Saturday, November 19, 2016

A Young Business Owner Shares Her Entrepreneur's Story

More women are starting up their own business

According to a News Corp article of March 2016, “…. increasing numbers of women in Australia are choosing to opt out of corporate life and start their own business”. The article went on to say that in part, this rise was due to technology making it much easier for people to set up a viable business.

In the article, there is reference to surveys that indicate that women entering their thirties are more likely to leave the corporate space to start their own business.

small business Australia blogWell this particular story is about a younger entrepreneur who was in her early twenties, when circumstances propelled her into setting up her own consulting business.

Ashleigh McInnes is the founder of PaperMill Media.  It is a business specialising in PR, event management and the design of targeted social media campaigns. 

She is quite a remarkable young woman who during the past six years has built a company that is respected as a leader in its particular niche market – servicing architectural and property development firms. As her business grows, she is having to learn about employing and managing staff – but her success so far suggests she is an astute learner. 

She shares some of her small business story with us …..

1.    Tell us a little about what initially motivated you to start-up your own business?

I was working for another PR agency and the owner decided to close the business. She actually suggested that I go freelance rather than finding another job, so Papermill was born from there.
So off I went, using my spare bedroom as my office with nothing but a laptop and buckets of enthusiasm.  

2.    What about selecting your business name – which I think is one of the most important early decisions a business owner makes in the start-up phase – how did you come up with Papermill Media?

I actually went through literally hundreds of iterations before I came up with Papermill. In the beginning, I had lots of great ideas but most of them were already taken.

Then I got desperate after a few months and started to pluck random words out of thin air. Then I stopped thinking about it because I was fatigued from the process. Then one day, a thought popped into my head – that communications was once reliant on the written word – travelling via horse and carriage, then carrier pigeon, then the post in more recent times. My thoughts then shifted to how communication is now invisible – it’s all around us and sent via wi-fi and social media.

Then ‘Papermill’ popped into my head as a name that was referential to the past, of a time when communication was solely a tool for paper, and reflected how far the industry has come. From that day on I knew that would be our name….. For me, it was really important to find a name that conveyed a deeper meaning.

3.     What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced, in establishing your business?

Starting the business at just 24 years of age and liaising with clients who were usually at least twice or three times my age was initially challenging and somewhat intimidating. I constantly second guessed myself and wondered if I was even qualified to be giving advice in the realms of PR and media. After about two years, though, I had a lightbulb moment, and realised that I had earnt my seat at the table, so to speak, and I knew what I was talking about and my opinion was valued. After that moment, everything changed and Papermill really took off.

I would say the other challenge was initially being in the business alone, without any employees, meant I couldn’t bounce ideas off anyone. That was particularly challenging at the beginning but I quickly learnt that Google was a girl’s best friend and I’d always had a knack for faking it until I made it, so I quickly self-taught myself any skills I felt I needed to improve upon. I learned how to rely less on others and instead trust my own judgement.

Fast forward to the present day and we have a team of ten in our office. I would say that we have succeeded in creating a collaborative and supportive environment - which is so important for any young professionals starting out. We try to create structures of support and encouragement while exposing the junior staff to lots of opportunities they might not have experienced elsewhere, and the feedback we receive from both staff and clients has been incredibly positive.

4.      What do you find most rewarding in running your own business?

A major reward is the sense of satisfaction gained from working with our clients to add real value to their business and brand. Feeling like the work that we are doing is contributing to a wider purpose is incredibly motivating.

Many business owners might say a benefit is having the flexibility of setting your own hours - but for me personally, I rarely take days off because I find there’s never a shortage of things to do. Instead I try to go on two holidays every year, in order to switch off and refresh – and to remind myself what life is all about.

5.     You’ve had projects that have focused on building large social media followings for some major brands. On a smaller scale, what advice would you offer to entrepreneurs as they seek to grow their business – how should they go about aiming to incorporate social media and content marketing in their marketing plans?

The first and fundamental thing to consider is whether social media is actually right for your business. An electrical engineering firm, for example, would likely not be best suited for Instagram or Facebook, as it’s mostly a corporate B2B audience. In that instance, LinkedIn would probably be better suited to their target audience.

