How can small New Zealand businesses go about finding out if the Australian market is right for them?
There's no better way to find out than to jump on a plane and explore first hand. And make sure you get in touch with every New Zealand network in Australia before the trip. Organise multiple meetings with NZTE, NZVBG, Trans Tasman Business Council, Kea - all of them.
Bear in mind that each Australian city, every state, has its own way of doing things. For example, if you're a business that needs a warm climate - like ice cream or togs - it makes more sense to start with Queensland. I recently met James Coddington, founder of New Zealand's Joy Ice Cream, who's on the ground exploring and planning a Brisbane launch right now.
If your customers are big corporates, Sydney or Melbourne are the cities for you, as most head offices are located in either one of those. A New Zealand document-scanning firm, Power Business Services, has just opened a Melbourne office and is initially focused on developing this city as they already have inroads with Melbourne-based firms.
If it's very early exploratory days for you, there's much valuable insight to be gained by attending seminars and workshops in New Zealand, of which there are plenty.
On a recent trip to Auckland, I went along to a Business with Australia workshop at EMA. The speaker was the managing director of Abe's Bagels and he talked about the challenge of getting products into Coles and Woolworths - a very practical talk from first-hand experience.
I nodded through the entire presentation. For companies contemplating their own Australian approach, it was incredibly useful.
What kind of preparation should small businesses do prior to entering the market?
Your customers and clients have all the answers. So when I consult to either Australian or New Zealand companies I talk to as many people who work directly with them as possible. That way we know exactly what it is people value about the business: why they buy from you, who else is out there, how you're different - all those critical things you can't just make up yourself.
That's the first step to entering any market. Because the next step is to understand whether that same positioning applies in Australia, or in fact any other international market you go into.
It might be a big deal for Kiwis that Whittaker's is made in New Zealand, but will that matter in Australia? Australians might love the fact that it's great-tasting and is cheaper than a big block of Cadbury.
You must own a unique position and in a new market that means doing local research. You can do it cheaply from your own desk with the magic of Google, purchase industry reports from places like IBISWorld or put some money towards local custom research. It doesn't have to cost the earth, but you do get what you pay for. That's certainly something I've learned over the years, both in my own business and clients'.
Once they're there, what factors will help them succeed, particularly from a marketing perspective?
The same classic marketing strategy will help you succeed in Australia as in every other country. That means getting that brand positioning really tight and then picking the best marketing activity to support it.
For non-retail companies, it really helps to have a specialisation. Australia values the specialist much more than the generalist, so don't be afraid to single out a manufacturing strength or design difference, find a niche use or customer for your technology. Even if it's at the potential detriment of other, tempting - and distracting - markets.
What are some of the common mistakes you see small New Zealand businesses make when entering the Australian market?
One of the biggest mistakes New Zealand businesses make is half-heartedly, dabbling here and there while talking up the 'Kiwiness' of the business.
I might notice the little Kiwi stand at the back of a trade fair or the little ads that run once or twice in a magazine, but more than likely your buyers won't. Small businesses counting precious dollars should stay away from tactical activities that require ongoing budget commitment.
Also don't be afraid to walk away from a new market and come back later. Realistically, if you don't have any money to invest into entering Australia, don't do it. Things are not cheap here and it's a huge comparative market with plenty of competition. It's going to take longer than you think and you need to able to fund that.
What are three key pieces of advice you'd offer small businesses looking at treading this path?
1. Do some serious desk research about Australia or, better still, come and see for yourself. You'll know whether you're ready to export pretty swiftly.
2. Be prepared to spend some money and put a local spin on your New Zealand business. Not every business can use the 'We're a New Zealand company' message to its advantage. Have something more to offer than being Kiwi.
3. Get advice from Australia-based people or New Zealand companies already in Australia, including the expat network here. We are very connected, experienced and really rather friendly!
Coming up in Small Business: Wearable technology is one of the hottest sectors in high-tech. What are some of the cool companies operating in this space in New Zealand? If you've got a story to share, drop me a note: firstname.lastname@example.org