Entrepreneurship

The biggest thing I learned from Richard Branson

I just left Necker Island yesterday, after what are up there as five of the best days of my life.  The invite came three months ago, and it was one of the (rare) instances where I said yes immediately and decided to figure out how to make it happen later.  As the man himself says: “Screw it, just do it!”.

I travelled there with 22 members of Business Chicks and I don’t quite have the words to describe the week.

Magical, inspiring, motivating, gratifying, nurturing, connecting, healing, loving…

In my time on the island – and in the 24 hours since I left – my brain kinda felt like a freshly-shaken snowglobe, where the sheer amount of experiences, new people and new information were all floating around furiously.  It’s only today that my thoughts have started to settle and clear “take-outs” have materialised.

I’m writing now from my hotel room in Miami, fuelled up on key lime pie and an iced coffee from the local diner.  I wanted to first get down in black and white what seems to be in the running so far for the biggest take-out I had – and it’s something I learned straight from Richard himself.

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8 things I’ve learned about letting someone go

A couple of weeks ago, I got a Facebook message from a kick-ass young entrepreneur who occasionally asks for my advice.

It read: Need a little advice! Tomorrow morning I’m letting go someone for the first time. I’m so nervous! Any good reads or advice?”

I sooooo got why she was nervous.  Letting someone go is hands down one of the shittiest bits of running your own business.  I’ve had to do it several times – the shortest tenure being three weeks and the longest being seven months.

I’m afraid it doesn’t feel any less shitty the more I’ve done it, but I’ve definitely learned some things that help me do the deed with more compassion, professionalism and conviction each time.

I could write a LOT on this topic, however as a starting point I’m sharing the email I sent her – verbatim.  I hope it helps you if you ever need to part ways kindly with someone on your team.

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Please send a grown-up

I should have expected it.

The team structure had been motoring along nicely for five months, which is just about the amount of time for a big change to hit…

Last week a senior member of the team left the business after just three months with us – to pursue a once-in-a-career opportunity elsewhere.  It was one of those “blessing disguised as a curse” moments, as we hadn’t had the huge success we had both hoped for out of the role.

It was the first time in quite a while that something has knocked the wind out of my sails.  It was also the first time in quite a while that I wanted a margarita at 11am in the morning!!!  Thankfully both feelings were temporary…

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It’s not all about the money

Sorry Meja.

Since I started my business, I’ve been fascinated by how you go about selling your company.

The steps that happen in the run-up to that point where you say: “Ok, the money’s hit my account – it’s yours” intrigued me.

Mainly because I was so focused on what we needed to get done, worrying that we’d make enough money so I could feed the cat; and facing down the “OMG WHO GAVE ME A BUSINESS, I DON’T KNOW WHAT I’M DOING!!!” moments that – really – the point where someone wanted to buy my business felt like it was not just years, but light years away.

What fascinated me most was how that initial contact takes place.

Do you just get a call one day and someone says: “Hey, I’d like to buy your company?”

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7 lessons on success from the movie Joy

Yesterday I finally got to see a movie I’d wanted to see for months – Joy, starring Jennifer Lawrence.  I took my fake little sister Jenny as my date.  I say “fake” as I also have a “real” little sister Jenny, but by strange coincidence I got paired up with another Jenny back in 2011 as part of the SISTER2sister mentoring program.

It was exactly the movie we both needed as a big year of big plans stretches out ahead.  I LOVED it – JLaw was completely fantastic in her role and the random assortment of characters around her were fascinating in all their flawed glory.  The movie is based on the true story of entrepreneur Joy Mangano, who invented the Miracle Mop and many other products since.

Watching the story unfold, I was in awe at the standing start the main character was coming from as she sought to fight her way out of the less-than-ideal existence she was leading.  I had a fresh appreciation for the supportive people around me and the savings I had when I started The Remarkables Group almost four years ago now (!!!).

I spotted some marvellous lessons on success woven throughout the movie.  I don’t think there are any major spoilers here beyond what the trailer shares.  If I do give anything away…. Sorreeeeeee!

Lesson 1: In order to succeed, you need to tune out all those who say you can’t do it, who think you’re less than you truly are and who haven’t had success themselves.

Joy’s family in the movie are, well, pretty horrible.  They take her for granted, question her ideas and tell her she can never amount to much.  They are completely oblivious to the raw potential and pure guts she has, which makes her success all the sweeter!

