Developing the small business (I): the cradle of opportunity
By Nilooka Dissanayake
Starting a small business is the beginning of a long unending journey. Now that you have gone through the travails of a start up business, how do you go about achieving business growth and development? That is what we will discuss over the next few weeks.

In seeking to develop you business, you need to look inward as well as outward. Looking inward means paying close attention to several internal factors. These include the objectives that made you start a business, your abilities, management skills, access to expertise, systems within the organization and your current products and services.

With respect to your products and services, you will need to take a fresh look at how they are made and packaged, and distributed to your customers.

What were your objectives in starting this business? Did you start it to make a quick buck or because you always wanted to be an entrepreneur? Were you having a vision that you needed to realize through this business? Did you start this business merely because you were sick of working for others? Did you start because you saw a way to fulfill a need in the market that was not being filled by someone else? What ever the objective was, are you on your way to fulfilling your ambitions? What do you want to achieve through business growth?

Growth will mean change. How are you and your organization going to make way for those changes? Just as an athlete analyses her strengths and weaknesses before practicing for a major event, you too need to cast a critical eye on your personal and organizational strengths and weaknesses.

There is no point in setting big goals if you are unable to achieve them. All your efforts at growth can go waste if you or the organization cannot meet the demands of change.

Over the next weeks we will discuss how this is done. It is equally important to look at external factors. The business environment can make or break a business. This is especially true for small businesses. Your business environment is a cradle of opportunity.

Unless you match your competences with a market opportunity successfully, you may not achieve the growth you seek. You may also need to counter threats from the environment. Before thinking of strategies for development, you need to look at the business environment. You need to look far into the future as well as to keep an eye on immediate happenings.

Since you cannot gaze into a crystal ball, the closest thing to knowing the future is to study trends in the market.
If, for example, you are in the business of providing uniforms to school children, the changes in birth rates and the number of births and the number of new entrants to schools over the past decade and projections based on these can provide you with very reliable statistics for planning for the future.

Besides studying trends, you need to look at other factors that may not be so straightforward. Taking the school uniform example further, you may need to guess which governments will come into power and what will be their policy towards providing school uniforms.

On the other hand, what is the trend in new entrants to international schools? There, the parents will be better able to afford tailor made uniforms. You could even hitch your wagon to a few international schools. All these trends and the possible changes in your environment-which could be political, economic, social and cultural-may affect your future. And if you don't know which route of growth you wish to select-and there are many-you need to really keep your ear to the ground and learn intimately the current market situation.

Where do you stand vis-à-vis your competitors? What is your market share? What do your current customers think of your product or service? What new technologies could make you or your competitors more productive, uncompetitive or obsolete? Are you trying to grow your small business? What issues do you face day to day in seeking for business growth? We would like to hear from you. Send us the issues you face and help us make the articles more meaningful to small business operators. You can contact us on or on 5-552524

The writer is the Managing Editor of Athwela Vyaparika Sangarawa (Athwela Business Journal), the only Sinhala management monthly targeting the small and medium enterprises and its English version, Small Business International magazine and, the bilingual small business website.

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