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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 >

What can the judges of Shark Tank teach small business owners? It turns out, a lot. In part two of this two-part video, I share some of their best pointers, explore the wisdom behind their advice and offer tips on how we can apply their advice to our daily lives.

Shark Tank is a reality TV show that originated from the United States. Budding entrepreneurs get the chance to pitch their business ideas to investors in the panel—the so-called Sharks in the Tank.

In part 1, I explored business advice shared by the male Sharks: Robert Herjavec, Mark Cuban and Kevin O’Leary. In this episode, I now share wisdom from the female Sharks. Here’s what they have to say.

Lori Greiner: Do the market research yourself

Lori Greiner is an American inventor and entrepreneur. In 1996, she created and patented her first product, which was eventually picked up by a large retailer and started her entrepreneurial career. She is involved in venture capital investing, product design consulting, and television production. Her net worth stands at US$100 million.

What she does: Before Greiner launched her first product, an earring organiser, to the market, she did her own market research. She didn’t just rely on family and frieds to give her feedback. She went to all different neighborhoods and showed a prototype to people on the street. Then, she asked them to fill out a simple, basic questionnaire: Would you buy this? How much would you pay for it? Do you like it? From those responses, she knew that she had a product that she could sell.

Why she thinks this advice is important: Greiner believes that every successful product addresses a need or a pain point. This is why market research is important—because it allows you, the business owner, to understand what your customers want.

What happened: Doing her own market research paid off. Her earring organiser sold out in 4 minutes after showing it in home TV shopping show.

Greiner teaches us that the success of any product or business lies in our understanding of our customers. We cannot offer a product or a solution to their pain point if we don’t understand their problems. Greiner also teaches us that we cannot rely on other people to find out about our customer pain points. To understand what our customers want and need, we need to consistently communicate with them. When we listen to our customers and we find ways to address their concerns through our products and services, then we are likely to retain them, which will help grow our business further.

In my video, “How to find out what customers want,” I share 3 ways on how to find out what your customers want and need—and it all boils down to communicating and listening intently what your customers are saying.

Barbara Corcoran: Take time to have fun

Barbara Corcoran is a real estate mogul, who began her career in 1970s. She co-founded her first real estate company with her then-boyfriend in 1973, and eventually formed The Corcoran Group when they split. In 2001, she sold her business for US$66 million. Her net worth stands at US$80 million.

What she does: Corcoran loves taking vacations and planning for fun. She plans get togethers with friends. And her secret to solving a creativity block? Going out to a great store, going to a museum, or riding her bike in Central Park in New York City where she lives.

Why she thinks this advice is important: Corcoran believes that having fun prevents burnouts. And doing something other than sitting on a desk makes you creative. And even when her busy schedule prevents her from taking a long vacation, getting together with friends gives her a “mental vacation,” that she says has helped her manage stress.

What happened: Her impressive work ethic matched by her ability to keep herself creative has made her one of the most successful women in the USA.

Corcoran describes herself as a very focused business person, which is why she was able to build an empire. But she also recognises the importance of recovering from stressful days by making time for fun—in her words, taking a “mental vacation” that takes her away from work. The key is to acknowledge that business owners are people—we are not robots that can work 24/7 all of the time. And even then, robots and machines need their downtime, too, for maintenance. We need to be in tiptop shape if we want to operate at peak levels, which means we need to make time for rest and recreation, too. 

In my video, “Maximising the best asset in your business,” I explore how business owners can step back from the daily grind but still be able to productive. The key is to rest and to find ways to spark creativity.

Sara Blakely: Start with “Why” and continue to lead with “Why?”

Sara Blakely is known worldwide as the woman behind Spanx, an American intimate apparel company, which she founded in 2000. Her net worth stands at US$1.1 billion.

What she does: When starting out a business, focus on why you set out to do this in the first place. Focus on the personal and professional goals that you wanted to achieve—and what made you desire to be in the business that you are in.

Why she thinks this advice is important: Your desire points to a purpose. And your purpose provides a motivation and a direction to continue on when the going gets tough.

What happened: Sara Blakely is inventor and founder of Spanx—like Greiner, she began her career as an entrepreneur with a single product that she knew would address a customer pain point. In the early stages of Spanx, she acknowledges how difficult it was to find a company that would sell her product. When the going got tough for her, she focuses on her “why” to get her going.

Blakely expresses what we all need to succeed: purpose. Why are we doing what we do? The simple question makes it easy to see whether our decisions, our actions, and even our thoughts contribute towards accomplishing our goals. It also provides us with something to hold on to when things do not go our way.

