Jonathan Dodd: It's not always about the money

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Peter Jackson has the desire to make fantastic big-budget movies, which need international backing.
Peter Jackson has the desire to make fantastic big-budget movies, which need international backing.

Last week's article by Gareth Chaplin of New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, headlined "Self-reliant attitude holds Kiwis back on big stage", is a clear demonstration of how people can so often fall into the trap of assuming that their view of the world is automatically the "correct" one.

Naturally the chief economist for NZTE can be excused for being so supportive of business growth, but his unquestioning belief that an increased quality of life only comes from business growth is a belief that is being questioned by businesspeople who realise that viable alternatives exist, or who never bought into that belief at all.

To recap, NZTE's survey results confirm the oft-touted simple aspirations that supposedly restrain small business owners from taking their businesses to the next level, known colloquially as the three Bs: the bach, the boat and the BMW.

Chaplin laments that "When a Kiwi business owner has achieved those, or whatever luxuries are considered a similar level of comfort within their peer group, they will often succumb to 'enoughism'."

Chaplin then proceeds to cite the following as if it is incontrovertible fact: "Any small New Zealand business should aspire to a national presence. Any medium-sized New Zealand company should be aspiring to export success. Any large New Zealand exporter should be aspiring to world domination."

Well, Chaplin misunderstands the Kiwi psyche if he thinks that business growth is the only avenue to a better quality of life, and likewise many would question his inference that quality of life is best indicated by income. There are thousands of small and medium-sized business owners who would take issue with these assumptions, for two main reasons.

The first reason is that most business owners don't establish their businesses to get rich, they do it for the satisfaction of being their own boss and perhaps fulfilling a need in the market.

Often their key motivation is to stay in their chosen community, or to continue a family trade.

This is the key differentiator between Michael Hill staying with one shop in Whangarei or deciding upon the razing of his dream house "damn it I want more from life".

Hill admits he wasn't a great jeweller, but he is a great salesman. In other words, he wasn't driven by a desire to be an international jeweller, but a desire to sell more.

This is a key point - most small businesspeople are doing what they want to do, and more often than not that isn't "running a business".

They want to work in their chosen field and be good at what they do. Hill is a growth-focused businessperson who just happened to be a jeweller - this doesn't mean that all jewellers have to be growth-focused businesspeople.

When Chaplin cites people such as Peter Jackson he misses the point that Jackson's desire is to make fantastic big-budget movies, which by definition has to be done with international backing. If Jackson's creative bent was one that could be easily fulfilled within these shores it's quite possible we'd never had heard of him.

Chaplin's lament at the so-called malaise of "enoughism" misses this difference between people who want to build an empire or who need to expand out of sheer necessity, and those whose satisfaction and drive comes from different sources.

For those businesspeople who do equate income and assets with success and happiness, many are increasingly recognising that a relative boost in income can be achieved by reducing overheads in unconventional ways.

It is the very same advances in communications that are easing New Zealand businesses' ability to expand overseas that are also enabling many professionals to achieve a better quality of life by escaping Auckland and Wellington.

For June's Marketing Magazine I had the pleasure of interviewing many marketing professionals successfully operating from Whangarei to Invercargill. Most of these people have worked in a large city and opted for the lifestyle benefits of smaller centres.

They are still able to practice their craft, and happily trade off a small loss of income for the quality of life that smaller centres offer - stress-free environments and lower living costs.

From my Rotorua base I service clients nationwide, as do some of my competitors who operate from places such as Raglan, Mt Maunganui, Hamilton and Tikokino.

A fellow ex-Aucklander I know runs a highly successful brand consultancy from Rotorua, servicing clients from just down the road through to London. These people have opted for lifestyle and are thriving. They will not become the next Nieslen, Synovate, or Saatchi & Saatchi, but nor do they wish to.

Chaplin's call for more business growth befits his role, and the points he makes should certainly be heeded by business owners who wish to expand. But to charge all business owners with the task of growing misses many of the key reasons why the business owners are living and working as they are.

Jonathan Dodd is research director at market research company Synovate.

- NZ Herald

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