Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Small Business Success Stories

small business success
So what are the ingredients for success when you’re running a small business in Australia?

Recently, I met with two small business owners who have achieved success and share their story with us – but from very different perspectives. In different ways, their experience offers guidance and inspiration to budding entrepreneurs.    
One has just celebrated her first year of being in business. Within a relatively short period of time, she has already carved out a remarkable slice of the market within the HR and recruitment industry and succeeded in establishing  a strong online presence for her business. Whilst the other has been running his consultancy business for more than 30 years and is widely respected as a leader within the public speaking coaching industry.
Surviving and succeeding the “Start-Up” phase
Let’s hear firstly from Natasha Hawker, who founded  Employee Matters, an HR Consultancy company based in Sydney, Australia that assists small to medium businesses with their HR functions to make them more efficient and profitable. In her own words, Natasha shares some of the lessons she has learned about setting up a small business and coping with those early challenges …..
“Fasten your seat-belts - you are in for a rocky ride-
 My reason for starting a business really came about due to necessity. I had just finished a role doing something similar and I could see there was a market; my confidence levels were high and if I went back to my corporate life, I would have missed the boat! But on the flip-side I was 42, married with three young children (6, 5 &4), held a mortgage and guess what? I was the breadwinner as my husband was studying full time and looking after the house and kids - hmm, am I mad? Perhaps - but I think maybe you need to be to take that leap into owning your own business and all the uncertainty that goes with it.

So what are some of the lessons learned?
1. Work your butt off! You will work harder than you ever have - I worked for many years at Accenture and I thought I worked hard then, but it pales in comparison to the hours spent, even just thinking about the business. (Not helped by your husband being your business partner and always wanting to discuss one more thing before bed!)
2. Keep fit - I play squash at 6am four mornings a week and this keeps me sane. Plus it is amazing the stress that can be worked off belting a little ball against a hard wall!
3. Do it gradually - we had no choice as we needed to keep food on the table and the mortgage paid. I was fortunate enough to have had a client for whom I have worked anywhere from 2 - 4 days per week throughout. This served to ease some of our financial pressure
4. Plan - we spent hours up front developing our business plan, strategy and marketing strategy. We reviewed it recently and learnt some great lessons and have developed a revised plan for this year
5. Emotional resilience - a friend once told me owning your own business is a roller coaster ride and never a truer word was spoken! There is a lot of initial uncertainty and then you need to be able to bounce back quickly and pragmatically after you encounter a disappointment. 
6. Cash-flow - you hear it all the time!..... Companies typically suffer cash-flow problems at 9 months and, sure enough, at that point we had just experienced our biggest month and yet could barely afford to pay our team on time or ourselves at all. Luckily our bank came to the rescue with an overdraft
7. Surround yourself with great people - we have hired experts who are brilliant at what they do. They give our clients confidence when working through challenging issues. They take away our clients' problems, allowing them to focus on their business
8. Systemise - what I mean by this is having policies and procedures in place. Try and map as many processes as you can - start early because if you need to scale quickly, this can rapidly undo your business and destroy your ability to function
9. Vision, Mission and Values - are critical; these form the 'structure' of the business and a foundation that supports your team and gives them direction. My team are remote - they work from either their home or the client site. We only see each other once a quarter, so I need them to be very clear about what the business, their colleagues and our clients expect of them
10. Good Service - it is not an old fashioned idea! Our vision is to 'exceed, excite, excel' and I see this as critical to our success to date. Over-service your clients and they will become advocates for you and your business ….. But don't be afraid to fire a client where there is a mismatch of values, slow payment or 'high maintenance' issues"
Natasha goes on to say that despite the times of stress and uncertainty that typically accompany establishing a small business, that never-the-less she is having a blast … “I love what I am doing, I love growing a business, I love growing a team and I can't wait to see where it goes but wow, getting there is awesome!”
Thanks Natasha, I'm reminded of what Steve Jobs said .... "When you love what you're doing, it ain't work".

Preparing for the long haul.
Natasha has succeeded in guiding her business through the start-up stage - but what does it take to sustain that success over a long period of time?
Paddy Spruce is the founder and Director of Integrity Learning, a corporate training company that specialises in public speaking skills training and executive coaching, and is based in Melbourne, Australia. He shares his thoughts from over 30 years of experience about what it takes to start a business - and then stay in there for the long haul.
“Imagine you are a truck driver and getting ready for a very long journey, say 3000km. You would need to do some planning. Know where you’re     going. Have enough fuel for the first leg. Check the weather. Fasten your load. Get the truck serviced. Tell people when you will be back.

