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When times are hard, work smarter – and work together

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: May 14, 2013

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Cornwall Business Week (May 13-17) is the annual opportunity for the whole business community to celebrate and enjoy our successes but also consider how we might do things better. There are a number of events during the week to help us do just that and to showcase best practice across the business spectrum.

In the Duchy including Isles of Scilly there are about 50 large enterprises employing over 250 people each; about 22,000 VAT-registered small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs); and an estimated similar number of sole traders and micro-businesses operating under the VAT threshold. This means that about 1 in 8 of the workforce is a business owner. If we owner/managers could all run our businesses 10% more effectively the impact on the economy would be enormous.

In most cases businesses need to compete, not only with their counterparts in Cornwall but throughout the UK and, increasingly, around the globe. We have some companies here doing that in fields as diverse as precision manufacturing, marine renewables, digital technologies, cutting edge B2B services in everything from mineral exploration to tele-health, not to mention a highly developed tourism sector which accounts for 32% of our GDP.

But, as a county of small businesses with limited resources, there are times when we need to collaborate, to share best practice, to pool knowledge and to establish joint ventures to tender for public sector and export contracts. All the evidence from business research shows that wise collaboration and sharing best practice makes everybody better. This is what Business Week is about.

One of the most frequent retorts we at Cornwall Chamber of Commerce hear is 'I haven't got time to go looking for help. I'm too busy running the business'. And it's true that in times of recession, we have to work harder. But it's more important than ever we learn how to work smarter – and this is no temporary recession, this is the norm and we'll only weather it if we learn to compete more cleverly and to collaborate. The owner of a small business I know takes half a day a week out of his normal work environment so he can work on the business, not just in it. He uses a mentor, trains his staff, looks for opportunities for apprenticeships and constantly challenges himself. His business is thriving.

There are a number of agencies of growth and many of them are tempting us with their services during Cornwall Business Week. Here are some headings that you should be exploring from various helpful organisations where you will find free advice. Sources of finance, grant funding and protecting your assets are being covered by Bishop Fleming, Francis Clark and Stephens Scown in workshops; Cornwall Business Fair tomorrow has 60 trade stands with advice on IT, training, mentoring, finance, apprenticeships and graduate placement schemes, marketing, recruitment and starting a business.

There are presentations and workshops throughout the day from world-renowned speakers; plus Export Airport at the fair will show you how to take those first steps abroad or how to expand your global reach. Exporting is one of the proven routes to improving your business. Don't forget that exporting doesn't just mean selling product overseas, it can include attracting foreign visitors to buy things or holidays here and selling knowledge such as we have in our universities here in Cornwall.

This is also the week to celebrate our successes with the very upbeat Cornwall Business Awards presenting winners in 14 categories, culminating with the Winner of Winners sponsored by Cornwall Chamber of Commerce. And, to remind ourselves that all is not rosy in the county we will be quizzing some of the influencers of business strategy in a special Question Time discussion including Chris Pomfret, chairman of the Local Enterprise Partnership ; Paul Masters, interim chief executive of Cornwall Council; and Anne Carlisle vice-chancellor of Falmouth University.

The week also gives the opportunity for business people to talk to each other. This is very important for the 40,000-odd small businesses spread from Kilkhampton to St Mary's. And it gives us all the occasion to compare notes, tell the agencies of growth what we need and even to influence government policy through the British Chamber of Commerce and the LEP. Imagine 20,000 Cornish businesses marching on London – well no need actually. We can Skype them or use other Superfast Broadband channels.

Full details of events can be found on cornwallbusinessweek.co.uk.

Kim Conchie is chief executive, Cornwall Chamber of Commerce

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