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Lesson 2: Cherish those who want to see you fly, and keep them near you.

Conversely, Joy’s best friend and ex-husband give her their full support and encouragement from the very beginning, then throughout all the negativity and challenges she experiences.  The movie closes with both these people still her closest aides and advisers.

Lesson 3: Get rock solid legal advice.

Joy goes with her investor’s lawyer to make the legal arrangements to patent her idea, which results in a shambles of a situation.  Finding a lawyer who was a specialist in patent law would have prevented the whole disaster.

Lesson 4: In the early days, you can sell your product better than anyone.

Joy manages to get QVC onboard to sell her mop invention, but the presenter screws his spot up and doesn’t get a single sale.  Joy wangles her way onto presenting it herself live on air, and does a pretty crap job initially.  Once she finds her voice and begins to talk about her product though, she comes alive and the sheer belief and passion she has for it shines like a beacon.  The result?  50,000 mops sold!

Lesson 5: If all else fails, get a new haircut and kick absolute ass

When everything has pretty much gone to shit and she is at rock bottom, it’s pretty clear that Joy feels she has nothing left to lose.  She hacks off her long hair and gets on a plane to Texas in one last attempt to save her business.

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Lesson 6: Rock a power pose for extra confidence

In Texas Joy faces her VERY intimidating business adversary, who is the instigator of the whole mess she’s in.  In what is probably the best example of a power pose I’ve seen in my life, she stands her ground and tells him how it’s going to be.  I’m a massive fan of the power pose when I’m speaking.  Just by planting my feet further apart than normal and facing the audience squarely, it tricks my brain into thinking I’m in control and confident – even if inside I’m terrified.

Lesson 7: No matter how hard you think your life is, there is an alternative reality waiting for you if you believe in yourself and are willing to step outside your comfort zone.

As I already mentioned, Joy had the odds stacked against her starting her business – and she could very easily have pulled her head in and remained a broke mother of two with limited prospects.  However a little voice told her that she could be more, could do more, and create a life bigger than she even imagined.  That voice got her through seemingly impossible challenges.

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Pretty inspiring, yah?

By the way, if you’re like me and the first thing you do after watching a movie or TV show is to Google the “real” person behind the story, here’s Joy Mangano.  And you might also enjoy this Vanity Fair story on the similarities and differences between the movie and real life.

Joy Mangano

Five movie stars from me – if you see it, let me know what you think!

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Our first ever Annual Planning Day

As I mentioned in my last post, I am determined to be as organised as possible this year – it’s seriously the only way I’m going to be able to get everything I want to do done!

We usually plan quarter to quarter, which to date has proven to be very effective.  This year is my (and by extension the business’s) Year of Adventure and as such there are some chunky – and frankly some terrifying – moves we want to make.

It’s imperative that we map out all of those things so we can properly plan the next twelve months, giving ourselves the best chance of success in the process.  As a result, I booked the team out for a day in January to buy us the thinking time we needed to hatch a plan.

Jack (Delosa) very kindly said we could use his place for the day, which has stunning views over the water in Mosman – perfect for getting this inspiration cranking!  An added bonus was Bear the puppy, who demonstrated a fabulously can-do attitude when it came to cuddles and sniffing out the smallest trace of food.

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I thought it might be useful to any of you who have strategy days coming up with your teams to share the sessions we did.

First up, I did a quick welcome and set out what the outcome of the day was – to have a good map of what 2016 is going to look like, and for us all to be inspired and aligned in order to make it all happen.

Session 1 – Personal Goals – 1hr 30 mins

Next, Ashleigh led a session on sharing our goals for the year.  I had given the team my headings – listed in this post – and they used them as a basis to identify what they’re each aiming for in 2016.   We went around the table one-by-one and each of us shared what our goals were.

I love to know my team’s goals outside of their career!  Firstly, as it helps all of us be more fully-rounded humans.  All work and no play and all that…  Secondly, it helps them and me to be accountable to making those goals a reality.  And lastly, as it means I can give birthday presents and thank yous that will move them closer to their goals – e.g: one of our past team members Emily had a goal of learning to surf, so we gave her a surfing lesson for her birthday present.

Part of this session also asked each of us to prepare a statement starting with: “It’s December 2016 and the three things I spend most of my time doing are…”  Then we listed three activities that we’d like to be doing more of by the end of the year.