Not unlike starting a business. In Gerber's classic book "E Myth", he mentions three legs to the stool of success in small business. E the entrepreneur. The one with the imitative and drive who decides to start a business. T the technical knowledge. Your expertise. M the manager, the accountant, the cash flow advisor, the one who plans for the long haul. Often this stool topples because the M leg is missing or seriously weak.
I started my business in 1982. I am a speaker, training consultant and speaking coach. I am a founding member of the National Speakers Association in Victoria and work overseas and in all Australian States.

If you are intending to be in business for the long haul (and why wouldn't you?), I have some suggestions that have helped me to run my small business enjoyably and successfully for over thirty years.
1. Decide to be in business for a long time. Don't dip your toe in to test the temperature. Commit. Tell yourself that this is what I am going to do for the long haul. Treat this as seriously as a marriage or more seriously than a marriage.
2. Do an audit on yourself. The entrepreneur will be excited or panic stricken. Both of these will pass. Make sure the technician has knowledge about good and services that the market needs. Put your ego aside. The going will be tough. Does the Manager know enough to make the business survive and then thrive. If not, does the Manager know where to get this information.
3. Become a realistic optimistic. Be optimistic in the long term. "I can do this and will do whatever it takes". Be realistic in the short term. When things become difficult, focus on what needs to be done NOW. Operate in the present and decide on action to go beyond the immediate hurdle. Tell yourself "This will pass". Don't let you mind wander into the future. Make sure what you are doing is productive and stay focused.
4. Get yourself in shape. Consider these points in your self-audit ……
- Peace of mind (are you free from fear or almost )
- Health and energy (do you have good health, eat well, exercise, relax daily, sleep well ),

- Strong relationships (a life partner, business colleagues who will assist you, friends you can call upon)
- Worthy goals and values ( Written goals  and values that are meaningful to you and benefit people besides you ),
- In control of your destiny ( control what you can and accept that luck exists - it does seem to favour the people who turn up and work hard )

5. Become a student of business. Discover what you need to know for the long haul and learn it anyway you can. Ask for help. Offer something in return.
6. Control your ego. Practise humility. Admit your ignorance. Be curious always. Tell the truth. Be honest with yourself and others. Make this your foundation. No one is successful without the help of others. Admit this at the start.
7. Form a mastermind group. Start or join a group of like-minded people. Look for same values but different expertise and experience. Discipline yourself to meet regularly. Give help before expecting to receive help.
8. Set goals for yourself and the business. Modest to start.
9. Clarify your purpose. Why are you starting this business? Be very clear or don't start. It may never be clearer than at the start.
10. Understand the risk before taking it. Many small businesses fail. Some do extraordinarily well. The successful ones manage the risk. They know what to do if something goes wrong. They are determined to survive and thrive. They are in for the long haul. It's not pessimistic to ask the question ' What if this doesn't work?' It's fundamental risk management. If you can't manage the risk, don't take it.
The most important suggestion I can make is to study Mindfulness. If you don't know what it is, find out. If you know what it is, use it more. If you are an expert, help others. It's about doing what you do as well as you can.
This is the secret to creating a successful small business. Know what you want to create, get help, find out what you need to know and don't know, examine your motives, decide on what's important and do everything you do as well as you can. That way, eventually you will gain  a reputation for excellence ......... Good luck with your long haul”
Paddy says that starting his own business more than 30 tears ago was the second smartest decision he ever made. "But the smartest one was marrying my wife, Hilary"

In closing

Let me thank Natasha and Paddy for sharing some of their experience with us .... Whether you are a budding entrepreneur looking for inspiration, or a seasoned small business owner seeking some extra self-motivation, I hope their story has given you some food for thought, that might help you persevere with your own small business success journey

Just before I sign off, you might also be interested to have a look at some more stories of  small businesses success. And their owners have based their business model on giving back to the community and sharing some of the rewards of their success.

Copyright 2013. Brian Carroll is the founder of Performance Development - a corporate training company based in Melbourne that delivers management training and leadership development services.