Small regional communities have issues that need to be understood and acted upon
Both SMEs and NFP require help and support, particularly in small regional communities. Even though few are willing to pay for it and some have no time or money to commit beyond their day-to-day operations. This leads to a situation where the ‘willing horses’ are ‘flogged to death’ and the frustrations and problems continue to recur. We need more people who will lead by practical example, both in small regional communities and in governments at all levels.
This post is intended to provide you with a start to creating a vision and formulating strategies and actions. To help you move your small regional community to meet the aspirations of the people who live there. It is our hope that it will create new conversations, that will lead to better relationships, better health and better businesses as well as nicer places in which to live. Communities that your children and their children will want to come back to and be more involved with.
There is a real need to provide a catalyst to break the bad cycles and encourage the good ones.
- A vibrant, genuine and purposeful NFP is what everyone aspires to, but few achieve. Rather than building dynamic organisations, many just exist from one government grant to the next.
- Rather than exploring possibilities, boards and committees often brood, blaming and complaining. Often they are chasing only trivial goals that fall far short of the community’s, and funders expectations.
- Home-based businesses are growing in popularity and have become a large part of the small regional communities. They can be an exciting and special way to meet the aspirations of would-be business owners and the unemployed people in a community.
- In Australia, there are approximately one million people running a business from their home. http://goo.gl/9lR5Mf. They can’t all be wrong.
- Many non-profits are uninviting for their employees, volunteers and supporters. Issues can include image, attitude, planning, management, operations, marketing, poor use of money and empire building. All at the expense of the people, they are seeking to serve.
- There is a need to create inviting and encouraging environments that are attractive to ‘people’. Some small regional communities feel like institutions or run down government departments, full of bad vibes. Many in these small regional communities lack real experience, vision and accountability. They often turn good people away who want to help because they are afraid of being shown up. Others resist change and are risk adverse, with their rhetoric falling way short of their actions.
Engagement of the youth in the community
- There is a need to improve the engagement of younger people from boards to volunteers.
- New young people bring new ideas and new approaches to developing regional communities. This is particularly so with their modern technology and communication skills.
- Spending time with groups of young people can produce unexpected outcomes for jobs and business opportunities.
- There is a disconnect between the SME and the NFP in communities because they operate in isolation.
- There is a high level of mistrust and a reluctance to utilise common practical business practices. Young people can break the cycle.
- Understanding of business practices is low in the NFP sector in regional communities This is because boards and committees are usually made up of well-meaning people who put their hand up because nobody else did. Their willingness to have a go is to be commended, but they need a lot of training.
There needs to be a feeling of success
- Both SMEs and NFPs must look and feel like they are successful. Otherwise, they will have difficulty attracting good board members, management. Along with good employees, volunteers, partnerships, sponsors and government grants.
- No one wants to be involved with an organisation that feels run down and going nowhere.
- Lack of hope causes many to lose interest and give up.
- Fear also tears many from their aspirations.
- NFPs tend to live in fear that they will not receive funding for the next round. Fear that they will be found wanting and will not be able to deliver services well enough.
- Fear is often generated because the people involved are not financially savvy. http://goo.gl/5MfMnK.
- Often the lack the business acumen drains people’s confidence. Confidence to take the actions they feel they should.
- They may also lack any understanding of their community, the impact of social media, globalisation and the marketplace in general.
SMEs and NFPs have much in common
- Characteristics of successful NFPs are very similar to SMEs. Unfortunately, they are often well below the standard of a successful business.
- Values of the boards and committees, while altruistic, tend to be self-serving and not always congruent with the values of those they are seeking to serve.
- Many lean too much on their own understanding and then wonder why their organisations have so many problems.
- Regional communities tend to lack a clear vision for the future and become subservient to the funding bodies.
- Some are engaging people who lack skills or are no threat to their ‘little empire’.
- Many like operating behind closed doors. Transparency is not something they believe in.
- Many are well-meaning but lack real experience in running an organisation. Particularly one with some size to it.
- The main objectives, strategies and actions, while critical to success, are usually out of step with reality and lack a clear focus. They are rarely in alignment with the direction of the organisation.
- Many have little idea how to take a dream or concept to reality and then expand on the emerging possibilities.