Session 2 – 2016 overview – 1hr 45 mins

I took the team through what I see our top priorities being for 2016 as a business, our revenue and profit targets, and what the organisation structure should look like by the end of the year.

I allowed plenty of time for this session so I could break each priority down in detail – I had worked on the plan with the management team in advance, however some of it was news to the rest of the group.

I also think it’s really important to walk a team through financial targets, rather than just presenting them with numbers.  Ours are bloody ambitious this year; so spending time walking through the numbers, breaking down what comes from where and getting the group’s buy-in means that everyone sits a little more comfortably with them.  Of course, people are still nervous about stretching targets but this process makes them that bit more manageable – almost like we grip the target up together and tell it who’s boss!

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Lunch – roast chicken and salads from Chargrill Charlie’s.  Key details here, people.

Session 3 – Big Ideas – 1hr 45mins

James got us into brainstorming mode with some brilliant optical illusions and tasking, then we each shared one big idea that we’d like to see the business tackle this year.

To whittle down which ones we wanted to look at in more detail, we were each given an imaginary $100 to spend on “ideas shopping”.  So we could spend our entire $100 on one idea, or spend $50 on one idea and $25 on two others.  It wasn’t the most useful of tools in this case, as the general consensus was that they were all worth looking at!  We agreed to scope out five of them over this quarter, and make a decision at that point on which ones we’ll coax into reality.

Session 4 – Quarterly Planning – 1hr 15 mins

Sarah took us through an analysis of the last quarter of 2015, and using this and the overall annual plan we pretty easily identified what our top five “rocks” would be for the three months ahead.

AP Sarah session

We work to Verne Harnish’s approach in Mastering the Rockefeller Habits (if you haven’t read it, READ IT – it transformed my business).  This means that each quarter we select five big things we need to make happen in the immediate 90 days following, then break down the individual tasks that we need to complete within them.

We also allocate a theme for the quarter and set a corresponding celebration to it.  As this is the Year of Adventure, we’re adopting one famous adventurer as our theme each quarter… starting with Indiana Jones!

When we complete all our rocks and hit our budget target, we’re going on a treetop adventure.  I’ve ordered some Indiana Jones hats that we’ll wear in our Friday meeting to keep the theme alive and kicking.  Will share a photo when they arrive….

Session 5 – Team Development – 1hr

At the start of 2015, we made our team learning a priority and started a weekly training and development session – just 45 minutes before our weekly meeting on a Friday.  It alternates by week between our Book Club and Street Smart Sessions – where we learn from another person on the team or an external expert about a particular area.

Eddie and Chelsea had canvassed the team on key areas we’d each like to focus on and had narrowed the votes down to four key areas.

From that, they prepared a shortlist of potential books and we took a team vote on which ones make it into Book Club this year – with the aim of reading at least one book a quarter together.

First up for this year is The AlchemistTechnically this wasn’t on the list but as our other book this quarter is very small, I used my executive sway to sneak another one on there.  This book should be compulsive reading for everyone – it’s essentially a manual to manifesting what you want from your life.

Rather fittingly, this print was our thank you for being able to use the house – the entire text of the book on one page.  So cool!!

The Alchemist print

We definitely got the outcome I was after in terms of having a big annual plan that everyone is onboard and excited about.

What I didn’t necessarily plan on was the huge morale and energy boost that the day gave the team.  Between the day out of the familiar environment of the office, the fun hanging out together and the brain collaboration, the team was bouncing off the walls on Friday morning.  “Energised”, “excited” and “pumped” were words on high rotation all day – which was just brilliant to hear!

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I hope this peek behind the scenes to our planning day will help you with your team strategy sessions….

I’ll tell you at the end of the year if ours worked.  😉

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My 37 best decisions of 2015

Well, that’s a wrap!  I’m awake very early on New Year’s Eve (try 4am) due to my first morning waking up in the Western Australia time zone.  We’re visiting friends in the “proper Outback”.  There’ll be waterfalls galore, and some activities that sound suspiciously like canyoning….

On the flight from Sydney to Darwin a couple of days ago, my trusty notebook came out.  Inspired by the incredible Danielle La Porte’s post a few months ago, I thought it would a good reflection on the year that was 2015 to list out what I thought were my best decisions of the year.  Some of them are tiny, some are huge, some are utterly superficial and some changed my outlook in a significant way.