However a public-facing company (B2C) with opportunities to generate a significant amount of visually appealing content would likely see a real value in Instagram. The important point I would emphasise is not just be on social media because you feel like everyone else is doing it - but instead because it provides a platform to create real conversation between your brand and your target audience. Despite popular belief, social media is not right for every business - and that’s OK! ….. So don’t let a myth compel you to invest time and money in a strategy that isn’t going to generate a sufficient return. 

6.      For those businesses that do sell direct to customer (B2C), can you offer some tips on how they might aim to build a social media following through content creation?

Use the 60/40 rule. Talk about yourself maybe 60 percent of the time - then the other 40 percent of the time, use your content to let your audience know what inspires you or what your values are. This could be quotes, beautiful imagery or sharing examples of other businesses that you admire.  The key here is to recognise that part of your content becomes an avenue for you to represent what your brand stands for.

Another tip is this – quality over quantity. It’s all about the quality of your images. If you post a fuzzy, dark, out of context image, it’s hard for your audience to engage. Focus on posting less often as you start out, but ensuring each image is of the best quality.

However for the majority of small businesses, without the benefit of paid amplification, it is unlikely that you will see your following skyrocket. When you are starting out, it’s all about building a slow and steady growth in your following.

7.      You were a finalist last year in the Telstra Young Business Woman’s Awards – what final words of advice would you share with budding entrepreneurs, be they young or old?

My main take-away from that experience is to back yourself and give it a go! Never in a million years did I expect to be in the situation I am today when I started Papermill six years ago.

Our successes are directly correlated to our philosophy of working hard and not expecting anything in return. All our growth has been organic and being open to exploring new things as we go along. My experience is that you don’t necessarily need a comprehensive business plan or a clearly defined, specific goal of what you want to achieve ….. Sometimes it’s just about being willing to explore and to keep on putting one foot in front of the other until things start to click. And the rest can end up falling into place.

I’m not saying that approach will necessarily hold true for everyone, but that’s simply how it has been for us. My experience is that some people can “over-think” and “over-plan” their ideas for a new business and can neglect to recognise when it is time to take some action and get on with it.  

Thanks to Ashleigh for sharing her story. It is a nice reminder that anything is possible when you have self-belief and apply yourself. .....If you are thinking of starting up your own small business, then you might be interested in another post "How To Be An Entrepreneur" that explores both the qualities and mindset that are necessary to succeed. 

About the author
Brian Carroll is a qualified psychologist and the founder of a Melbourne based corporate training business, Performance Development.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Thinking about hiring new staff for your business? Six hiring tips

Getting recruitment wrong can cost your small business

Congratulations if you're thinking about recruiting additional staff for your small business .... It means you must be doing something right to have achieved growth in demand for your services or products! 

However, hiring new staff brings some risk. Selecting the wrong person can create conflicts and strains within your existing team. A poor employee also has the potential to damage the brand of your business and jeopardise the goodwill you've established with your clients.

But having said there are risks in selecting the wrong person - let me add there can be greater risks in failing to bring in additional resources to support your existing staff who may be struggling to cope with the growth in demand. The last thing you want is good staff getting burned-out - because they have been the back-bone in supporting your business through the challenges and frustrations of"start-up".

You might perhaps be feeling I'm having a bet each way here - saying there are risks both for and against recruiting new staff. ......The main point is that any hiring steps you take are taken with your eyes open.

Of course, there's always the option of hiring a new staff member on a temporary rather than permanent basis, say for 4 - 6 weeks -  as a bit of  a trial to assess how it all goes. A limitation of this option however is that quite often, good capable people tend to be looking for more stability and might not be attracted to apply for a position advertised only as a temporary role.