In my video, “4 traits you need to succeed in business,” I explore why Purpose, one of these 4 traits, is essential for success. Another entrepreneur, Elon Musk, explains how purpose drives his decisions to succeed.

What I like about the advice from the female Sharks is that it gives counsel to business owners in different stages of their entrepreneurial journey, Greiner tells us what we should do before starting a business or before offering a new product or service—begin with the customers in mind by asking them what they need or want. Both Corcoran and Blakely advice on what we can do when things get stressful or difficult—take a breather and hold on to your purpose.  

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 will tell you the story of how a screw almost screwed with Apple’s business and what we can learn from this.

Apple vs. the Screw

Several years ago, Apple tried to manufacture its top-of-the-line computer Mac Pro, in the United States. Unfortunately for the company, they found out that a very small detail, such as having the right type of screws, would have consequential effects in the entire manufacturing process.

When Apple shifted the manufacturing for the Mac Pro from China to the United States, the manufacturing process hit a snag when Apple discovered that the suppliers they were counting on to produce screws could not produce enough of them for their machines. These screws were unique and had to be custom-made to Apple’s specifications.

In China, Apple relied on factories that can produce vast quantities of these custom screws on short notice. However, in the US, the company found out too late that local suppliers could only manufacture a limited quantity of screws per day. This created problems, and Apple ended up ordering screws from China, resulting in delays in production and which impacted their bottom line.

What was the problem?

Do you know the saying, “No plan survives its initial implementation?” What this means is that no plan ever gets implemented perfectly. That’s because plans are based on assumptions or predictions. It is normal for us to miss certain details. Some details, however, no matter how tiny, can derail even the best laid plans.

The problem, in this case, was that Apple assumed that they could source enough materials in the United States to complete the assembly of their computers.

When you plan to invest millions of dollars to set up a production line to assemble top-of-the-line Mac Pros, who would think that the availability of something so insignificant as screws might have a major impact on the production line and process?

What can we learn from this experience?

Here are three things we can learn from Apple’s experience. Please note that the lessons from this incident do not just apply to move manufacturing sites or changing suppliers. The lessons from this may apply to anything that involves any shifts or changes that you plan to carry out in your business.

Manage your assumptions.

The best way to derail a plan is to make them based on faulty assumptions.

Apple did not anticipate that something as insignificant as screws can hold up a multi-million dollar manufacturing line and cost the company just as much in lost revenue. It’s important to do your research.

In one of my videos, “The Bunnings Lesson – What we can learn from it,” I talk about another case of how faulty assumptions about the market can cost a company over US$1 bilion in losses.

Manage your expectations.

Keeping positive is a good trait—but please remember to also keep your enthusiasm in check, particularly when it hampers you from being realistic or pragmatic when called for.

I have witnessed businesses move into a new market with enthusiasm without doing the proper research and end up spending hundreds of thousands of dollars just to break even (not counting their internal labour costs to manage the project). I have also seen companies who go from one accounting and warehousing package to another, only to go back to the original package one or two years later, much to the frustration of the team operating the business. These mistakes lead to loss of productivity.

In both cases, the management allowed their path of improving the business to be influenced by the enthusiasm of the market, much like Apple getting positive press in bringing high end manufacturing back into the US.

Prepare for Murphy.

Murphy’s Law states that anything that can go wrong will go wrong.

When you plan to move ahead into different markets, or plan to introduce a new software process that will radically change the way your business operates, religious and thorough planning in the front end (that is, before you decide to implement it) could save you significant time and resources than tying up the loose ends in the back end of things.

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 >

For most startups, the name of the game is disruption. Winning means changing the rules, bucking the trend, and coming up with a novel product that the market has not seen or heard of before. Disruptions seem scary for small business owners. Questions like, how will it affect my business? Will it put me out of business?

In this video, I explore the sources of these disruptions and show how small businesses can ride the wave of change.

Where do disruptions come from?

Disruptions come from change. The common reasons given are changes in consumer lifestyles, changes in preferences, technological innovations, etc. However, the real reason why disruptions exist is because businesses are finding increasingly innovative ways to address customer pain points.

Think about it. Why would consumer lifestyles or preferences change? Why would the average consumer in 2008, for example, shift from a Nokia phone to an Apple iPhone or the latest Android smartphone? Why would we suddenly prefer booking a room through Airbnb instead of a hotel chain? Why would we suddenly stop owning VCRs and CD players and choose streaming services like Netflix and Spotify instead?

