Volatile markets mean thinking outside the business square, writes Kaye Avery

Many people working in small business, self-employment, part-time work and contracting are experiencing quiet times with reduced work opportunities. Seasonal fluctuations in business are an on-going reality but this is exaggerated in the super-cautious market following the recession.

The situation is further compounded by the ongoing European debt crisis.

While it appears employment numbers have improved slightly and unemployment at 6.7 per cent compares favourably with many countries, the real picture is much more complicated. The experience of under-employment is a growing trend. In its report on employment and unemployment for the March 2012 quarter, the Department of Labour figures show part-time employment up by 13,000, while fulltime employment fell by 3,000.


What is happening for many is confusing and nerve-wracking to say the least, especially as living costs seem to be constantly increasing.

A consequence of less or inconsistent work and income is discouragement for people, a lowering of self-belief, and often a withdrawal causing less visibility in the market place.

I have been pondering the question, "How do we create work when there is little around?" The macro version of this question is about "we" as New Zealanders, and our economy. The micro version is about "we" as individuals. On the macro level when things are quiet we need strategies and to know where we are going, think broader to access offshore markets then gather our resources, get organised (and networked) and get going.

These are testing times for many, yet they can be transformative times too. It takes courage to swim against the tide of pessimism, to remain optimistic, to make the most of challenging situations and to persist when the going gets tough. It also takes vision.

Once I had a manager who, when business was light, said "Put energy out there and you get energy back".

This proved true every time. It spurred me on to get going and in no time work came flowing in.

So where are the opportunities to be found?

There is an emergence of work in "green" industries, sustainability advisory, waste management, healthcare, professional services and IT, and some in construction.

Small businesses that are tapping into the real needs of society and the environment are growing.

A recent article in Herald Business section listed 50 companies that are earning at least half their revenue from activities that benefit the environment. These companies are earning $1.148 billion in revenue at a growth rate of 17.5 per cent. Early this month I was at the Thrive and Survive event put on by The Big Idea for creative entrepreneurs. The speakers came from diverse industries, not only the creative sector but also social and environmental sustainability fields.

Their successes were impressive. All gave generously of their experience and some very important advice, for example:

* "Being useful to others - that is our business opportunity." - Marianne Doczi, future thinker and commentator.

* "We in New Zealand have a unique talent derived from our creativity - this is our competitive advantage." - Nick Gerritson, entrepreneur in global clean-tech businesses.

* "Be open to other people's ideas and bite off more than you can chew." - Bernadette Casey, co-founder of the sustainable textiles business, The Formary.

It pays to get into the zone of inspiring people doing good things. Recently I was at an evening hosted by The Kitchen, a hub of social and environmental entrepreneurs. I was very inspired by two presenters who are developing their businesses. Both are women and each has a compelling vision.

Juliet Arnott, of Rekindle.org.nz, is an occupational therapist and artist who lived for some years in the United Kingdom, studying and making work from materials seen as waste.

Now back in New Zealand, she is starting to manufacture beautiful dining room furniture using recycled, distressed timbers from old villas.

On their website Rekindle proudly states that it is a social enterprise that makes furniture and other useful objects from waste wood ... to support communities to utilise their wood waste and develop employment opportunities enabling youth to gain real and transferable work skills. Rekindle workshops are being established in Auckland and Christchurch.

Zoe Zimmerman is an environmental planner who is working on her Masters degree in landscape architecture.

Zimmerman has established livingroofs.org.nz as a resource for the promotion of Living Roofs. These are explained on her website Livingroofs.org.nz.

To explore what organisations are doing in some of these emerging areas Unitec's Career Centre now offers a list of resources under the heading Careers for a Sustainable World. This resource can be accessed through the Unitec website Unitec.ac.nz.

These are indeed challenging times but they also offer an opportunity to reinvent what we are doing and the way we are doing it.

It may mean shifting our aspirations, making adjustments in order to live within our means and restructuring our lives to suit.

Kaye Avery is a career specialist, coach and facilitator www.career-coach.co.nz