Hiring tips for small business

So, if you've decided to recruit, here's some quick tips that can help -
  1. Clearly define the requirements of the job you're looking to fill. Write down a list of the typical daily duties and from these, identify the types of skills and experience a person would need to be able to adequately perform this work. When you look at the list of skills someone would need - you might perhaps prioritise these skills as either essential or desirable. There's a fair chance you will find that applicants do not tick every box of your requirements - so it's important to know which skills you are prepared to invest some training time in developing the right person. The list of job duties, combined with the list of necessary skills and qualities you are seeking, becomes the basis of the "Job Description" that you will provide to people who express an interest in the job. This will also include a brief description of the nature of your business and the employment conditions associated with the job.
  2. Before you incur the cost of advertising the vacancy through the media - whether that's the local paper or community radio, or maybe listing the job in an online platforms such as Seek or CareerOne - try simply placing news about the vacancy on your website (eg."We're Hiring"). And ensure you tell your network about the vacancy....... In the same way that many of your sales come from word-of-mouth referrals, so too can suitable applicants find out about the job simply from people knowing someone, the friend of a friend "who might be interested". One of the attractions for many people to work in a small business is that it's close to home - so let your customers know you've got a vacancy - and your suppliers, and any local sporting or community clubs that you're a member of. 
  3. Usually, you will ask people who express interest in the job to submit their resume and a cover letter - in which they explain how they believe their work experience meets the job requirements. Hopefully you receive enough applications to be able to select the best few to interview. 
  4. When you are interviewing, be careful you don't naively accept as fact everything that candidates may have written down in their resume or cover letter. You need to ask questions to reassure yourself that the person has the experience and skills that they claim. It is not uncommon for applicants to misrepresent what they have done in the past - and so you need to ask sufficient questions that require the interviewee to demonstrate to you that they do possess the knowledge and understanding of the systems and procedures they claim to have used. 
  5. Be sure to carefully check referees. It's not enough to know that someone  might possess the right skills to perform your job - you also want to check they have the personal qualities to fit in with your team. So gather information from referees around their reliability, their punctuality, their initiative and especially their ability to work cooperatively with co-workers. In a small team, chemistry is important - so before you offer a candidate the job - maybe have a couple of your staff also meet with them and have an informal chat, to confirm they are comfortable with the interpersonal style of the applicant. 
  6. Keep in mind that sometimes you might be interviewing a capable person, who is simply nervous and not good at selling themselves at interviews. So take some time to set the interviewee at ease before asking the more proving questions. You might consider deliberately keeping the interview "informal" and do it over a coffee, so as to have a more relaxed climate. For people who are re-entering the workforce (parents returning to work now their kids are school-aged), the interview is a daunting experience 
Although there can be the temptation of rushing to fill a vacancy when you're busy, it's never-the-less wise to take the extra time to find the right person. 
Sir Richard Branson : "It's better to have a hole in the team, rather than an asshole in the team" 
And one final tip. There are many small business owners when making their hiring decisions who will place more importance upon an applicant bringing a good attitude and a proven work ethic - ahead of them necessarily having all of the required skills. They will say to you that "It's much easier to train someone to improve their skills than it is to get someone to improve their attitude"

The above tips are designed to get you thinking about some of the common hiring issues and challenges  - for a much more detailed list of  essential tips, take a look at "How to Conduct the Job Interview" and also "Interview Questions to Ask" Finally, here's a short video clip in which the speaker shares some really good additional ideas that touch on the use of social media to advertise the vacancy - and the need to check with your accountant about the best business model for hiring (eg. permanent versus contractor staff)

About the author
Brian Carroll is a qualified psychologist and the founder of a Melbourne based corporate training business, Performance Development. He brings more than twenty years of experience in delivering Recruitment Skills training for hiring managers.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Are you a small business seeking Australian government funding for growth?

How can your small business access government funding?

There are regrettably many small business owners around Australia who are simply unaware of the government assistance that is available to them ….. Are you one of them? ...... Are you aware for example, of government funding that is available through the Industry Skills Fund.

The Australian government Business website states that ….”A highly skilled workforce is a priority for Australia. Employees that can adapt to technological and structural change can help their business to take advantage of growth opportunities that can emerge” 

Towards that end, the Fund is supporting the provision of Skills Advice and Training Grants. One of the agencies that have been commissioned as a federal government partner to provide free independent expert skills advice is Chisholm Institute (located in both metro and regional areas around Victoria).  

However there are a range of various partners you can connect with located all around Australia 

The role of the adviser is to assist your small or medium size business to identify skills or resource gaps that are needed to support future growth opportunities – and to offer you guidance in determining whether you meet the eligibility requirements of the Fund. And if so, they can help you with preparing and submitting an application for this funding.

I recently spoke with one such Industry Adviser, from Chisholm Institute,  Paul Ross. I asked Paul some questions about the Fund and how to access training grants …..
  1. Paul, can you briefly explain to our readers a bit about the Industry Skills Fund?
Sure Brian, the Industry Skills Fund is a Federal Government initiative which is being administered at the State level.  The Fund is designed to assist eligible business with training costs connected to business growth and who are ineligible to source training assistance from other government funds such as the Victorian Training Guarantee (VTG).
The amount of funding assistance varies depending upon their number of FTE’s  (full time employee’s) under a single ABN.  Businesses will be required to contribute towards the costs of training at the following rates.

