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Small businesses can do big things. In this new series of videos, we will look into small businesses in Australia—their humble beginnings, their growth story, and the lessons that we can learn from them.

Today, we will look into the story of Billie Goat Soap and its founder, Leanne Faulkner.

Their story

Leanne Faulkner, whose youngest son was born with eczema, is the creator and founder of Billie Goat Soap. Her young son used steroids to treat eczema, and she was concerned about the effects of long-term steroid use. This led her to do research on how to naturally treat and manage eczema.

Faulkner described herself as a frustrated farmer—her family owned a few acres of land and had dairy goats in the property. She researched about the benefits of goat’s milk in treating eczema, learned how to make soap from goat’s milk and natural oils, and used her homemade soaps on her son. Seeing the results on her son spurred her to start her goats milk soap company in 2005.

Faulkner used her communication and selling skills to bring the first batches of Billie Goat Soap into the market. She was very strategic on who, when, and how to approach about her product. She started introducing her products to health food stores, then farmers markets, then retail and gift stores, and finally to department stores.

Faulkner worked in organisational development and employee training prior to starting her company, and she used her background to grow her sales team. As a small company, she didn’t have the resources to put a sales consultant in every store. Instead, she trained the sales personnel in the retail stores that carried her product. She built strong relations with these sales people, even going so far as sending a bouquet of edible blooms in every counter with a personal card attached.

By working and leveraging on available resources, Billie Goat Soap grew and sold across Australia. It also successfully expanded its product line to include balms, skin care, and even a baby care line. At its peak, Billie Goat Soap turned over AU$2.4 million annually.

Unfortunately, a stress-fueled breakdown brought by a retail slump and the demands of running a small business led Faulkner to step down from her post and sell her company to The Heat Group in 2012. Today, Faulkner advocates for moremental health resources to support small business owners.

What can we learn

Not all small businesses have a happy ending, but there are lessons that we can learn from Billie Goat Soap’s story.

(1) Forecast what is needed to grow

Faulkner advices small business owners to plan appropriately for growth—specifically, having the right amount of funding to drive business development and expansion. While funding is important, I think the example of Billie Goat Soap also shows that having the right skills, such as management and leadership skills, is also very crucial.

And so, when we plan for growth, we need to also consider the resources needed to grow. In my video, When does your business benefit from seeking professional advice? (link forthcoming—not yet published), I share advice from Howard Schultz, the founder of Starbucks, who believes that planning to grow entails planning to hire or work with people who have the skill base and experience that matches your growth objectives.

(2) Communicate to your employees, to your customers, and to your suppliers

Clear communication helps to ensure that anyone connected to the business knows what the goals are and understands how the business aims to achieve them.”

Build a relationship with the people you work with. In Faulkner’s case, she took the effort to build strong relationships with the sales people working in the retail stores who played a major part in growing the revenue of the company.

How can you continue to build strong relationships with your employees, your customers, and your suppliers?

(3) Look after yourself

Faulkner is an advocate of mental health. She has been vocal about her stress and anxiety—and how this affected her mental health in 2011.

In my video, Overcoming Entrepreneurial Exhaustion, I discuss three things that entrepreneurs and business owners can do to overcome exhaustion. That said, mental health is a medical issue. Whilst we expect to look out for and manage stress that comes with operating a business, bringing consultants and expending your team can help in many areas. But there are instances when stress starts to change who you are.

If you feel that the stress of running a business is getting to you, please seek help from a professional because they are trained to listen unconditionally and provide much needed intervention.

If you are interested to know more about what a business has to go through when facing exponential growth, you can download the first chapter of the book, ”$20K to $20 Million in 2 Years” absolutely free here. The chapter talks about the differences between a good and a great business and puts out questions that make you consider how you can turn your business from good to great.

Read more >

While reality shows seem to feature fantasy over reality, I find it very interesting when motivated and hardworking entrepreneurs become the subject of a long-running reality show like Shark Tank. Running for 10 years already, the Shark Tank in the United States has produced many successful ventures that turns over millions of dollars annually.

In this video, I explore what small business owners like you and me can learn from successful entrepreneurs of Shark Tank.

In two previous videos, we discussed certain prominent judges of the US version of Shark Tank and the lessons we can learn from them (link forthcoming).

This time, I explore lessons from two of the most successful business ventures to come out of that series—and one venture that failed to seal a deal with a Shark but became one of the most successful companies to come out of Shark Tank, and was later bought by Amazon for more than US$1 billion in 2018.

Lesson from Scrub Daddy: Provide a solution to a pain point

Aaron Krause is the founder and inventor of Scrub Daddy, a non-scratching reusable sponge that made cleaning very easy, thanks to the scrub’s characteristics. He developed his first scrub in 2006, but failed to secure any sales, and so sold most of his sponges to the 3M Company as scraps. In 2011, in need of sponges to clean off his own lawn furniture, he discovered that his special sponges got the job done without scratching any surface.