I firmly believe that both happiness and success are made up a series of decisions – not momentous ones that feel like a huge leap forward, but the small steps that we take every day.  And what can be just as important is deciding to let something go, or change course.

So let’s get onto it…

1. Taking The Remarkables Group team on our first ever annual retreat – three nights in the Hunter Valley were the best investment we made as a business all year.  It resulted in an incredibly bonded team and our most financially successful quarter ever followed immediately after.11225746_10153201803220754_97236488529436355_n

2. Moving office (even if it was just around the corner) – giving us the space to grow and a much more collaborative seating arrangement.

3. Going to the US in April for a fact-finding mission – meeting 15 industry experts in influencer marketing was a brilliant learning experience and fortified us with international learnings and insights to improve what we do.

4. Starting Street Smart Sessions – these fortnightly 45 minute training sessions meeting meant that we could learn as a team about specific areas that we wanted to improve on or know more about.

5. Saying yes to speaking at the first Business Chicks conference, Movers and Breakers – my talk was one of the best I’ve ever done and spending three days in Uluru with amazing women was one of the highlights of my year, plus getting to know CEO Emma Isaacs and her kickass team.

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6. Writing my book – this was one of my massive goals for this year and it’s written, all 92,000 words of it!  In talks with publishers for it at the moment, so I’m hoping my words will see the light of day in 2016.

7. Wrapping up a business partnership that wasn’t working out – resulting in us finding a different solution to what we wanted to do, and the ex-partner’s business is flourishing.

8. Entering The Remarkables Group in the BRW Fast Starters list – and debuting in there at no. 78!  When I started the business, I would despair at the almost exclusively male lists in BRW and resolved that if I ever could, I would show that women could be on there too.  Massive tick box for me personally.

9. Rebranding the business – I LOVE our new look, even after the rebrand in May.  Three years into the business felt like a good time to shake up its appearance and I feel the new branding will comfortably see us through the next three years and all the big plans we have for them.

10. Managing someone out of the team – we had a team member who was a wonderful person, but whose skillset wasn’t a match for the role involved.  They exited the business, had a great holiday and are now in a role much better suited to them.

11. Hiring a PA – this was another of my goals for 2015 and my assistant started with me in February, and has freed up at a conservative guess 50 hours a month for me.

12. Airbnbing our spare room – we didn’t expect our front bedroom to be as popular as it has been, and the money coming in for that is building up nicely to pay for a dream trip to Scandinavia next year for Wade and I.  This will feel like a big luxury as funds will be tight next year as he has just started his own business.

13. Putting the car on Car Next Door – having moved into the city in March, my poor car was feeling very unloved.  This savvy service allows people to book it while I’m not using it, resulting in completely passive income every month. Score!

14. Continuing to grow the business ballast account – this my coach Ronan’s name for a savings account.  The business has gone through a rapid growth spurt this year (the team has doubled) so offsetting bigger monthly outgoings with a sturdier ballast means I can sleep at night!

15. Offsetting GST and super each month – another one that helps with the Zzzs, especially when that lovely BAS statement lands each quarter.

16. Getting good tax advice – this was something I hadn’t done until this year and it has resulted in me becoming a lot more educated about the tax system.

17. Becoming a mentor – I’ve been incredibly lucky to get a lot of advice from people more experienced than me, so this year I wanted to give back by helping other people.  So rewarding.  I probably over-extended myself with six mentees, so I’ll be a bit more balanced in my approach next year.

18. Flying business class from Abu Dhabi to Sydney – I finally cracked into my Virgin Velocity points and treated myself to an upgrade for what is generally the shittiest leg of that European trip… and it was heaven!  Resulted in zero jetlag and being able to go the distance on the team Christmas party the day after I got back.

19. Taking the trip of a lifetime with Wade at the start of the year – Dubai, Abu Dhabi, an Irish Christmas (no snow, despite his orders), safari in Tanzania and beach time in Zanzibar.  It was fucking amazing and we loved every minute of it.  Lifetime memories made and treasured.

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20. Having a weekend of time away with Wade every quarter – we knew this year was going to be busy so we booked three weekends together at the start of the year into our diaries.  Queenstown with friends for a wedding, a cottage in the Blue Mountains and a Gold Coast mini-break gave us a chance to just “be” together.