Micro Business (0 – 4 FTE employees) – 25%
Small Business (5 – 19 FTE employees) – 34%
Medium Business (20 – 199 FTE employees) – 50%
Large Business (200+ FTE employees) – 75%

  1. What criteria would a small business owner need to satisfy to be eligible to receive funding?
Eligibility requirements are:
·       An active ABN operating for at least 3 years
·       A solvent enterprise which has submitted BAS statements for the last 3 consecutive years
·       Is registered for GST 
·       Has an identifiable growth opportunity which is a departure from business as usual.  The Fund will assist with training costs associated with the business taking up the growth opportunity.
  1. Can you explain Chisholm’s role in the process?
Chisholm is a Network Partner with the Department of Education and employs a number of Industry Skills Advisers who assist business with the process of firstly ensuring the business is eligible, clarifying the growth opportunity, assisting with making enquiry to the Fund, writing a comprehensive Skills Report of the business based on the growth and assisting with locating relevant training and training providers.  The Advisers can provide advice and assistance with the Funding Application process as well. 
  1. Could you give us a few examples of small business owners that have successfully  applied and received funding?
For privacy reasons Brian, individual businesses cannot be named, but business types which have applied and have been approved for funding range from micro, individual operators up to medium sized businesses of over 50 staff.  The training programs have been simple to complex depending on the individual business needs.  Training can be short or long term and businesses can include future training if the growth will involve an increase in staff numbers who may need to be recruited and then trained.  The process is reasonably flexible and the business has choice of training provider.
  1. So what are the steps involved with applying – and what’s the likely time frame for approval?
The first step is to ensure that the eligibility criteria can be met and that the growth opportunity exists.  Businesses can make an application on their own or with the help of an Adviser.  A business which is aware of the training they need and know where to source it can make the application on their own.  From enquiry stage to being approval for Funding has an average timeline of between 6 and 10 weeks.

Thanks to Paul, for the above information.

I am aware of medium size businesses that have submitted applications for funding of between $5,000 and $10,000 for training in skills such Management Skills, Tender Writing Skills, Project Management Skills and also Business Marketing Skills. One of the essential requirements for any training that is to be approved for funding is that there are concrete learning outcomes that will underpin genuinely improved workplace capability. I hope this article has perhaps pointed you in the right direction for accessing these training grants .... after all, it is our taxes which help to make these grants available.

About the author - 
Brian Carroll is the founder of the Melbourne corporate training company, Performance Development  He is a psychologist by background and has more than 20 years experience working in the field of management training. His passion is to help people develop the mindset and skills they need to achieve their goals, both in business and life. .

Monday, May 2, 2016

From Olympic Athlete to Running Her Own Consulting Business

athlete to small business owner
Caroline Anderson competing in the 2004 Olympics 
Over the years, we have seen many examples of professional athletes who have made a successful transition from achieving high performance in the world of sport to equal achievement in the world of business. In this article, I will be speaking with an Aussie Olympian who is on her way to doing just that.

Some high profile recent examples of entrepreneurial athletes include tennis Grand Slam winner Venus Williams - who launched a lucrative clothing line business after her retirement from tennis. Boxer George Foreman launched a "lean, mean grilling machine" and several other products.

Aussies who have succeeded in business after retiring from sport

Elite level footballers, swimmers, basketballers and cyclists have found that their strong work ethic, grit and self-discipline have been qualities that enabled them to compete successfully in both worlds. In Australia, examples include ex-Ironman Guy Leech who has grown his own business in the health and fitness industry. 
Golfer Greg Norman used his celebrity status to launch golf course design and golfing apparel businesses whilst still competing as a player. 
There are many examples of retired AFL footballers such as Cameron Ling and retired cricketers such as Ian Chappell who have gone onto new careers in the media.

That’s not to say that all athletes make it as entrepreneurs or succeed in new careers. Indeed, there have been some very public examples of elite athletes that have badly “gone off the rails” after their retirement from sport. Some have made terrible financial decisions and seriously under-estimated the challenges of launching their own business.

A micro-business that's made it through start-up

small business ownerI recently met with Caroline Anderson, who runs her own consulting business as a psychologist. She is a former Olympian (2004) in the sport of Taekwondo and represented Australia at World Cups and World Championships. 