In 2012, he went into the Shark Tank and secured a deal with Lori Greiner. To date, Scrub Daddy has made more than US$50 million since its pitch.

Scrub Daddy provides a simple solution to an everyday problem. It makes cleaning easy. But that’s not all—the product has also been lab tested to rinse clear of debris and resist odors for up to two months. Krause and Greiner, both inventors, have said it again and again—successful products are ones that provide easy solutions to your customer’s pain points.

It all boils down to your customers. How can you help them? How do your products and services minimise or even eliminate their pain points? How can you improve the products and services you offer today to make sure that you provide a better solution to your customers’ pain points?

Lesson from Tipsy Elves: Identify risks and diversify

Founded by college friends Evan Mendelsohn and Nicklaus Morton, Tipsy Elves started out as a company that designed and sold ugly Christmas sweaters. The company differentiated themselves from other ugly sweater creators by using higher quality materials and also by teaming up with Save the Children, an American non-profit organisation, in dedicating a portion of their profits to providing underprivileged American children with winter clothing. After their pitch, they partnered with Robert Herjavec.

One of the risks that Herjavec and the founders of Tipsy Elves identified from the very beginning is the seasonality of the product—it only came out during a few months in the year. So one of the things that they immediately worked on was diversifying their product line so that the company has business the entire year. They have since expanded to over twenty clothing categories, including Hawaiian shirts and swim trunks, patriotic clothing, and Halloween costumes. Since their pitch in 2014, the company has seen more than US$50 million in revenue.

Most, if not all businesses experience business cycles—and throughout the year, there will be lean months and there will be months when we see a lot of business.

The question you should ask yourself is, how can you diversify so that you can have more business during the lean months? What can you do so that you can extend your busy months?

Lesson from Ring: Have a focused vision

In 2013, Jamie Siminoff pitched his product, then called Doorbot, a doorbell with a camera that sent video to users' smartphones. Despite having made solid sales for Doorbot, Siminoff walked away without a deal. His appearance in Shark Tank only increased interest for his doorbell camera, but this is a story of overcoming many challenges.

The first set of Doorbots he launched into the market produced poor video quality and had spotty WiFi capabilities. Siminoff had to spend 9 months responding to customer complaints. Funding also continued to be a challenge.

But Siminoff was motivated by his purpose: to make neighborhoods safer for everyone. He designed his smart doorbell because his wife had difficulty hearing when someone rang the doorbell and also because of his own concerns for home security. While there were smart doorbells in the market, it did not provide the benefits that he wanted from one.

So he pushed forward. Eventually, he was able to work with a manufacturer who could improve the quality of his doorbells. He also found partners to work with, one of whom suggested to change the name from Doorbot to a simpler name, Ring, that had a better recall.

He was also introduced to Richard Branson who lead the last round of funding for the company. In case you did not know, Branson sometimes appears as a guest judge on the Shark Tank. You could say that Siminoff eventually walked away with a deal from a Shark.

In 2018, Ring was bought by Amazon for US$1 billion.

When things became difficult, Siminoff held on to his purpose and his vision for the company. He was specifically motivated by his desire to provide a solution for an important pain point: home security—much like how Scrub Daddy offers a solution for a pain point in home cleaning. And Ring itself has diversified, offering other complementary home security products—much like how Tipsy Elves diversified their product lines.

If you are interested to know more about what a business has to go through when facing exponential growth, you can download the first chapter of the book, ”$20K to $20 Million in 2 Years” absolutely free here. The chapter talks about the differences between a good and a great business and puts out questions that make you consider how you can turn your business from good to great.

Read more >

In this video, I offer a simple 3-step guideline on what small business owners should keep in mind when planning to train and develop their team—and to get them to work for you so that you can grow your business.

For a business to grow, we need to work with the resources that we have access to in order to achieve growth. One of the key resources in any business is the people working in the business—your team. You are dependent on them for the success of your business, as much as they are dependent on you for leadership and guidance. For growth to happen, everyone should have the right skills and the right attitude towards growth—training is one of the factors that will help ensure this.

Why train? When we stop learning, we stop growing. This is why it is important to continue training everyone in the business. Here are three important steps that I think small business owners should consider seriously when discussing employee training and development for company growth.

Step one: Identify learning gaps

What does your team need to learn? Categorize these gaps into short-term, medium-term, and long-term gaps. Look into them and fill accordingly.

What skills or knowledge do your employees need to learn immediately—perhaps in the next 6 to 12 months? What skills or knowledge would they need in the next 12 to 18 months or the medium-term to long-term?

What kind of skills do they need to learn? Are these hard or soft skills? Hard skills are specific, teachable abilities that can be defined and measured, such as the ability to use software programs that you may be using in your business. By contrast, soft skills are less tangible and harder to quantify skill sets, such as customer service or leadership skills.

