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Coming together to drive forward far north businesses

By Trudy Morris

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Making connections is key to business success, says Trudy Morris, chief executive of Caithness Chamber of Commerce

Caithness Chamber of Commerce speed networking event.
Caithness Chamber of Commerce speed networking event.

Earlier this month, over 160 people gathered to hear about the growing opportunities across the north Highland region. The room at the Focus North Conference was buzzing with energy, and it wasn’t just the vibrant orange backdrop pointing to a bright future for the region.

With a dynamic line-up of speakers, conversations spanned renewable energy, nuclear decommissioning, peatland restoration and space, but the message was clear – collaboration is the magic ingredient when it comes to securing a prosperous future for the north Highland region and for our future generations.

Collaboration isn’t just a buzzword – businesses and communities thrive when individuals with diverse skills, perspectives and experience collaborate towards a common goal.

A driving force behind the Focus North programme, collaborative partnership working has paved the way for initiatives which will prepare the region for the opportunities ahead – such as the launch of the Caithness Business Fund’s Future Skills Initiative, which with initial funding of £100,000 via the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) and NRS Dounreay, will support businesses to establish new apprenticeships, fostering locally grown talent and building resilience in our local economy.

Magnus Davidson from NRS Dounreay presenting to the 2024 Focus North Conference.
Magnus Davidson from NRS Dounreay presenting to the 2024 Focus North Conference.

Collaboration is often the by-product of successful networking and it’s not just about exchanging business cards; it's about building meaningful relationships and fostering a community. Networking expands your business ecosystem, provides new opportunities, and opens doors to new possibilities and insights.

Of course, networking can be intimidating for even the most experienced business professionals. But nothing compares to being in the room when it comes to making genuine connections.

Our first networking event of the year held at the Royal Thurso Hotel was a resounding success. We were thrilled to see such a diverse range of local businesses in attendance. The north Highlands are a close-knit community, but it is essential to remember that you don’t always know everyone or everything that is happening locally.

Speaking to members and local business owners opens our eyes to the breadth of their businesses and the wide array of their skills and services.

At the Caithness Chamber, we stand by our motto, "Stronger Together". We believe that nurturing networking opportunities is one of the avenues for our members to build their businesses. Helping facilitate collaboration is just one of the ways we shine as a Chamber.

The Focus North Conference called for “collective local action” so let's get out there and really communicate with each other. A perfect business collaboration might not result from each interaction, but we will certainly be more knowledgeable and more connected – who knows, you might even enjoy it!

Building connections, networking, and collaboration

Business Insight by Sacha Woolham, director, The Strategy Collective

Sacha Woolham, director at The Strategy Collective.
Sacha Woolham, director at The Strategy Collective.

I often say to people that in business it’s a case of ‘Collaborate or Die’, this feels quite emotive but throughout my corporate career as well as working with smaller businesses, the most innovative, profitable and happiest teams follow this model.

As the world shifts and changes, collaboration more than ever is central to a healthy business.

That means that the know-how on many elements of what we do sits outside our own business. Rather than just accepting this, collaboration with our suppliers or partners, the experts in these elements, can really help change our business.

A quick example. Many people ask me about why their marketing isn’t working. They hesitate as I don’t understand their business like they do – I can’t, and never will as I don’t sit with them day in and day out – and that’s not my job. My job is to understand their customers, talk to them, find out what they need and want, and where the gaps are.

Then we work to put a plan together, pulling a set of approaches that resonates and reaches their audiences. Two heads (often more) are better than one.

You see we are tapping into other people’s perspectives, their knowledge and expertise with a joint goal. But for this to work, you have to go with an open mind, a willingness to share and trust. Not only does it make you more productive, as you are suddenly gaining more from suppliers and partners, but it also tends to make people happier.

Suddenly their engagement in your business is increased. Oh, and if your supplier suddenly hears of a new piece of work, then we can guess who they think of first.

This doesn’t happen overnight. We are learning from each other, collaborating, and finding the right words and places to jointly find their customers. This isn’t necessarily a quick process but it’s always fruitful. I always think of the African proverb – “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

The other question I get a lot from businesses is how do I get more sales? Often my first port of call isn’t just about online options – so not just social media or websites but asking about face-to-face interactions. Why? People buy from people.

I know that if I get potential leads to talk to my customers, particularly in business-to-business scenarios, they pretty much slam-dunk it and will make that sale. Their new customer can see the passion, the expertise and build trust first-hand. No website can convert a sale quite like a real human.

Building trust and relationships is really central to making a business profitable. People will spend more as well as keep coming back. Even in a digital age, nothing comes close to meeting our customers in person.

I was once told that “network” was “net – wealth”. People who are closest to your business often will buy or recommend you. New customers can be closer than you think. And remember, all your employees have a network too, so your circle suddenly becomes much larger.

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