It was almost three years  ago that Caroline launched her own practice, having previously worked as a psychologist in a large metropolitan hospital. It is fair to say that she has progressed through that tenuous "start-up" stage and is now over-seeing a slow but steady growth in the development of her consulting business. Word-of-mouth referrals from satisfied clients help maintain this modest growth. 

At this stage, the business remains essentially reliant upon her - but this may change if the rate of growth were to escalate. Many of the practices established by health specialists (physiotherapists, chiropractors, personal trainers) begin with just the owner. Whether it expands depends upon how successful the business is in finding its niche in a competitive marketplace. It will also depend upon the drive, ambition and vision of the business owner of course.

Some businesses fail to achieve sufficient customer acceptance and never quite gain enough traction in the market to survive and meet expenses - including paying the owner a reasonable salary
There are significant numbers of budding small business owners who find the first 12 to 18 months to be a greater struggle than what they had anticipated - and they simply cannot cope with the heavy demands upon their finances, time and energy. They end up quitting. They return to the relative security and stability of being an employee in someone else's more established business. By no means should these people see themselves as failures ..... Instead, they should be proud that at least they had the courage to have a go - and they may well decide to pursue their vision at another time in the future, being wiser for the experience.

However, Caroline has survived the launch stage, and I asked her some questions about her experience so far ......

1. Caroline, would you tell us a little about your work as a Performance & Well-Being consultant?

I am a psychologist and have 15 years experience of working in mental health, both in hospital and private settings. Over the last few years I have also become interested in working with athletes, businesses and schools to assist with improving performance outcomes and personal well-being development.

I enjoy working with people through individual consultations or delivering presentations on a wide range of topics including mental health education/prevention, mindfulness, emotional regulation, resilience and improving performance in high pressure environments. 

Whether it is athletes, coaches, executives or business owners – all can benefit from learning more about how the brain works and how to focus their attention on the task at hand and avoid distractions. I find it deeply satisfying to feel that I am helping people improve their capacity to manage negative self-talk and flush out anxieties such as a fear of failure.

2. What motivated you to set up your own consulting business - as opposed to working for a consulting company?

The main reason is that I had a realization that I had skills that I was not wholly utilizing working at the hospital or seeing clients in my private practice and that I believed (and hoped!) that I had the experience and expertise to do it on my own, without needing to work for someone else.

With a young family I wanted the flexibility to choose my hours and I was worried that if I approached other consulting companies they would put time pressures on me that I wasn’t comfortable with. I just wanted the freedom and knowledge I could do it on my own, at my own pace.

3. What have been some of the major challenges you've found in running your own business? ...... What have been some of your major learnings so far?

Without a doubt the biggest challenge for me is having a young family while trying to establish myself. It is something all working mothers face and it really is a constant juggling act. I think being able to manage rejection or perceived failings is also important.

It would be all too easy to take rejection personally but when someone is really passionate about what they do, the just keep going and will find another way. Being able to talk about your ability and successes is of course an important part of marketing a business - self-promotion sits a little uncomfortably and remains a challenge for me.

I’ve learned that having an online presence is vital with a Website and Facebook page, etc - but I guess I just try and do it as authentically as possible, without it feeling fake or ‘glitzy’. This part of my career is really just starting, so I know I still have a lot to learn along the way if I am going to build a sustainable business.

4. You were a champion athlete and competed in the 2004 Olympics - what qualities can an athlete bring to the world of business?

The obvious ones, determination, hunger to succeed, and a competitive instinct (I love to win!). But also for me I think, the skills and desire to work through difficult situations and that ability to overcome setbacks is what helps me in my work.

I also know what it’s like to be under immense pressure, so I have not only a good theoretical understanding of elite performance but also personal understanding as well. It has been identified that elite athletes make great business people and the two roles share many core characterizes. In fact, even Forbes magazine has written a popular article about “Why you should fill your company with athletes”.

5. Quite a number of your clients are themselves business people, some of whom are perhaps struggling with the pressures of running a business ...... What advice do you offer to small business owners in relation to maintaining and enhancing their own well-being?

Mindfulness is one of my great passions. I see how effective it can be in helping my clients manage stress and a whole range of other health benefits.
Mindfulness is currently one of the most evidence based skills in enhancing focus, improving memory and cognitive functioning, reducing stress and anxiety, improving general well-being, productivity and performance. I love teaching mindfulness techniques to increase resilience under pressure and help individuals and teams perform more consistently.