21. Moving house – we both set a goal to move to a bigger house than our cute-as-a-button one in Woollahra.  The perfect house popped up on Domain on a Saturday in March and two days later, it was ours.  The bucketloads of space has resulted in a general feeling of opportunity and expansiveness in every other area of our lives.

22. Surprising Dad for his 60th – Dad turned the big six oh on the 29th November and I decided in mid-October to fly to Dublin to surprise him.  Jumping out of the cupboard under the stairs was one of the highlights of my year!

23. Flying to Dublin to say goodbye to Nana – I got word that our darling Nana was very ill when I was in New York on my fact-finding mission.  My sister Jenny was there as well, and we flew back together and went straight to the hospital.  I got to go back that night and spend most of the night with her and she passed away at 9am the next morning.  I’m so, so, so glad I went back and that I got to be with my family in the days afterwards.

24. Buying a king-size bed – I’ve wanted one for years and the new house allowed us the space to have one.  Game-changer.

25. Sending birthday cards to friends and family – one of my goals this year was to make the special people in my life feel more special, so I resolved to go old-school and send birthday cards.

26. Getting into a green smoothie habit – these are pretty boring in that they’re generally the same ingredients every day, but having that shot of alkaline goodness mid-morning has felt like a good thing to do.

27. Rejoining Body Mind Life – this was the first yoga studio I ever joined but we parted ways for a few years.  I signed up again in June and I’m loving the blend of yoga and pilates, the fact that it’s super close to the office and my house, and the endless class options.

28. Buying a bike – this was a very spur-of-the-moment decision, that turned out to be a great one!  It’s opened up a whole new side of Sydney as I nip up side streets and I’ve been cycling to meetings too.  Exercise and saving the business money in one!

29. Taking a full week retreat to Bali – I’ve only ever done a weekend retreat before, and never been to Bali.  This was seven days of pure bliss, inspiration and rest.  Definitely doing this again next year.

30. Buying gorgeous exercise clothes – I spent up at Dare To Wear in Seminyak and now have three beautiful and colourful mix ‘n’ match outfits for yoga or pilates.  I love wearing them and I swear they make me better in my classes!

31. Discovering Trilogy Ultra Hydrating Cream – this instantly made my annoying little dehydration lines disappear and I faithfully slather it on every night now.  I also discovered that it’s amazing on flights.  I buddy it up with the Q10 booster when my skin needs even more TLC.

32. Giving myself permission to dress more casually – the bike prompted this new casual Lorraine, but I’m loving my new Adidas trainers with a cute little dress and denim jacket.  It’s like I realised that I could wear whatever I want and that no boss was going to pull me up on my sartorial choices (only took me 3.5 years!), and it’s been liberating.

33. Buying shithot red shoes – I bought these to speak at the Business Chicks conference and I LOVE putting them on.  They make me feel powerful, sexy and feminine.

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34. Getting into a habit of earlier bedtimes – bedtime used to be around 11pm but now I aim to be in bed by 9.30pm and asleep by 10.00pm.  This has been brilliant as it cuts out pointless pottering in the evening time and means I’m waking up naturally between 5.15am and 6.00am.

35. Discovering What I Know For Sure – my friend Anna mentioned this book by Oprah on Facebook and I bought it straightaway on my Kindle.  SO much wisdom and spiritual insights.  I love it and have read it about four times since.

36. Seeing Oprah speak – another Oprah decision.  She was an incredible speaker and it only hit home hearing her talk how completely miraculous her achievements have been given where she came from.  It was also insanely encouraging to see thousands of people showing up to see one woman simply speak for two hours (during which she took no break, not even a sip of water!).

37. Putting this post out there – I’ve had it on my annual goals to put this site out into the real world for two years now, and have written posts, tinkered with the design and generally done some champion procrastinating.  I refuse to put it on my goals for 2016, so here it is – in all its imperfect glory and on the last day of 2015.  I have a truckload of content in my head that is geared at sharing what I’ve learned on my entrepreneurial journey in the hope that it helps other people doing the same.  Every journey of a thousand miles starts with one single step, so this is mine.

I also thought during this little reflection on what the bad decisions I made were.  I came up with a few, but realised that making those decisions ultimately taught me something that I didn’t know before.

Overall, my biggest learning this year was not to delay making a decision – some of the situations that arose could have been much more quickly remedied if I had taken more immediate action.  But again on looking at those instances, they were the best decisions with the facts I had to hand in that moment.  And when I finally made the decision to change things, another solution presented itself.