Disruptions are merely better solutions to existing pain points. They provide convenient alternatives to the status quo. It’s a better product. Period.

How do you survive disruptions?

Keeping in mind why disruptions exist, here are a few things to consider to survive disruptions.

  • Talk to your customers.

Study their buying habits. Find their pain points. How can you improve their lives? How can you make transacting with you more convenient or more enjoyable? Do they have a need that current products or services do not address—but perhaps you can with some tweaks in your offerings?

  • Experiment when you can.  

Ask your staff about how they think a process can be improved. What if you do something differently with your current systems? Is there anything you can do to streamline current processes to make them simpler ad more effective?

  • Invest in yourself and your people.

What do you need to know to drive your business’s growth? What kind of training will you need? What kind of support and guidance would help you drive your business goals?

How can my business be the disrupter in the market?

Perhaps, the more important question to ask is how you can disrupt the market. Put differently, how do you offer a better solution to customer pain points?

Startups have the ability to observe customer pain points and find new and better ways to address these. Do you know why? Because they start out with an outlook to find a solution to a pain point. They have the ability to design products that solve existing problems. To do that, one starts by adopting an innovative mindset. In a previous video, I discuss how small businesses can adopt an innovative mindset.

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 business cycles go, there will be times when businesses experience periods of growth, and there will be times when businesses face downtrends. Sometimes, the causes of growth and decline are factors external to the business, such as economic booms (for growth) or recessions (for decline).

The world experienced an economic crisis in 2008, which affected many businesses. There are talks at the moment that the global economy might be on a brink of another global crisis. What can a small business do to not only survive challenging times but also manage to grow during economic slowdowns?

As business owners, we want to be able to maximise the effects of an economic boom to a business—and also be able to minimise the effects of an economic recession to the business’s bottom line. So the question is, as a small business owner, what can you do to fight the effects of a slowing economy?

The key is to focus on the things that are working for you.

1. Strengthen your financial position: manage your worst customers

Common business advice is to keep an eye out on your cash flow. In a previous video, I discuss the perils of allowing customer credit to outpace your sales.

What can you do to work with delinquent customers?

While the common advice would be to drop your worst customers, consider why they might be paying past due their payment deadline. Quite a few businesses depend to some extent on all types of their clients to survive.  In some industries, customers pay their bills on credit and them getting paid past their due date is the norm. 

Consider managing your worst customers. One way to do it would be to impose penalty fees for late payments. Or offer them discounts or other benefits, such us first priority for new products, if they pay on time.  Reward the behavior that you want.

Some companies, like Australian juice brand Emma & Tom’s keeps close watch of their cash flow. In fact, they recommend setting clear payment terms (in their case, it is 7 to 14 days), staying in close contact with customers, and collecting payment with new deliveries whenever. Their policy might be a little severe for most businesses, but then again they do sell fresh juices, which need to be sold before they expire. That policy works for them. The key is to find a policy that works for you and your customers—and they key is to communicate with your clients closely.

However, if, despite best efforts, the situation cannot be managed sufficiently, you may consider not working with them. I have come across businesses that did drop their worst paying customers, and the owners found out that doing so freed up resources that they channeled to other productive aspects of the business.

2. Strengthen your relationship with customers: listen and solve their pain points

Put differently, what else can you do so that they can buy more from you?

Is there a problem in your system that prevents them from doing more business with you? For example, is there a way to make your ordering process simpler? Maybe set up a special facility for bulk orders or creating an online ordering facility that can be integrated into your customer’s systems?

Maybe you have products and services that they might not know about but which can either solve their existing problems or can make life easier for them? Perhaps you just need to find a better way to communicate what your can offer, such as improving content on your website to reflect what your products and services can do.

3. Strengthen your network: find a niche or focus on going local

As a small business—or any business for that matter, what you don’t want is to be competing with everyone for the same pool of customers, particularly during economic recessions because that pool gets smaller when things get tough.

There is a 90-year-old small, independent toy store in Manhattan called Mary Arnold Toys that continues to thrive at a time when toy giant Toys ‘R’ Us went out of business and when Americans increasingly purchase online. The key for Mary Arnold was to understand and offer what customers need and want. These include focusing on toys customers won’t find in big retail chains like Target and Walmart. They strive to provide unique customer experiences, such as specialised events, expert advise and personal customer touch points that many internet retailers cannot match.

If a small business from across the globe can survive many threats to their business for almost a century, I am sure that you can find a range of strategies to thrive in a potentially slowing economy.

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 >