Mindfulness interventions are effective because they help people direct their attention to the current task, while minimizing external distractions and negative self-talk. Mindfulness brings greater self-awareness and reduces reactivity to negative events, self-doubt and fear of failure.

This is just one way business owners can manage their own stress and learning about how to appropriately apply mindfulness is a great tool to have.

6. Any final comments or anything else you can share that might be of help to other health service providers contemplating whether to go out on their own?

We all know that there has never been an easier time to start your own business however, the most important thing is finding a niche.... Lots of amazing people are out there doing lots of amazing things – what do you have that is different and sets you apart from the rest?

Also, particularly in the health sector – you need to have the appropriate skills and experience. The ability to connect with people on a deep level is vital. Engagement, honesty and an authentic presence is also what people gravitate towards. I'm convinced that consumers can sense if you not heartfelt and not being true to who you are. And lastly and most importantly in order to persevere you need to love what you do, be passionate about it, and believe in yourself and what you are doing.

Thank you to Caroline, for sharing some of her experience with us.
If you're an aspiring small business owner looking for some methods to energise yourself for the journey, check out Self-motivation tips and also Mental toughness

About the interviewer
Brian CarrollBrian Carroll is the founder of the Melbourne corporate training company, Performance Development 

He is a psychologist by background and has more than 20 years experience working in the field of management development. His passion is to help people develop the mindset and skills they need to achieve their goals in business and life. .

Thursday, April 21, 2016

From the corporate world to small business entrepreneur

from corporate world  to small businessSome of the readers of my small business blog message me with questions that indicate they feel an understandable reluctance to jump from a steady and secure corporate role into starting up their own business, despite a deep passion to do so.

It is not uncommon that entrepreneurs can experience such mixed feelings – anxiety is only natural when it seems you are moving from the known to the relatively unknown. Quite obviously, thorough preparation and having developed a strategy will help to reduce such anxiety, but likely never completely dispel it. 

Reading business books and blogs, perhaps completing a small business short course, talking to small business entrepreneurs who’ve successfully made the jump out of the corporate world themselves and maybe finding yourself a mentor – these are all ways you can start to gain the insight, understanding and skills you will need. It is imperative that you are prepared for some of the likely challenges and obstacles you will encounter – not the least of which will probably be cash flow strain during the start-up period. Check out "Dare To Be An Entrepreneur" for a description of the qualities you need to succeed in launching a small business. 

Setting up your business should be part of your life planning anyhow. Having some sense of clarity around what it is you are searching for and wanting to achieve in your life is essential. You need to have considered where the business will fit with the rest of the stuff going on in your life – including family and other relationships. Because the rest of your life will be affected by the steps you are contemplating. You must be prepared to establish new routines and structures in your life to support the change. 

I recently interviewed Kathryn Hocking, the founder of an Adelaide based coaching business, about her own personal experience in launching her business. But I was also interested in the work she does in guiding other entrepreneurs in launching their businesses - and the program she offers to help service providers transform their expertise into online training courses .....

1  1.Kathryn, what motivated you to start up your own business?

I reached ten years in a corporate career that I was not remotely passionate or excited about and I realised that I didn’t want to “wake up” in another 10 years and still be doing the same thing. I realised that if I wanted things to change – I had to change things.

The motivations were that I wanted to do something I was passionate about, be creative, work from home and have more time with my family. I also have health issues that are a bit up and down so I wanted a lifestyle business that I could run while also looking after myself and my health.

    2. From the start-ups you’ve guided and coached, what are the major early challenges that must be faced by a start-up business?

Generally it is a combination of money and time. They either have money but no time due to having kids or another job or they have the time but very little money to invest.

Also start-ups by their very nature have to start from the beginning in building a marketable list of potential customers and often don’t have a lot of connections in the business world.

Start-ups often have quite unrealistic expectations and think that if it doesn’t take off over night that it isn’t a good idea and give up ...... Where-as in reality if they had stuck at it they probably would have been a success. Persistence pays off.

    3. What are some of the most common mistakes you see small business owners make after having successfully navigated their way through the launch phase?

Generally the biggest mistake is that they don’t focus on one product for any length of time. Entrepreneurs by nature are generally multi-passionate with lots of ideas but this doesn’t mean that they should implement them all! The best success stories come from people that focus on one core offering and build momentum with this offering over a period of years before branching off into other things.

