P-plateVirtually every small business faces a steep learning curve as a newbie.
Trial and error is how infants build skills and strength. So too do corporate start-ups.
We ask five bosses who survived their early days of enterprise to share the biggest lesson they learnt when their business was a newborn.
Eve John, co-founder of Bent Over Silicone Nozzles, has learnt that really listening builds business
The plumbing product – with the memorable name – was invented when Eve’s husband Alex, a plumber, broke his back and “had five months staring at the ceiling”.
Patent secured, it launched in 2012 and has already got retail interest in the UK and nationally.
Eve admits she knew nothing about plumbing two years ago, but it proved invaluable as she had to listen doubly hard to trade customers.
“The biggest lesson was listening to the words our customers were using when they were speaking to us,” she says.
“Rather than selling them a plumbing tool ‘that saved them time and money’ we changed our initial copywriting, which was using all this technical language, and sold them a plumbing tool that ‘allowed them to stop having to spend hours on their knees as they wanted to go home without pain and play with their kids’, because that was what they were telling us they wanted.”
Denise Shrivell, founder of MediaScope, has learnt the importance of pacing yourself
Shrivell launched her B2B specialising in media and advertising in 2009 with “plenty of passion” and adrenaline pumping.
The Sydney sole trader says: “I had had this concept for a business for years and all these ideas in my mind, you feel this great urgency to tick all the boxes on your list, it is so exciting in those first months as a new entrepreneur.”
But Shrivell now knows small business “is a marathon not a sprint” if you want to trade long-term. You cannot afford to burn out.
“As a sole trader the business is you so if you wear out physically, financially, emotionally, spiritually, early on you will not have a business and I learnt the hard way that you must pace yourself to give the adrenalin rush time to settle down.”
Madeleine Wilkie, founder of Urban Rec, has learnt not to listen to everyone’s advice
Wilkie’s non-competitive sports and social club business – almost 1000 members-strong – almost didn’t get off the ground.
She had seen the unique club in action while living in Vancouver and her gut feeling told her it should also work in Sydney, given its outdoorsy and big city lifestyle.
She returned home to Australia and in 2011 launched Urban Rec.
Pre-launch, she bounced her idea off “a friend of a friend” who is also “a financial advisor type person” as she thought it would be smart to get his take on her venture.
“He was well meaning but basically said ‘that sounds fantastic but that’s never going to work in Sydney; I would never play sport and then go to the pub’.
“His reaction definitely surprised me as I was so convinced this was a great match for Sydney so I pushed on … and now that person is one of my customers!”
Ben Neumann, managing director of Liquid Infusion, has learnt mega-riches don’t come overnight
Nine years ago, aged 22, Neumann launched his mobile cocktail bar on a shoestring budget from his parents’ garage in Melbourne.
Today it caters more than 30 private and corporate events weekly across Australia.
It reached a seven-figure annual turnover figure “about five years ago”, which is no mean feat.
He laughs recalling his initial ambition was “instant success” within months.
“We started off with three [events] a week so I thought this meant I’d be a millionaire in a year but of course I soon discovered my timeframe was out of step with the reality of the impact of seasonal fluctuations etc, so the biggest thing I learnt was you can’t always control the time it takes to fulfil your initial aspirations.
“Be patient and back your winning horse even if it may take 5-10 years to win the race.”
Jamie Lee, founder of Kids at Switch, has learnt real success is measured by how much you can help others
Lee started her early childhood education business in 2012 with three students in term one: “I loved every minute of it.”
Today the Sydney-based venture has hundreds of primary-school-aged children in its alumni.
“I’ve learnt so much since starting and realised that success is not about what you gain in life or accomplish for yourself: it’s about what you can do for others.
“I laugh every time the kids refer to me a ‘superhero’ and remind them that they are the superheroes and that helping them realise their unique talents is a joy.”
What’s the most important lesson you learnt in your first year in business? Share your comment below.
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