lights an entrepreneur's fire - "we've tried it before and it doesn't work" - we decided to make it work via the black art of social media.
As it happens, social media has turned out to be a bright white spotlight that illuminates a virtual podium from which small business owners can speak with a clear and resounding voice. And they do!
After only six months we have over 1100 members: SME owner/managers and their professional advisers, together with executives from major banks, accounting and law firms. The discussions are active, intelligent, and pragmatic.
We have proved that through the effective use of social media platforms (LinkedIn, Face Book & Twitter), even micro-companies can be reached and, importantly, be given a voice via discussion threads.
Our goal is to reach 10,000 in two years.
At some stage, we intend to add You Tube and podcasts to the social media mix and we are exploring the possibility of re-launching a variant of the TV series, Business is Booming.
Business is not booming at all for many SMEs, but the voice of the small business owner is - and what they are saying should be of profound interest to this Government and opposition parties alike.
While there is a lot of noise about SMEs by from groups, including politicians, universities, and professional associations, few have bothered to engage with SME operators en masse.
Sure some of the universities have - as a quantitative database - not to generate practical initiatives for growth.
We believe this will only come in a qualitative form, from SME owners themselves, supported by empirical evidence. This potentially powerful combination, of practitioners and academics, working together collaboratively could change New Zealand.
Go to http://linkd.in/Nz5XuM to join the New Zealand SME Business Network and you will be connected with a group who recognizes that successful SME business growth will impact positively on New Zealand's economic and social future.
Tenby Powell is an entrepreneur, builder of organisations, and the driving force behind the New Zealand SME Business Network. You can contact him on firstname.lastname@example.org
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