Many times in my career, the courage and acumen of New Zealand exporters has inspired me.
This happened most recently when I interviewed Bob Richards of Wine Technology International Ltd for a case study for the New Zealand Export Credit Office (NZECO).
Bob related how he appeared to be in a bind.
“It was a stressful situation,” he said. “I had to assess from all angles the risk associated with the deal. Without the deep level of trust I had in my partner, and the knowledge I had of the industry, I wouldn’t have proceeded.”
Ultimately a high level of confidence was required.
Similarly, when I interviewed another exporter, Neil Cullen of Wimpex Ltd about a deal he was working on, he said at the end a leap of faith was needed.
After 18 months of exponential growth, his company had landed a large export order but it needed a big investment in machinery and stock to realise it. How could Wimpex secure the order and maintain its cashflow? You can read how it achieved it here.
I have also written a case study on NZECO’s assistance for New Zealand Apple Ltd.
New Zealand Apple Ltd.
The brief has been to communicate in compelling, plain English what are complicated trade financial arrangements.
I hope the confidence, calculated risk-taking and hard work you will read of in these case studies will be an inspiration for you too in your ventures.
Last month, the Porirua City Council published the third economic development discussion document I had largely drafted for them. The three documents are strategies for global business, and the digital and services industries.
I was delighted to work with the council on this project, as I have lived in the wider city for 25 years in the seaside ‘villages’ of Plimmerton, Pukerua Bay, Whitby and now Titahi Bay – 20 minutes north of Wellington City.
I first met the council’s economic development manager, Chris Lipscombe, on my trip to Shanghai in 2010 with the Wellington mayoral delegation. It was great to sit around the table with him again, and his colleague Sakirin Sapeas, sip some Chinese tea and share their thinking and enthusiasm.
Each of the discussion documents needed to summarise international, New Zealand and Wellington regional trends in plain English for the city’s residents. They also had to be structured in an inviting way and propose half a dozen recommendations for the council to act on for the city.
The council didn’t have a lot of money to plough into these recommendations, although it is uniquely positioned to act as a catalyst for them. The work drew on my 20 years of experience in economic development and trade.
As well as assisting my local city, the project was an opportunity to discover some fascinating trends in the digital and services industries, and also in trade.
Did you know for example that ultra fast broadband applications could reduce missed school days in New Zealand by 25 million?
That the services industry accounted for 71 percent of New Zealand GDP in 2011?
And that there are 20 exporters in Porirua City with a turnover of over $10 million?
After a consultation phase, the documents will set out planned activities from next year and long-term goals.
Remember the unrelenting gloomy economic reports we were fed by mainstream media editors as the 2008 financial crisis unfolded? Now they are starting again.
A banking leader says global money markets effectively froze last week; an economist is even quoted as saying, “We are at the fork in the road and we don’t know which path we are going to take”.
Try to find an article aimed at helping the predominantly small businesses in New Zealand, particularly exporters, during these challenging times. They are few and far between.
I recently attended a presentation by Massey University on Achieving Growth in Difficult Economic Times. It was based on their ongoing study of some 1,500 small and medium sized enterprises, tracked annually.
Results for the 2007-2010 period were tabled. During this period, 43 percent of firms showed no growth in any of the four years. But 50 percent recorded growth in either one or two years. And 7 percent had growth in either three or four years.
These results are not peculiar to New Zealand. In the US, studies conclude that only 10 percent of all publicly-traded companies sustain for more than a few years a growth trajectory that creates above-average shareholder returns.¹
Massey University was able to point to three broad attributes the growing New Zealand firms shared:
flexibility – having a set of different strategies that could be combined to fit the company’s needs and resources
adaptability – being able to constantly change and adjust strategies to fit the dynamic environment
human capital – recognising and acting on opportunities for learning.
If you can tick these three off, congratulations, you are on the right path.
And also take comfort from a further Massey conclusion: that in a recession, vulnerability is not “a given” – some small companies do beat a recession.
You might also like to consider a figure cited by Stephen Denning in his latest book The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling: persuasion constitutes more than a quarter of the US gross national product.² If good storytelling accounts for at least half of that, then it returns over $1 trillion in the US, Denning concluded.
