The Westpac Northland Business Excellence Awards are in full swing and because it is open to all Northland businesses, we are often asked to explain what constitutes a Northland business.

Which leads to a larger subject of how businesses are labelled, segmented or pigeonholed. The refinement of this segmentation can go on indefinitely. We have local businesses, family businesses, Maori businesses, young businesses and so on. As I said, the list is almost endless.

Yet most believe their business is truly unique. This is hardly surprising because at the core of any business is an individual owner, group of owners or interested parties who will have some kind of shared vision or aspiration of what business success means to them. This vision is what makes them different from other businesses. It is why they do what they do and why people transact with them.

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While it is easy to attach a label, actually defining what group an individual business falls into can be problematic and in some cases can act as a barrier in creating a well-integrated business community offering a diverse range of products and services that are truly reflective of the communities and markets they have been established to serve.

For this reason alone, like many things in life - apart from use-by dates - I am not sure if there is any real value in attaching labels to things rather than asking why they exist and what they have in common.

The market will choose to engage with them based on brand and shared values. So, aside from the fact every business thinks they are different and unique, the reality is that they have more things in common than different. They all have customers, they all have something they want to sell that they believe there is a demand for and they all need a range of skills and competencies to bring this all together and achieve their aspirations.

After all, all business struggle with things like improving their day-to-day efficiencies. They will all generally want to grow their businesses. Staff and customers will always be relationships that need to be worked on and they will always be wanting to make use of and best allocate scarce resources such as capital. In recognising these common challenges, both external and internal, means shared experience can help individuals within the business community gain access to the necessary support to build the capabilities required to achieve their success.

■ Tony Collins is the Northland Chamber of Commerce's chief executive.