Support groups: growing your small business

14 June 2016

Setting up and running a small business can sometimes feel isolating, not to mention hard work. Building a support network can help. We drop in for dinner with the heads of five successful businesses with their own support network to find out more.

A recent Thursday night in central Auckland saw five mates sharing a few work stories over dinner. They meet for dinner every few months for a catch up. Nothing out of the ordinary, except that these mates are the founders and owners of some of New Zealand’s most successful small businesses – all of them with sustainability at their core – and their meet-ups have in a small way helped their success.

Meet Chris Morrison, co-founder of All Good Organics and Karma Cola; James Crow, co-founder of Tommy & James; Mike Murphy, Managing Director of Kokako Organic Coffee; Ben Bell, creator of Hungry Bins; and Steve Rickerby, founder of We Compost.

They recognised that setting up and running your own business can at times be lonely and that there’s much to be gained from sharing experiences. So they formed an informal support group through which they meet to share news, contacts and ideas – and simply enjoy each other’s company.

While the main focus is mutual support rather than anything commercial, collaborations have emerged. For example, at Kokako Mike has trialled new compostable coffee bin liners from Steve’s We Compost.

Why do they meet?

Steve says: “The best thing is to realise I’m not crazy and for others to say what I’m doing is OK. It’s hard for people without their own business to understand some of the issues we face”.

According to Ben, running a sustainable business isn’t always easy. “You’re competing with businesses that run on a cheaper cost basis. There’s no legislative imperative to be sustainable. How many businesses are built around sustainability as the first part of their ethos?”

Mike believes what sets these businesses apart from others is that they’ve made what they do appealing. “Ben has made having a worm farm cool. Steve has made compost collection interesting through being a passionate and active advocate on Instagram. In Kokako, we’re constantly trying to be a change-maker.”

Each had an inspiring piece of news to share:

  • Hungry Bin is now selling on Ben was approached by Amazon at a trade show in the US and he estimates this will double Hungry Bin’s turnover.
  • Karma Cola’s range of soft drinks – Karma Cola, Gingerella and Lemony Lemonade – is now available in aluminium cans in Waitrose supermarket stores in the UK. The 250ml snack size can, which is smaller than a standard canned soft drink, is designed to take on the growing ‘food to go’ market.
  • Tommy & James have successfully branched out into the dairy-free milk sector. Their Coconut Drinking Milk is part of the Little Island Coconut Creamery This is a shift to everyday, year-round products rather than seasonal treats like Nice Blocks.
  • We Compost’s first truck started collecting compostable food and materials from offices in Auckland four years ago. Since then there has been a big change in business mind-set about composting. We Compost now composts 20 tonnes a week in a commercial composting plant. Revenue is doubling every year. Steve says it’s hard to find a corporate or reputable café in New Zealand that isn’t
  • Kokako now supplies coffee in the South Island. There have been recent sightings of both the (thought to be extinct) South Island Kokako and Mike’s famous Kokako Cold Brew martinis (alive and well) in Nelson. Both went down a treat. Look out for Kokako’s first open-source sustainability overview, which will be published in July. It is intended as a frank and transparent overview of Kokako’s long-term sustainability commitment.

Want to know more?

For advice on setting up and running your own business, check out these seven tips from

  1. Build a support network: find a business coach or mentor, set up a group or go to networking events – find one in your area on our Events page.
  2. Be very specific with your goals: break big goals into smaller goals.
  3. Delegate whenever possible: focus on what you do best and delegate the rest.
  4. Keep your overhead low: try and save money from overheads like rent and computer systems.
  5. Find your best niche and stick with it: finding your niche and continually innovating around it is the key to success.
  6. Keep your day job just a little longer: make sure your new business will work before quitting your income stream.
  7. Avoid distractions at all costs: Keeping yourself organised and on-task is fundamental for success. Successful entrepreneurs don’t do the minimum for their company; they constantly work to grow it, evolve it and prepare it for the future.

Who can help grow your small business?

  • Vapour provides small organisations with access to comprehensive business infrastructure services (such as strategy, people, finance, systems, assets and contracts) so you can focus on your core business.
  • The Akina Foundation helps social enterprises grow by providing development support such as helping build validated business models and investment strategies.
  • If you’re in the food industry, Mark Collins NZ Ltd is a food service consultancy, helping with business improvement.

Image 1: Mike Murphy whipping up some Kokako Cold Brew Martinis at the opening of The Kitchen in Nelson. Credit: Luke Marshall Photography.