I remember telephoning the leader of an exporter who was taking part in a biotech delegation to Melbourne a few years ago. I asked him if he needed a press release for local biotech media who were attending the conference. “Oh no,” he said. “We’re only going as part of the delegation. We’re not seeking individual attention.” Unfortunately that is how many of our exporters are seen overseas. One Shanghai businessman put it in a nutshell, “New Zealanders seldom make a sound in the international market. They have no passion to introduce themselves to others.”
If New Zealand exporters applied as much diligence to the discipline of storytelling as they do to ensuring accounting compliance, how much more could New Zealand transform itself? And they would save themselves time and travel costs because if they make a strong heartfelt connection on first meeting, they don’t have to keep knocking on people’s doors to remind them they are there.
In troubled times, it’s so much more important to make an impression that works for you – to connect with both heart and mind and get the outcome you desire. When the world gets more competitive, we need to be cleverer.
¹ Christensen and Raynor, The Innovator’s Solution: Creating and Sustaining Successful Growth. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2003, page 7
² McCloskey and Klamer, ‘One Quarter of GDP is Persuasion (in Rhetoric and Economic Behavior’, American Economic Review, 1995, 85(2) 191-195
'Communicating the value proposition' has been highlighted as one of the key priorities for New Zealand exporters by Victoria University's report Service Success in Asia.
The report was unveiled in Wellington on April 4 as part of a nationwide presentation supported by the new Ministry of Science and Innovation, New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, Export New Zealand and local chambers of commerce.
The report is based on interviews with 160 managers in 70 firms exporting to India and China, as well as interviews with 25 customers in each of these two countries.
In a video clip of one of the interviews, the manager says India is a hugely competitive country and New Zealand exporters need to be able to stand out from the crowd. We at All told believe it’s all about good storytelling. For that, New Zealand exporters need the help of experienced professionals.
I went to the Wellington presentation which was held at the Wellesley Hotel. There was a strong turnout from ‘NZ Inc’ in the room.
Last week I worked with two Christchurch companies that are repositioning themselves after the February earthquake.
Both had been trading for over 20 years and both had been serving a Christchurch customer base. Those customers are now no longer buying.
Both companies had realised they needed to reposition themselves for a broader New Zealand market and to begin exporting to Australia. One was already carrying out market research in Australia and preparing to manufacture a new product line.
I referred both to New Zealand Trade and Enterprise’s perceptions research so they could see how Kiwi exporters are perceived in Australia and tailor their approach accordingly. They also wanted a new story that could be used on websites and brochures.
Like a number of other New Zealand business people, I had registered some free services on the Recover Canterbury website for companies that, due to the earthquake, could not afford to pay for them. I wrote them each a new promotional story.
I brought an outside perspective and an understanding of trade. With my questions, I was able to dig for and identify what would be interesting to other people and what sets the company apart. I was also able bring out the business owners’ characters and motivation, making emotional connections with potential customers.
I could see that both companies’ stories were strong. One was a quest for excellence, the other a rebirth. The people were determined to rise above the trauma they had been through.
The New Zealand China Trade Association has published an address I made to the Wellington City Council’s Shanghai Expo Workshop on telling stronger export stories. You can read it here.
The workshop was held for exporters considering going on a trade mission to China in June led by the Mayor of Wellington, Kerry Prendergast. The delegation will visit Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai and also Xiamen from June 5-14. I'll be accompanying the delegation in Shanghai and will write some freelance articles on its experiences for trade websites.
The Shanghai Expo Workshop, held on February 26, was attended by about 60 people. It included a half-hour slot for All Told to give practical advice on how Kiwi exporters are perceived in China, the need to tell good stories and what good storytelling can lead to.
This included an interview by Diana Burns with an exporter experienced in trading in China, Steve Kulevski of Pertronic Industries.
Steve emphasised the importance of making an emotional connection with Chinese customers and telling a wider story about Wellington, your family and how you got into business. As well as finding a way to relate on a personal level, it was important to be patient and professional he said.
Other speakers at the two-hour workshop included Wellington Regional Chamber of Commerce CEO Charles Finny, New Zealand commissioner general for the Shanghai World Expo Phillip Gibson, Wellington City Council’s international relations manager Tom Yuan, and New Zealand Trade and Enterprise’s international market manager for North Asia Joanna Hickey.