- Often pricing and margins are not reflecting reality and delivering the desired outcomes.
- Business Planning is usually very poor, with business models out of sync with reality and value chains a concept they have never experienced.
- While they strive for the self-funding and sustainability few know how to go about it. Or they lack the skills to implement modern funding strategies and activities.
- There is a great need for new blood to take old style SMEs and NFPs forward in the 21st century and become more commercially savvy.
A quick survey of funders and supporters will reveal the key problems
- Cash flow is undoubtedly the biggest concern. More expertise is needed in working capital and cash flow management.
- Analysing their concept, addressing success factors and work practices is seen as threatening. Unaware, they continue to lose good people and supporters.
- In many instances, there are often conflicts and power struggles between board and committee members and their CEO.
- There is a general lack of understanding, or regard about local, regional and national concerns and opportunities.
- Often the big picture makes people in regional communities feel uncomfortable, therefore little is done to keep up.
- Many will not build a diverse portfolio of profitable revenue streams because they represent too many threats.
- They prefer to get everything for nothing without consequence.
- The concept of an NFP owning and running a ‘for-profit business’ is a negative concept and quickly dismissed.
- Most NFPs spend too much of their valuable time chasing sources of funding with limited skills and knowledge of the possibilities in this area.
- As NFPs are basically an SME in every respect except distribution of profits. The real need is to help the NFPs adopt a better approach to funding their organisation.
- Too much time is spent building business models and business plans around what they think will satisfy the funders. Rather than what will satisfy and delight their clients.
- Marketing is what businesses do, not NFPs? Much of the marketing is of little value in today’s new and competitive environment. Scarce resources are wasted on outdated marketing efforts.
Sometimes all a small regional community has is a ‘pub’ along with a small rural supply business and a few houses.
Small regional communities need to understand ‘sponge cities’
- Regional communities and remote villages are vulnerable to ‘sponge’ city activities and need special attention.
- You should never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
- Information technology, communications and systems can do much to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of most SMEs and NFPs. But there is little expertise applied to this important aspect, instead relying on obsolete methods.
- There is little attention given to addressing ways to overcome the dysfunction caused by changes created by sponge cities.
- Many NFPs are surrounded by negative people who worry about the wrong things and become the brakes on the organisations.
- Because people work so closely anxiety can quickly spread without any external intervention.
- Some people on boards and committees can be weak, mean, power-hungry, deceptive and slothful. As a result, it can permeate the whole community, causing people to go elsewhere to meet their wants and needs.
Don’t leave your community picking up the crumbs.
Governments should only be there to support
All my life I have listened to the great rhetoric of government people at all levels. “Small regional communities are the backbone of our nation. We will work hard to ensure that you can take full advantage of the opportunities available to you locally and the opportunities the government can create”. All good stuff, but they miss doing the action part and if they do take action it is always based on their own understanding.
If politicians and bureaucrats were doing the job they espouse, why are most of our small regional communities still the same? Or even worse than they were sixty years ago. Yes, you can blame them for a lack of sound leadership, but the people who live in these regional communities must take some responsibility.
Acquiring a better understanding of the situation
- Surely governments over the years have done enough studies on small business, non-profits and Indigenous communities to utilise available resources and help them as communities to take their own actions to make a positive difference.
- We must stop telling politicians and government bureaucrats what they want to hear, if we want to make progress
- Many communities are following antiquated guidelines handed to them by governments who also lack the practical on-the-ground experience.
- Governments lose sight of the fact that is it a large number of micro and small businesses in regional communities that create the job opportunities, even if it is a half job here and a quarter job there. The government focus on helping larger businesses but there is usually not enough of them to make a difference.
- Micromanagement by governments seems to be ever-present. They are trying to force unrealistic outcomes with insufficient funding for the purpose is more often than not an underlying problem. Entrepreneurs need to be identified and left alone to do the job.
- Community performance will never be even across the country. Some small regional communities will expand and some will continue to decline. Distribution of government funds based on ‘politics’ is not helpful. This is evidenced by the recent demise of large political parties across the world.
- Governments are causing NFPS to spend far too much time on compliance and reporting, instead, they could be getting on with the real job they are there to do. This is particularly a problem where weak inexperienced boards exist. If they spend the same amount of time they spend talking to governments, collaborating with the businesses in the community much more would be accomplished.
