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Building business connections with the ADF: On Point with Matt Hill

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Unprecedented investment in the ADF has opened the door for Australian SMEs to embrace opportunity for domestic and international success. But as Matt Hill identified, establishing connections and networks is an area SMEs need help with.

Unprecedented investment in the ADF has opened the door for Australian SMEs to embrace opportunity for domestic and international success. But as Matt Hill identified, establishing connections and networks is an area SMEs need help with.

Defence has traditionally been a rather secretive bureaucratic behemoth, which has made it hard for Australian SMEs to engage with the large, multi-national prime contractors, the department and the uniformed service. 

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Where prime defence contractors have the backing of large local and international experience and expertise lobbying and developing business connections, Australian SMEs traditionally operate on very lean model, maximising employee participation, product quality, innovation and output. 

For Matt Hill of Shadow Business Development, building business connections and networks for Australia's robust and highly capable SME ecosystem is his core focus. 

Australia's growing presence at the world's premier defence and aerospace expositions are also key opportunities for the nation's SMEs to leverage the services, expertise and experience of government organisations like Austrade and Team Defence Australia to integrate with the global supply chain and defence industrial base. 

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Both Hill and Shadow Business Development focus on "introducing capability to opportunity" to ensure that Australian and allied warfighters are provided with the equipment, vehicles and technology needed to complete their mission. 

In this edition of On Point, Defence Connect spoke with Matt to discuss how Australia's defence SME ecosystem can better develop the business relationships and networks to integrate as part of the growing Australian defence supply chain and leverage the commercial opportunities. 

In your experience, when a client is planning how to maximise the investment into a large trade show, whether as a participant or as an exhibitor, what are a couple of things that you have to get absolutely right before you get there?

I think a key point is really being honest with yourself and with your organisation's capability, what you can achieve, what your track record is, and also understand clearly what you think the market perception is of your organisation as well, both locally and then also the international market or wherever that trade show is going to be.

From there, you can then take that understanding and actively target your marketing material. It also allows you to seek assistance from and provide information to Austrade or Team Defence Australia or the Australia Military Sales office, and ask them for feedback and advice prior to going to market. 

Getting that understanding and understanding the services on offer from the Australian government is what makes a big difference in being able to formulate a clear plan as to what it is that you want to achieve on that trade mission.

Basically, it is getting to know the local knowledge and understanding of that, and then asking yourself honestly is there a real specific opportunity that you can target while you're at the trade show?

How do SMEs breakdown the barriers that have traditionally defined defence procurement and planning processes, both at home and abroad? How do you get in front of the right person in a timely manner and has the Australian government helped in any way? 

It's a good question and literally anybody that's played in the land of defence and defence procurement understands that the planning and procurement process can quickly become two, three, or five years before any decision of actual purchase is made. 

You've got to have that little tinge of reality with what you want to achieve because, normally, if somebody's able find an opportunity for a capability and then help it along its way to become something realistic, that knowledge base has most probably been in that area for a considerable period of time.

You've definitely got to be patient and it's a long-term game.

But, at the same time, I'll reiterate, Team Defence Australia, Austrade, Australian Military Sales office and the Defence Export Office are organisations that government has set up to provide assistance and what they're doing now helps speed up that process, which is just fantastic to see.

You've really highlighted the role of Team Defence Australia, what is the best way for SMEs to engage with TDA in your experience?

There are definitely a range of avenues, whether it's by website, email or through a phone call.

The problem is nowadays we tend to hide behind emails more often, whereas it is quite easy to pick up a phone, making the call and actually ask the question or even at an industry briefing or anything along those sorts of lines.

Actually reaching out and actually talking to somebody and actually asking the question is the best way. 

More likely than not, if they don't have the answer for you straight up, they will be able to redirect to find the person that can actually help with that inquiry that you have.

When you're on the ground at a trade show, from your experience what the best operators doing to maximise their time and energy to participate in relationship building? 

One most important point that a lot of people tend to forget is that it's OK to be on the stand, like a Team Defence Australia stand or your own stand, depending on your investment.

It's actually OK to smile. It's OK to actually have lighthearted conversations. I think a lot of people misunderstand the fact that Australia has a great reputation internationally, both from a defence industry point of view but also from the traditional Australian larrikin, and with that, people are attracted to happiness; I think that's the best way to put it.

People are more interested in attending a stand where people are more vibrant, easygoing, engaging than they are in people with a solemn disposition about them because it's not engaging and it's not inviting.

That's a real key thing that I've found, particularly over the last few years, is that the Australian industry is welcomed literally in any country that you go to, and people want to engage, they want to understand what's going on, and I think that's fantastic.

The full podcast with Matt Hill, director at Shadow Business Development, is available here.

Building business connections with the ADF: On Point with Matt Hill
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