7 gems of advice from leading female entrepreneurs
No matter your previous experience, running a small business is frequently full of new lessons to learn.
To celebrate International Women’s Day on 8 March 2020, we asked some of Australia’s leading female entrepreneurs to share the advice that helped them climb higher.
1. Give it your all or nothing
In late 2019, Grace Brennan from Central Western NSW was at the end of her tether.
The drought was devastating the financial lives of her family and small businesses across the region. To encourage city people to shop from rural communities, she created an Instagram account called @buyfromthebush. Just seven weeks’ later, she had more than 130,000 followers, rural postage figures were up by 40% and the campaign had generated $2.6m in revenue.
“My grandfather lived by a motto animo toto laborate which, in loose terms, means ‘no half jobs’,” she says.
“I love it. In three words it sums up so much. Hard workers really inspire me.
“More recently, while working on a startup business, I was told to focus on ‘progress not perfection’. I find that concept very liberating and enabling.”
2. Be prepared for obstacles
When Katherine Roberts perceived a societal shift towards eating more mindfully and ethically, the idea for This Little Pig Went to Market was born. Along with her sister, she launched the Perth-based food-delivery company in 2013. The business has gone from strength-to-strength and now boasts revenues in the millions.
“Some people say that having a business is a marathon so you need to pace yourself,” she says.
“However, the advice that I received from my business mentor was that having a business is not a running marathon – it’s a hurdle marathon.
“Every time you get over a hurdle you’ve got to expect and anticipate the next hurdle.”
Roberts says thinking this way has made it easier to overcome the obstacles that inevitably arise.
“It causes far less disruption to your life, your mental health, your job satisfaction and your work because you’re ready to tackle, learn from and leap over that next hurdle,” she says.
3. Know thyself
Bedi Othow is co-founder of DivTal, a social enterprise that passionately advocates for diversity and inclusion for migrants in the workplace. Before starting DivTal, she had spent almost eight years in corporate HR. Othow says the best piece of advice she ever received came from a mentor.
“She said that, number one, as a female you have to find yourself, understand who you are and what you represent,” she says.
“That’s the cornerstone of establishing your brand and how you want to be perceived.
“Number two is to identify what you’re passionate about, what gets you up in the morning, and how you can have an impact on others. As a businessperson, that’s going to be your driver. You have to pursue it relentlessly, no matter what.”
4. Build your networks
Built on the values of transparency, kindness and cruelty-free business, Julie Mathers’ online store, Flora & Fauna, has sold vegan and eco-friendly products to a growing customer base for almost five years. Business is booming and she has now expanded into global markets. Mathers is also the proud recipient of the 2018 Telstra New South Wales Small and Succeeding Business Award.
“Someone said to me 10 years ago I should be spending 20% of my time networking,” she says.
“At the time, it meant very little to me. Now it’s so valuable.
“Instead of networking, I like to say having conversations. Having good relationships with people has hugely helped me in launching my business. And having good relationships with people is so pivotal to your success – you can’t build a business alone!”
5. Trust yourself
Sydney entrepreneur, Judith Treanor, is the brainchild behind Temples and Markets, an online store showcasing artisanal accessories and homewares from Southeast Asia. Treanor’s life purpose is to make a positive change in the world through ethical business. She’s a traveller, a mum, a highly successful small business owner and a breast cancer survivor.
“During 2006, I went through breast cancer and I used Petrea King’s Quest for Life guided meditation to help me choose the treatment that was right for me,” Treanor says.
“Her words have stayed with me since then, and are relevant in all facets of my life, including in business, ‘You have the wisdom yourself to know what to do. Use your intuition and wisdom, and trust yourself to make the decisions that are right for you.’”
6. Go above and beyond
Starting out in the corporate world as a management consultant, Jen Geale soon realised it wasn’t for her. So she ditched the suit and co-founded MTB Direct, an online store selling mountain bikes, parts and paraphernalia to riding enthusiasts.
Since starting the business, MTB Direct almost doubled its revenue in 2017-18 to $7.8 million and nabbed the number 11 spot on the Smart50 awards list – a list which acknowledges Australia’s fastest-growing SMEs.
“Like most business owners, over the years I’ve been given lots of advice,” Geale says, “and while some of it has been invaluable, I’ve had to learn to filter through and only take on those elements that really apply to my situation, and that are going to help me get to where I want to be.”
She says she has a strong peer network of fellow retailers that she routinely turns to for specific advice regarding business challenges.
“The best advice seems to come from asking good questions of the right people, at the right time,” Geale says.
“For example, I had a good chat with a fellow business owner who has experience in importing and manufacturing – an area that’s a technical, legal and ethical minefield. He gave me a great framework for making decisions.
“He said, ‘Do whatever will let you sleep at night, even if the worst happens, knowing you did everything you feel you should have done.’ In the context of importing, this is why we run extra tests, rather than just the basic tests legally required, on goods we manufacture and import. So we know we’ve done everything possible to ensure they are safe and well-made.”
Geale says she has taken that mindset beyond just importing and applied it to many areas of her business.
7. Choose your partners wisely
In 2016, Stephanie Reuss and Victoria Stuart co-founded Beam, an HR company determined to connect professionals – many of them women – with fulfilling part-time roles.
Reuss says some of the most powerful advice they received was to find their tribe.
“The most important thing is having shared values, and that includes contractors, employees, and other advisors like accountants, lawyers, private security providers and insurance providers,” she says.
“They need to understand what you’re trying to do and believe in it and have an understanding of your small business. Trust your gut.
“You can tell who’s going to be challenging and who’s going to be a dream.”
Pulling it together
- Give whatever you are doing all your effort, but focus on progress not perfection.
- Don’t expect anything to be easy. Be prepared for a new hurdle to arise just as you make it over the last one.
- Know who you are and what you stand for, and have that drive your business.
- Make the time to build and maintain a broad network. Instant payoffs will be rare but you will build big opportunities in the long-term.
- Back yourself. Trust in your own abilities and wisdom to make the right decisions.
- Doing everything you can to make your work as strong as possible will save stress in the long run.
- Choose to do business with partners who share your values and approach.
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