Harbinger Consultants

Creative Sustainability :: Place, People, Product, Potential, Partnership + Pollinating

REPORT | SEQICC Networking on the Gold Coast

Last night I accompanied John Armstrong, in his capacity as Secretary of the South East Queensland Indigenous Chamber of Commerce (SEQICC), to the Networking @ Night event on the Gold Coast. About 20 people came along for an informal get together at the Department of Communities venue. This was the first time that the SEQICC had held an event on the Gold Coast and the Chamber’s representatives Charlie Jia, Neil Willmett and John were warmly welcomed by local businesspeople who were drawn from a diverse range of businesses and interests including fitness, healing, cabinet making, tourism, visual art, education and others. The Chamber also had information about their Carbon Diet initiative available. Thanks to Jodi Sampson, an Aboriginal Enterprise Development Officer in Northern NSW, who lives on the Gold Coast and who also spread the word locally.

After some introductions and informal chatting, Charlie facilitated a panel discussion with several of the attending business operators to discuss some of the challenges they face in their businesses and how they overcome them. It was an enlightening conversation with lessons for every small business owner. Charlie also spoke of the need for Indigenous businesspeople to trade and do business with each other as a way of supporting each other’s initiative and fostering a local economy.

Some of the learnings for me included:

  • Trainees – Businesses (of all sizes) want to take on trainees but may not know about traineeship schemes. Some businesses (particularly those based on sales/commissions) aren’t always set up for trainees. Indigenous staff in businesses may want to take on a mentoring role for trainees.
  • Sales & Marketing – Providing an appropriate level of disclosure about products, including price, on websites to drive sales and repeat visits. That is, customers come to your website to find out about you and your products and may not want to go through the hassle of seeking quotes. If you are able to include an indication of costs (and it’s not always possible given market fluctuations etc) then that helps customers make decisions about purchasing and puts them in control of the decision.
  • Protect yourself – Sometimes unexpected events happen like your premises changes hands. So make sure you’ve set up with a proper lease that protects your tenure (potentially with multi-year options) if you can. If your business is a going concern that is well located you don’t want to be vulnerable to leases not being renewed. Also, always get legal advice.
  • Culture – Indigenous culture is exploited in the marketplace with issues of authenticity continuing to dog the industry. Artists are vulnerable to exploitation and the supply chain disadvantages artists with many artists earning less than 10% of a work’s end sale price. In other instances, artists can earn less than $1 per unit in the production of ‘tourist art’ like painted boomerangs and rocks. There is little ability in the marketplace for buyers to discern the difference between authentic and high quality work and cheap rip offs or mass produced work. In a tourist centre like the Gold Coast, this disparity is very evident. One of the issues this raises is whether businesses have ‘clean’ supply chains – is business being conducted fairly down the supply chain so that suppliers can earn a living?
  • Business principles – It’s important for small business owners to be across all aspects of their business especially understanding  governance and compliance such as record keeping, paying tax, chasing payments etc. You need to be passionate about managing the business.
  • Community – All of the business operators strongly support the community and see themselves as part of the community: both Indigenous and non-Indigenous. They spoke about how they support the community or how they would like to support the community. This included taking on trainees, employing Indigenous staff, doing business with Indigenous businesses, and freely providing facilities, activities and resources to community organisations and groups.

Lastly, this event, like others the SEQICC hold, affirmed my belief in the need for and the power of local economies and their connection to community and culture. This is a reference to a workshop about living local economies John and I attended recently. While the business end of business is the tip of the iceberg in developing dynamic local economies that can support community aspirations, it seems that this cluster of small businesses is well on the way to planting alternative economic futures.

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