Like many entrepreneurs, Therese Ravell’s business idea came during frustrated chats with people in her life that revealed a problem that needed solving.

While on parental leave with her first child in 2009, friends who were business owners stopped by for a baby cuddle when the conversation veered naturally into business headaches.

“That’s when I realised that in Australia, small business owners just don’t have the resources or support to comfortably navigate HR, nor can they afford their own HR person,” she explains.

Therese, who had 15 years of HR experience under her belt, heard stories of people waiting on calls for hours to the Fair Work Ombudsman, or not understanding the details of their employment contracts or how to navigate the system.

“Often they would get the wrong advice, and I would be able to help solve their problem in a different way.”

Her consultancy Impact HR was born within a year of her baby and nearly 15 years later, Therese manages a team of eight, established offices in Sydney and Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, and boasts a multi-award-winning business.

These achievements have come despite her juggling two children under three and nine months of cancer treatment.

Here are her tips for small business owners starting out or growing in the professional services space.

1. Create a big goal then break it down

Therese plans obsessively, starting with a five-year goal before breaking it down into smaller pieces.

“It’s about ‘precrastination’ not procrastination,” she says. “It’s about looking at the life you want in five years and working out the steps to get there. For me, this means the three things I need to get done each week.”

The plan allows her to stay on track when unexpected events or sicknesses crop up.

“When I went through my cancer treatments, I was out for nine months. I kept a small number of tight clients and kept adjusting my plan until I was ready to grow the business again.

“Creating a vision is easy. Action and accountability equal success.”

2. Carve out time for you

If small business owners wait until they have some free time to work on strategy and growth, they’ll be waiting forever, says Therese.

A major part of her planning is carving out two days each month for herself when her clients and team understand she’s out of reach.

“I might look at what happened last month, where I’m going, what I can tweak or how I can upskill my team,” she says. “It’s really about focusing on my business, not working in my business.”

Therese also uses the time to work on her own personal development.

“I work on my mindset, my resilience, how I interact with others when things are not going my way, and ensuring I’m the best I can be for my team.

“This time makes me the leader people want to follow and the person clients want to work with, which gives me long-term stability regardless of the ups and downs in my business.”

3. Get feedback often

Therese’s current services differ wildly from her initial HR offering, because she has shaped her business over time to match the evolving needs of her clients.

She stays on top of what’s working and what’s not through monthly catch-ups with her key clients and annual surveys.

“We ask them what their pain points are and how things could work better.

“Sometimes they suggest an idea and we think, ‘Wow, all our other clients will love that too!’ So we create a whole new product or service that drives the business forward.”

Therese also believes in providing regular feedback to her own team.

“Ensure there’s a balance of positive and constructive feedback,” she says.

4. Follow your own path

Like many small business owners, Therese was bombarded with advice when she first started out. But when she focused on her clients rather than her competitors, her mindset shifted.

“I would look at people and think, they’re making so much money!” she says. “[Then] I realised that, just because a model works for somebody else, it doesn’t mean it’s right for your clients and your business. So learn your uniqueness and stay true to that.

“Then you can become the one that everyone is looking at and going, ‘I want to be like that.’”

5. See business loans as an investment

Therese encourages people to consider it when they think external funding will help their business to grow.

“One of the biggest restraints for a business is not having the cash flow to do what you know you should be doing now,” she says. “If you delay investing in that piece of equipment, a marketing employee or something else that will give you long-term results, it may take you even longer to catch up.

“Do your due diligence and make sure there’s a return on investment. But be brave, be bold and play the long game.

“Small thinking keeps us small.”