That’s not to say I didn’t make shedloads of mistakes this year (hell no!), and they came with their own learnings as well.

Wishing you a wonderful New Year’s Eve, wherever you might be – and a super start to 2016.

I’d love to hear what your best decisions of 2015 were – care to share?

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How to be an award-winning business

Award wins deliver credibility, it’s that simple.  They also boost the profile of a business and its team, as well as getting the phone ringing with potential clients.  And they’re a sure-fire way of propelling a business head-and-shoulders above its competitors.

Every business should be entering awards – no matter if they’ve been in business for 12 months or 12 years.

I started The Remarkables Group on the 16th May 2012, and scooped my first award two months later.  Since then, we have been very fortunate to win four awards – Emerging Agency of the Year, Australian Start-up of the Year, Women in Media and 30 under 30.  We’ve also been finalists for another two and were nominated for Telstra Business of the Year this year.

The impact of this recognition has been remarkable.  My business was not only a start-up, but a start-up with a new offer for Australia.  I had my work cut out for me proving the value of what we were offering, and gaining the trust of the industry.   The hard work paid off.  In our first year in business, we secured revenue of $1.1million – much of which I attribute to creating a highly visible brand in the market.

I’ve also been honoured to judge a number of industry awards over the last year or so, so I’ve seen the other side of awards now – the great, the average and the downright “you call this an entry?” ones.

Based on my experience on both sides of the fence, here is my tried and tested system to becoming an award-winning business:

1. Research relevant awards

You need to be actively searching out awards opportunities – if you wait for them to come to you, you’ll be waiting a hell of a long time.  At the start of every year, start an awards calendar so you know what’s coming up when – and add to it as you find new awards to enter.  Ask your friends and industry contacts to share any that they find, and return the favour.

2. Plan awards into your budget

Many awards are free to enter, but some will require an entry fee.  You may also have additional expenses like design time or printing.  Include entering awards as a line item into your annual budget – that way if you do have expenses arising from them, they’re planned for.

3. Enter them

Sounds simple doesn’t it?  I never fail to be amazed at the reasons businesses find to not enter awards.   “There’s too much work on for me to write the entry” is a frequent one.  But sadly the most common one by far is this: “We don’t have a chance of winning”.  People allow this belief to prevent them from entering and at least having a shot at being shortlisted (a coup in itself) or taking out the main prize.

I entered my first ever awards two days after I started my business – still sitting in my spare bedroom.  I did it as clients weren’t exactly banging down my door yet and I figured that entering was a way of forcing a panel of industry influencers to read about my business and getting the word out there about what I was doing.  Amazingly, I got shortlisted and at the awards party six weeks later my name was read out as a winner.  I don’t think there was a more shocked person in Sydney that night.   Last year I was a judge for a very well established industry awards and booked out a full day in my calendar to do my category’s judging online.  it took me 90 minutes.   I was incredulous at how few entries there were.  You have a much higher chance of winning than you think – but you’ll never know until you enter!

4. Diarise time to work on the entry

Awards entries can be time consuming, but don’t let that deter you from entering.  Get started early.  Most awards allow four to six weeks for their entry period.  Diarise the deadline and spend some time upfront reading the entry requirements and making a list of all the information, references and financial data you’ll need.  Then block out time each week to work on the entry.  Battling printer issues, or waiting for a critical reference on the closing day for awards is a one-way ticket to stratospheric stress – so do yourself (and your team) a favour and be organised.

5. Answer the questions asked

If the entry requires you to prepare a presentation or document, structure it in line with the sections in the requirements – e.g: a section for financial performance, another for culture.   Treat each section like an English comprehension exam at school – answer the question asked with specific information and back it up with examples.  When I’ve judged awards, it’s patently clear which businesses took the time to read the questions and which ones dashed off their entry and failed to provide the information needed to gain points.

6. Tout your own horn

This is not the time to be modest.  You have one chance to wow the judges, so you must give it your very best shot.  Do not be reluctant to share wins, what makes your business so special (because it is), what the vision is for the future and how you see the business contributing to society.   As the American entertainer (and founder of the Ringling Circus) PT Barnum said: “Without promotion, something terrible happens… Nothing!”

