Lessons from the Islands for a Better Business

Last week I was privileged to be be invited to the Isles of Scilly to spend 2 days helping the businesses on the Islands the eCommerce side of their businesses. As well as sharing my knowledge there are several key lessons I’m bringing back to the mainland that we could all find useful.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Isles of Scilly they are a small group of islands off the South West tip of Cornwall (Great Britain) with a permanent populate under 5,000. It’s a beautiful spot, that attracts a lot of tourists (it is well worth a visit!), but also has a thriving eCommerce sector selling everything from fresh flowers to soaps.isles of scilly


What can we learn?

Living in such a remote and unforgiving spot the islanders have to adopt certain approaches in order to succeed. So here’s my take on what we can learn from their approach to business.

1. Stop complaining about what you can’t change

The islanders are surrounded by things that they can’t affect, and that would send us mainlanders into a miserable moaning mess. But I can’t recall hearing a single person actually complain about them.

These are issues such as

– the weather stopping all flights and boats from reaching them for days.

– additional postage charges on anything not delivered by Royal Mail

– only so much space (there is literally no more land that can be used!)

Instead of complaining they focus on making the most of what they have and finding ways around the problems.

Such a refreshing approach!

I meet with many businesses around the world who just endless moan about some issue that they have no control over. In 2015 let’s stop moaning and find the positive solution.

Apart from the mist Friday was a lovely day - but we were still marooned with no way to leave until Saturday - not that anyone was complaining!
Apart from the mist Friday was a lovely day – but we were still marooned with no way to leave until Saturday – not that anyone was complaining!

2. Make the most of what you have

One of the companies I met with is 28 Miles a family of farmers who produce soaps and other toiletries. Growing the flowers, distilling them into quality oils, and then making them into products ready for consumers to buy and use.


They only have 13 acres (for the non-farmers reading this, that’s a tiny farm), and there’s no where to expand. That means they had to find a way to make the greatest possible income from the resources they have. To that means taking the raw produce (the flowers) and processing it into a fantastic product that gives them a much higher return than the flowers alone.

This is a similar approach to the one I find a lot of wholesalers / manufacturers following – let’s sell to the end consumer to maximise our profit on each unit sold.

Take a look around your business – what skills, resources, stock do you have that you could be making more of?

2.5. Create restrictions where you need them – you don’t have to do everything that’s possible

On the mainland we don’t have many natural restrictions, so we let our businesses get flabby. We indulge in extra office space, marketing that doesn’t work for us (financially, or time-wise), business systems that just aren’t efficient, and pointless traveling.

To improve we should therefore create some restrictions to make us less wasteful.

Take a long hard look at your days, and your business – what’s superflous? What do you need to cut out? And what do you need to restrict so that you get more bang for your buck?

I had quite a discussion about this approach with Emily from the Seven Stones Inn on St Martin’s about this. They are currently renovating 2 holiday cottages for the 2015 season, and will be encouraging all bookings to be made via their eCommerce system. They know taking phone calls would be nice for customers – but they want to spend their time making the business better not answering the phone. That’s the right strategy – you don’t have to do it all.

3. Form partnerships and work together

On the first day we had over 25 businesses at our conference – and by my reckoning at least 75% of them had a direct competitor in the room!

That initially had me a little worried as I was asking them to work together to identify their USPs and define their strategies… but I had no need to worry. The idea of not working together was totally foreign to these business people, because they have to work together and have better lives and businesses for it.

Again let’s look at St Martin’s – it’s a tiny island just 2 miles long with 120 inhabitants. On the island there’s just the one grocery shop, who help the holiday cottage owners by enabling their customers to pre-order their shopping. They also help out the newly refurbished hotel by sourcing and supplying the ingredients they need for their ever expanding menu.

None of these are new ideas – but have a think about how you can operate your business more like an islander in 2015. It will make you more successful.

If you’d like find out more of my recommendations for eCommerce success in 2015 – sign up now for our 2015 eCommerce Trends series