Step two: Identify an approach

The next step is to identify how you will address these gaps. How will you train your employees for the skills and knowledge that they need to learn immediately? Will they learn on the job? Will someone be mentoring them? Will you be their mentor or will you be bringing someone from the outside to mentor them? Will they be shadowing someone already performing a similar task or process? Or will you be expanding their knowledge and skills through cross-training?

Does your organisation have someone in-house who can teach such skills? Or do you need to find a third-party provider for their training? Or maybe enrol them in an online course?

It is interesting to note at this point that while formal courses offered by many educational institutions seem ideal, some studies have shown that employees tend to learn more from their peers, particularly on skills and knowledge that already exist within your team. Furthermore, by teaching each other on the job, employees learn important leadership and management skills required for their position.

How will you tackle employee training and development in the medium- to long-term? Will you have an organisation-wide professional development plan? Some organisations assign a training and development champion—one who is held accountable for helping the organisation identify learning gaps and find an appropriate approach to achieve the organisatino’s professional development goals.

Step three: Identify accountability

How do you sustain your medium- to long-term learning goals? While the first two steps refers to actions or activities that the organisation should perform, this last step aims to ensure that any plans formulated and carried out in the short term will be implemented sustainably for years to come. This makes sure that the skills and knowledge of your staff grow with your goals.

A more important question to ask at this point is: who ensures that the development goals are carried out? I mentioned earlier about assigning a training champion. But keep in mind that the training champion only helps identify new or persistent learning gaps, and helps business owners find ways to address these. Having only one person accountable for everyone’s training and development is not enough.

In Deutsche Knowledge Services, Inc., the financial management back office of Deutsche Bank offices worldwide, every employee is held accountable for their professional development. They are all required to fulfill at least 60 hours of training every year. The company offers an exhaustive list of hard skills and soft skills in-house training, but employees are also encouraged to take out formal courses online or in formal institutions should the in-house training be insufficient. While the human resources department is considered as the training champion, every single employee is also called on to champion their own learning and development.

Obviously, Deutsche Bank is a massive organisation—and small businesses do not have the resources to roll out a professional development plan such as theirs. But we can take a page from their practice by focusing on what they wanted to achieve: hold employees accountable for learning by requiring them to be very active in their own development within the organisation.

What can small businesses do?

One regular practice in some organisations is weekly catch ups with the immediate superior. Managers spend 15 minutes, usually at the end of the week, to chat with their team members. This can be a form of mentoring. You can also introduce cross-training, where members of your team are assigned a different task or to a different team at regular rotational intervals. The key, however, is to keep your team accountable for their learning is to ask them what they need and what they intend to learn, and get their insight on how they themselves addressing the learning gaps.

Remember, as your team grows, they will be better prepared to handle the changes that come with the growth of your company.

If you are interested to know more about what a business has to go through when facing exponential growth, you can download the first chapter of the book, ”$20K to $20 Million in 2 Years” absolutely free here. The chapter talks about the differences between a good and a great business and puts out questions that make you consider how you can turn your business from good to great.

Read more >

As a business owner, do you know when to seek help? In this video, I will explore what kind of professional services that many entrepreneurs, particularly the widely successful ones, believe to be essential for their own businesses.

In the very early stages of any business, a small business owner would likely try to do everything: marketing, sales, and operations. This is usually a pragmatic choice given the size of the company. However, Howard Schultz, founder of Starbucks, famously said that entrepreneurs cannot do everything and they don’t know best all of the time. As business owners, ensuring success means that we should ask for help particularly if we want to see our businesses grow. Schultz said:

“You have to invest ahead of the growth curve. You have to hire people who have the skill base and experience beyond the size of the business. (In order to grow, w)e needed the competency well beyond the size of Starbucks.”

As business owners, ensuring success means we should ask for help, particularly if we want to see our business grow. Where should small business owners start? From a practical standpoint, most entrepreneurs would start by hiring the services of an accountant and a lawyer.

Why hire an accountant?

There are many benefits to hiring an accountant. For one, we all need to comply with taxation, and an accountant will certainly help ease the process. Having an accountant on board provides business owners with the peace of mind that a specialist in the field is consistently handling your business’s accounting issues.

More importantly, an accountant is also a partner in growth by providing important business plan support. An competent accountant is someone who has the know-how to assess whether the business has the financial capacity to carry out your growth plan.

Why hire a lawyer?

Lawyers are partners in growth, too. They are essential in helping you structure your business in a way that not only adheres to regulation and maximises taxation exemptions, but also one that lays the groundwork to allow you to carry out your growth and development plans for your business. They are essential in carrying out due diligence work—the kind that will help you from being defrauded and making sure that operations follow regulations. From a practical standpoint, lawyers are helpful in drawing up, reviewing and enforcing contracts with clients, suppliers and landlords.