However what I tend to see is entrepreneurs get bored, think that they can spread their energies over multiple offerings but in reality no offering gets the focus and investment it needs to grow.

         4. What have you found to be the qualities that characterise the entrepreneur that ends up succeeding in commercialising their idea?

Persistence, focus and an ability to maintain a positive mindset despite setbacks and a willingness to invest and “go pro” or in other words “go all in”. They are also willing to niche in on a specific ideal customer and really create their product for that niche rather than trying to be everything to everyone.

5. One of your other services is helping service professionals convert their service to online e-courses. Could you tell us a bit about this and give a couple of examples of what you’ve done with this?

I’ve worked with over 600 entrepreneurs to create online courses or online training programs (otherwise called e-Courses).

I work with a variety of businesses but typically they are service providers who are either burnt out or have reached a ceiling of the amount of clients they can work with. They want to increase their revenues without working with more 1:1 clients and they often also want the lifestyle freedom that a leveraged online business model has the potential to bring.

I’ve had participants have great success in areas such as photography. business skills, personal styling, mindset coaching, health coaching, emergency preparedness and eco-living to just name a few areas. Converting their expertise to the form of an online training course meant the business was no longer dependent upon them and their presence in the business. An e-course could potentially be generating revenue 24 / 7 !!

6. Any other comments you’d like to share, that might perhaps help budding entrepreneurs to persevere with their idea?

It is important to understand that there is no such thing as overnight success. There is always a story you don’t hear of long hours, persistence, focus and set-backs.

Many people give up way to early and I want to encourage entrepreneurs to take a longer-term approach and launch their e-Course at least 3-4 times over at least 12 months before they abandon the idea.

There are lots of reasons why many of your customers won’t buy the first time you launch your program and many of my participants sit on my list for 6-18 months before purchasing from me. Persistence will win out in the end.

Thank you to Kathryn for sharing your experience.

About the interviewer
Brian CarrollBrian Carroll is the founder of the Melbourne corporate training company, Performance Development 

He is a psychologist by background and has more than 20 years experience working in the field of management development. His passion is to help people develop the mindset and skills they need to achieve their goals in business and life. .

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Don't waste money building a small business website that won't be found

Are you an entrepreneurs planning to start up a new small business and perhaps you've been thinking about developing your website? 

Well if so, make sure that you avoid a common mistake made by many budding entrepreneurs. They burn with a fierce passion to bring their product or service to market - but all too often suffer from the damaging misconception that their website will be the driver of a multitude of enquiries and sales that will fuel the growth of their new business.
small business websites

Yes, a website does have that potential. But usually only if the website design is integrated within a broader internet marketing strategy and is built on sound principles of SEO (search engine optimisation). 

Don’t fall for the trap of believing “If you build it, they will come”. This is simply not true. There are thousands of websites of small businesses in Australia that do not make it to either the first, second or even third page of Google for the search terms they desire. 
"There's no point spending a couple of thousand dollars of your valuable start-up capital building a website that won't be found"
I met with Ajax McKerral, the founder of Nuttify. His business specialises in the design and development of visible Wordpress websites and has recently been very successful in winning substantial contracts with local government. Ajax advises his clients on how best to harness social media to make it easy for their target market to find, like and share their content. He shares some of his experience ....

1. So Ajax, what was your motivation in starting up your own business – and what was the thinking behind the selection of Nuttify as the business name?

I have been building websites for various purposes since 1997. This was back in the day when all we had was HTML. It involved a lot of duplication and manual work to create a website. The first website I built was for a band I played in at  the time. 

Fast forward a decade, and I had just returned from London where I was fortunate enough to have worked as the Digital Projects Manager for the London Symphony Orchestra. I did a couple of micro sites for them while there, as well as working on a range of technology related projects across the main stage concerts, community and education.

Upon returning to Australia I began consulting to large arts organisations on their online education strategies, and ran some large projects with a range of stakeholders such as the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, 

As for the name "Nuttify" - it is a good 3 syllable .com name that was available at the time I was searching for domain names. I thought "hmmm, 'nuttify' - it's like 'notify' - it could be a messaging service like Twitter." 

Then I chose to use if for the web development business when I switched from consulting. It is short, catchy (like Spotify), and can be defined how we want it to be - because there is no definition or preconceptions. Over time, our tagline has changed and is now "Champion Websites".