7. Make it look pretty

If it’s an online entry, copy the questions into a Word document and write your answers there.  Take the time to proofread it or even better, get a grammar-savvy colleague to check it too.  If it’s a written entry, consider getting a graphic designer to add some visual polish and have it professionally printed and bound.  This will set your entry apart from the competition and demonstrate your commitment to quality.

8. Follow up

So you’ve won the award (or been a finalist) – congratulations!  Before you commission the trophy cabinet, say thank you.  If you don’t already know, find out who the judges and awards organisers were and send them a note thanking them for their hard work – this extends to people who have provided references as well.  I can pretty much promise you’ll be the only winner that does, and it puts you on their radar for future opportunities – maybe next year you’ll be asked to be a judge…

9. Leverage the win

Include the award logo on your email signature, your website, send out an email to all your clients letting them know (and thanking them for making it possible) and make sure you refer to the business as being “award-winning” in all marketing materials.  Feels good doesn’t it?

Happy awards hunting!

This piece first appeared on Smart Company.

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Five ways to… chilled cashflow

Cover image credit: Dan Campbell Photography

If you ever hear me speak on entrepreneurship, you’ll find out terrifyingly quickly that I am most definitely NOT a numbers person.  I did well at maths in school, but that’s about where my relationship with numbers ended.

The financial side of business has probably been the steepest learning curve for me in the whole adventure that is entrepreneurship.  Give me people, words, ideas, strategies and I’m happy.  Give me spreadsheets, P&Ls and debtor lists and I’m not.

Unfortunately for me (and for you if you’re identifying), it’s impossible to succeed at business without having ongoing working knowledge of the dollars under your watch.  This I realised a few months into the business when I hired my first team member and realised that I had mouths to feed other than my own.

When I catch up with other business owners, one of the most common challenges they’re having is cash flow – especially if their business is in high growth, which chews funds at a freaking unbelievable rate.

Small businesses are at the mercy of bigger businesses when it comes to getting invoices paid – effectively the smaller business acts as a temporary bank for the bigger one.

If cash flow gets out of hand and the money isn’t coming in, then your business can hit the skids scarily quickly.  All you need is a couple of months of not being able to pay yourself/your team and your suppliers, and then it’s.. well.. see ya.

Most business owners I know have had to go without their own salary at least once due to cash flow issues, and we all know that baked beans are not an exciting dinner option for a month…

I’ve been very fortunate in that I haven’t experienced that (yet).  There have been a couple of months when it was looking a bit sticky as payday approached, however the payments being chased hit the account and I breathed a big sigh of relief.  We also haven’t had one bad debt to date (yet).

Staying on top of what’s owed to the business is a critical task for the business owner, or the head of finance if the business is at that point.

Here are some things I’ve learned that bring the chill into cash flow for me:

1. Invoice ASAP

Every day that you put off raising invoices is a day you’ll be waiting to get paid.  Complete at least one invoicing session a week and get the invoices into clients’ hands immediately.  I can procrastinate on boring tasks such as invoicing like the best of them believe me, but the tumbleweed in the bank account a couple of months later made me learn my lesson quite quickly.

2. Chase on the day the invoice is due

I know I’m guilty of sometimes filing an invoice in my inbox and waiting for the chase-up email/call to pay it, and I’m sure I’m not alone in that.  Start chasing payment as soon as the invoice shows as overdue in your accounting software.  We use Xero, which marks in red any invoices that are later than our payment terms.

3. Invoice in one hit

When I started the business, I invoiced 20% on confirmation of the campaign and the remaining 80% on completion.  When I realised that clients had no problem with the 20% upfront, I increased it to 50%.  And when they were fine with that, we started invoicing the lot upfront.  Splitting payments over multiple invoices essentially gives you double the workload to get it paid, and also pushes back the day you ultimately get those lovely juicy funds into your business account.

4. Check your bank account and debtors list weekly

Keeping on top of debtors on a weekly basis is essential to regular incoming payments.  It means you can keep the pressure on late payers, and you also have an accurate snapshot of where cash flow is at – peace of mind of course, and also so that you can manage paying your own suppliers.  I have a finance “power hour” once a week, which includes checking the business bank account and looking at what invoices are due for payment.