But while accountants and lawyers are vital to any business, many successful entrepreneurs and business leaders would also advise having another person into your team.

Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, acknowledged that everybody needs coaching—even him! He says that if top athletes of our time need a coach, then top entrepreneurs need to have a coach, too!

Eric Schmidt, former Google CEO, also agrees.

Why hire a business coach?

Gates and Schmidt aren’t alone in this belief. Did you know that many famous entrepreneurs, billionaires and successful personalities work with coaches? Oprah Winfrey, Bill Clinton, Tyra Banks, and even Barack Obama have all worked with coaches to advance their businesses and careers.

Business coaches offer valuable service. They can be sounding boards for ideas, and they can provide objective feedback, which does not come easily when you work on the same tasks and in the same environment day-in and day-out. Business coaches also offer a broader network—because they work with other business owners. And because they have been working with different business owners, they have been exposed to different businesses, and they offer unique insights and solutions to problems and issues. Ultimately, as in any coach, a business coach is there to help you perform at the top of your game.

Let’s go back to what Schultz said: he says that if we want to grow our business, then we should surround ourselves and work with people who have the competency that will allow us to expand the business to the size that we want.

If you are interested to know more about what a business has to go through when facing exponential growth, you can download the first chapter of the book, ”$20K to $20 Million in 2 Years” absolutely free here. The chapter talks about the differences between a good and a great business and puts out questions that make you consider how you can turn your business from good to great.

Read more >

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9zVjTSVIR2o&feature=youtu.be[/youtube]

While over 70% of Australian businesses are family run, did you know that only 30% survive the transition from first to second generation and just 12% making it to the third generation? In this video, I explore succession issues that affect family-run businesses, and how they can address these to ensure that they not only survive but also to grow through generations to come.

There is a distinct advantage of running a family business and it lies in its culture. There is an implicit but well established way of doing things, particularly in decision-making. In small family firms, a capable and entrepreneurial leader who makes smart decisions can bring growth and profitability to the business.

But as the family business grows, size may become an issue:

  • The common belief is that the succeeding generations are ill-equipped to lead a family business because of in-fighting, lack of vision, or complacency.
  • The entrepreneurial leader refuses to cede decision-making even when the business has already outgrown the leader’s ability to run it alone.
  • Succession is a sensitive subject for many family businesses, because it involves filial relationships and possibly the reluctance to let go of control.

How does one maintain entrepreneurial drive?

To maintain the entrepreneurial drive alive and strong in a family-based firm, it will be important to address these three problems. At its core, this means once should effectively, perhaps even meticulously, plan for succession.

What does succession planning involve? Succession planning should take the following 3 areas into account.

  1. It involves planning for training

Planning for training entails understanding what kind of skills and attitudes the next generation will need to successfully run the business. It also involves knowing how they will learn and acquire these skills. What kind of training will they need: formal education, apprenticeships, or on-the-job training? This involves understanding financial reports, understanding the market, and learning the soft skills required to successfully operate the business.

  1. It involves planning for structure

The complexity of handing over a business from one generation to the next depends on many factors. For example, the process of handing over the business from the first generation to the next—maybe just a parent to a child—is different from handing over a well-established family firm that has been in business for several generations.

As a business grows, structure also becomes an issue. And structure is important because structure essentially determines who makes the important decisions in the business—and how they will be made.

  • Will the decisions come from one person from the top, trickled down to the front lines?
  • Or will it involve a democratic process wherein all stakeholders—that is, all members of the family—will be given a voice?
  • Or will the decisions be decentralized, with each member of the family assigned a particular area or unit in the business that they will be responsible for?
  1. It involves planning for when to hand over complete control

When do you plan to cede complete control of the business? What factors should be considered? What conditions should exist? What or who determines when the next generation is ready to take over the business?

These perhaps are the most contentious issues when a family business discusses succession planning. As a business owner, there is a sense of pride and ownership—after all, you started the business and you made it grow. At the same time, the next generation will have their ideas on how to operate the business.

However, instead of focusing on what is different—why not focus and plan for what every generation shares? The family business has a unique DNA—just as family members share a common DNA. This DNA resides in the business’s mission statement. While each generation may have a different way of running the business, this DNA will be passed on from one generation to another.

This DNA should give the older generations confidence in the next generations. Once plans have been laid—that is, the younger generation has been trained and a business structure has been put in place, the older generation may be able to decide more clearly on when to pass on the baton. Transition, after all, is not a question of if, but of when.

If you are interested to know more about what a business has to go through when facing exponential growth, you can download the first chapter of the book, ”$20K to $20 Million in 2 Years” absolutely free here. The chapter talks about the differences between a good and a great business and puts out questions that make you consider how you can turn your business from good to great.

Read more >