2. What do you personally find most rewarding about running your own business?

The most rewarding thing about running my own business is being in control, well, mostly in control, of the direction that the business, and my life takes. I love creating elegant solutions for difficult problems. And this sums up business pretty well, as business is really solving one problem after another. I also like building the business systems, and particularly realising them in code / websites, or integrating various services to achieve business outcomes.

3. What are some of the frustrations and challenges?

My frustrations and challenges are common to many small business owners: hiring and training the right team members, cash flow, making enough quality sales. I'm a very ambitious person and always want to be doing more, and moving faster. So I set high goals and expectations - so I then have to deal with the frustration of trying to reach them!

4. What have you found are some of the most common mistakes small business owners make when they build their own websites?

The most common mistake from my experience,  that small business owners quite often make with their websites include -
  • "Build it and they will come" - as you correctly mentioned before. You need a strategy and marketing plan to drive traffic to your website.
  • Assuming their website is about them. Your website is NOT about you, or your business. It is about how you solve your customers' problems. People use the Internet to find information and solve problems. If you are not providing value through your content, then people will just bounce off your site.
  • Build a website and not touch it for 2 years. Websites need care and feeding, like puppies. People  have short attention spans online and if you are not offering new content regularly, then they will become bored, and perhaps stop visiting your site.
  • Not publishing regular new content. Google ranks you higher in search results if you have a regular stream of new content on your blog. It's really important to have systems in place that enable the regular creation of new content that provides value to your web site visitors.
  • Not properly planning when doing a a refresh. A web designer/ developer can only do so much for you in creating a Champion Website. You need to develop a strategy and prepare all of the content before launching in to a new development. I have written an eBook on 5 Easy Steps for Planning your Champion Website that helps business owners plan and preapre to build a new website
5. Can you share some of the strategies you use to ensure the websites you build “get found” by the right people?

Getting found on Google is not rocket science. It is about developing a strategy to develop the content that people are looking for. There are heaps of free resources online to learn about SEO, but my firm conviction is that the essential kernel of SEO is this: "Always be giving value". Generate lots of high quality content that helps your users solve their problems. When you have this, SEO becomes easy. The second part is to know the keywords that your customers are searching for you with - and generate high quality content around those keywords. Some good resources to learn about SEO are:
6. Besides running Nuttify, there are other innovative business projects in which you are involved...... In this age of “disruption” where rapid technological change has become the norm – what advice would you offer to budding entrepreneurs? ........ The harsh and sometimes brutal reality of attempting to commercialise a “great idea” requires considerable resilience, have you found?

Yes, resilience is absolutely essential. 

The project that we are working on is a new App and Platform called Mobilizr. Mobilizr is about bringing people together around events and activities. This could be coffee with friends, or a dance party, or a march or demonstration. We are planning to be the Instragram of events. By which I mean, Instagram was a better photo sharing app than Facebook's photos functionality. We aim to be a better events organiser than Facebook events. Version 1 of Mobilizr is nearing launch and I'll let you know when it is available in the App store (Mobilizr website coming soon - )

To build the App we are taking the Lean Startup methodology- which is to create a minimum viable product, or MVP. With an MVP we can go to market with the basics of what we think people want, and then test the market with real users. Our users will provide feedback into what works, what doesn't work and what features they want. With their feedback we can build the features that will make the product champion and easy to use. A must for any app to scale rapidly and acquire a large amount of users.

The key to this approach is not to go for perfect - but to go for - "it just works". Make sure it works to a minimum standard, and then get feedback from real users. You can then iterate improvements to the product over time. You can spend an enormous amount of time and money building something no one wants. So it's better to build the least amount that you need to and then find out if anyone actually wants it. The best resource for learning more about this approach can be found at the Lean Start Up website by Eric Reis.

7. Any final tips to share?

I would say - never give up. It's tempting to throw in the towel sometimes, when it all seems too hard. but we need to pick our selves up and just focus on solving one problem at a time. Eventually we'll get through them and reach our goals.

Many thanks to Ajax for sharing so generously his experiences and business tips.

About the interviewer
Brian CarrollBrian Carroll is the founder of the corporate training company, Performance Development He is a psychologist by background and has more than 20 years experience working  in the field of management development. His passion is to help people develop the mindset and skills they need to achieve their full potential.