5. Don’t chase invoices yourself!

This is my biggest tip of all – learned from our CFO.  If you the business owner chase every invoice, then it becomes the norm for debtors and you’re more likely to get the runaround.  If however they hear from someone on your team a couple of times THEN it gets escalated to you, they’re a lot more likely to sit up and pay attention.  During my weekly power hour, I email the team a list of invoices to be chased and they send me back an update once they’ve gotten in touch with the clients.  If an invoice is very overdue, then they send me the senior contact wherever it is and I speak to them direct.  This usually results in the payment being made within a week.  If you don’t have a team yet, I strongly recommend you hire a VA to chase payments on your behalf.

If you action even one of these tips, you’re guaranteed to have speedier payments, less financial stress and a lot more time to get on with the fun side of business.  Unless you think chasing debtors is fun, in which case you’re just odd.

Do you struggle with cash flow?  Have you got any tips that help improve it?

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Mastering the Melbourne biz trip: my plan of attack

Cover photo credit: www.theage.com.au

I’ve been travelling to Melbourne to see clients for the last two years, heading down every four months or so.

The trips have been hit and miss (mostly miss) in terms of productivity, and general stress levels.  I’ve tended to spend more time in taxis crossing and re-crossing Melbourne than in actual meetings – as well as spending far too much money in the process.  I also eat sooo much worse than I would at home, which results in me feeling like crap.

I had my Melbourne trip this week, and it’s the closest I’ve come to nailing the perfect itinerary, food, travel and accommodation.  I squeezed in five meetings and a party on day 1 and three more meetings on day 2, landing back in Sydney at 5pm on Thursday.

Here’s what I did:

1. Packed a plane breakfast

I got the 7.15am Virgin flight from Sydney, which meant I left the house at 6.20am – an hour earlier than I normally eat breakfast.  I packed a ziplock bag of celery and cucumber sticks and a plastic container of my bulk breakfast for the week – brown rice porridge with pumpkin, carrot and a dollop of natural yoghurt.  This meant that I had breakfast at my usual time and wasn’t craving croissants/bacon/general rubbish by the time I hit Melbourne.

2. Booked a cheap – and super handy – hotel

I used to book relatively pricey hotels ($150 per night or so) for biz trips to Melbourne…  Then I realised that I was spending all of eight hours in the room, and racking up a fortune in taxi fares getting to and from it.  I’ve found the perfect hotel for my trips now – it’s right next to Southern Cross Station, so I jump off the Skybus from the airport and am checked in within 10 minutes.  It’s $80 per night, is super clean and fairly quiet.  I checked out on the second morning and stored my luggage at the hotel, then cabbed it back after my last meeting, got into comfy clothes and strolled to the Skybus again.  It’s the Ibis Styles on King St.  Note: don’t have breakfast in the restaurant there – head to Kinfolk instead.

Ibis Styles

 3. Used Uber

I am constantly amazed at how hard it is to get a cab in Melbourne!  I assume it’s because everyone gets trams, but on a two-day trip time doesn’t allow for the inevitable number of times I’d get lost on them.  I use Uber in Sydney all the time, but for some reason it didn’t dawn on me to use it interstate as well.  It was BRILLIANT – the longest I waited for a car was 10 minutes and that was in a fairly far-out suburb.

4. Got meetings to come to me (and gave back in the process)

I used to go see everyone at their office, which resulted in the more-time-travelling-than-meeting problem.  This time, I booked in my first few meetings of each day back-to-back right by Southern Cross station at Kinfolk – a super cute social enterprise that’s run by volunteers and donates all profits to four development centres.  The tea/coffee is great, as was my smashed avocado on rye breakfast on day 2.  I love the décor, especially the old school desks for tables.

Photo credit: www.lonelypebool.blogspot.com

Photo credit: www.lonelypebool.blogspot.com

5. Travelled in comfy clothes

I’m not a fan of getting up at 5.30am and having to do hair and make-up, and get into the meeting-friendly clothes I’m going to wear until that night.  I flew down in comfortable jeans, my Sperries and a big cosy striped sweater; then changed into my meeting clothes when I checked into the hotel.  By 2pm on day 2 and nine appointments later, I was thrilled to get back into my jeans and sweater when I went back to the hotel to collect my luggage!

6. Ate soup

I’ve seen this soup stand a few times at Southern Cross station, and finally tried it this time around.  Getting on the Skybus with a warming vegetable and lentil soup in my belly was the perfect ending to the trip.

Soups

So that’s my newly-formed Melbourne plan of attack!  What tips do you have for interstate trips?  Am I the only one who prefers to fly in snuggly sweaters?!

 

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