Governments can’t do everything
- It is now accepted that if our small regional communities are going to survive and thrive. Then the initiatives must be formulated and developed within and by the people of the community. ‘Talkfests’ are finished, actions are now required to move from the status quo. If you don’t take the action, who will?
- In most communities the people know what needs to be done, they just need to find the catalyst for action. A coat of paint on a single building can be that catalyst. Much of what needs to be done doesn’t cost much money just some planning time and a little ‘elbow grease’.
- Startups and micro businesses are their own worst enemies. They are continually complaining about having no time and no money. But they won’t take the initiative to engage advisors to help them, even on a success fee basis. Too many have the welfare mentality and expect others to make them successful without investing in their own personal development.
- Problems at a local level, are often a result of a poor image in an inappropriate environment. Where there are people appearing unfriendly and resisting scrutiny that could help them to improve puts a brake on the community.
- Governments impose many rules and regulation surrounding their grants. They usually focus on what they want, not what the communities really want and need to do a good job. Universities could be a great help but always seem to be controlled by the government purse-strings and objectives not those of the communities. Universities have large student bodies who could benefit greatly by being involved more with the local businesses and non-profits. Unfortunately, universities seem to be more bureaucratic than the governments causing them to be inadequate for most of the work required.
People who want their own business must be committed
- If people want to improve their lifestyle they should just get on with it as there has never been such a diverse range of opportunities to choose from.
- Economic and climate uncertainty has been with us forever and people who can’t learn to cope with that should never go into their own business.
- Premises in small regional communities are often inadequate. Non-profits particularly, (because of the lack of a profit motive) need to consider and act upon how their ‘space’ functions and how people want to work there. If premises look good, people will want to be involved. Because they will feel good, function well and be far more productive in a friendly and flexible atmosphere. Governments need to ratchet up the quality of premises in regional communities as examples and to inspire others.
Issues restraining NFPs, SMEs is small regional communities
- Competitiveness of small town organisations trying to survive the competitors coming from ‘sponge’ cities.
- Poor support from bigger cities for small communities and villages because they are too busy looking after their own issues.
- Having difficulty in becoming part of the world economy.
- Poor business planning, because of concern for the future versus the tyranny of the urgent.
- Much scope for domination of decision-making, because people are too nice and won’t stand up to the bullies and dominant personalities.
- There is considerable need for objective external help with management so existing skills can be supplemented.
- Limited ability to grow or make big (i.e. costly) changes in regional communities.
- Close interpersonal relationships in the workplace so performance can be compromised.
- Short-term thinking and limited leverage in obtaining capital so people go without.
- Informal communication and information channels in regional communities and as a result marketing can be compromised.
- Little interest, or investment in information systems because of poor learning programs.
- Lack of formal control systems, so people are exposed to the potential for errors.
There is a lot to consider but it only takes one to make a difference
- The vicious circle of problem continuation because of a lack of accountability.
- Poor understanding of the big picture and changes taking place.
- Low management expertise available, with little managerial slack.
- Very small management teams, committees, limited/unbalanced skills.
- Relative operating simplicity and informality (sloppiness).
- Multi-functional work roles for managers and employees.
- Associated problems with part-time employees and volunteers.
- Lack of specialist staff with many jobs overlapping leading to inefficiencies.
- Little or no employee training, job analysis or skills planning.
- Shortage of promotable employees in regional communities because of the low population base.
- Limited ability to scan, monitor or influence the environment effectively.
- Narrow product and service range to meet demands so potential business goes outside the community.
- The small market which can add to increased vulnerability.
- With sparse backup resources, mistakes can be lethal.
- Lack of understanding of the tyranny of distance and what can be done to overcome it.
Start by uncovering your community’s issues
Where to start
- Conduct a ‘Community Health Check’. See FAQ Support’s Analytical tools.
- Conduct some small ‘focus group’ meetings to help uncover issues important to community members, individuals, businesses and non-profits.
- Draw up and action plan.
“He who answers before listening – that is his folly and his shame”. Proverbs
“Good buildings make and are made by their settings, and they are appropriately different in different locations. Climate, culture, topography and materials have helped create regional architectural languages. That seem curiously right for their locations and for all times”. Jaquelin T. Robertson