Category Archives: Starting

Three things I wish I’d known when I started my business

Originally published by Naomi Simson as part of the LinkedIn Influencer Program

I think back more than a decade to the moment when I thought it was a good idea to start an online business. There are some things I really wish I had known as I set out. Although one mentor said to me years ago, “the greater the loss the bigger the lesson,” there comes a point when if the business lessons get too expensive, it’s all over!

1) It’s never just the good idea
This is the very first moment when you think it is ‘a good idea to run your own show’; you have read of these entrepreneurial heroes who create amazing ‘overnight’ success stories – and you think, “I could do that”. All you need now is that idea – which will make the business simply slip into place and you are on your road to Nirvana. Ah, what a lovely dream. Sorry to bring you down to earth: businesses are one per cent idea and 99 per cent execution. You do still need that bright, shining idea though – because without it you only have hard work.

2) Don’t ask, “Will it work?” Ask, “Do I want it to?”
I’m approached regularly by people wanting to share a new business idea with me. They ask earnestly, “Will it work?” My response to all these queries is always the same: “Why do you want to do it?” Working out “why” you want to start a business (let alone keep running it for a good portion of your adult life) is essential to sustaining you, and ultimately, the success of the enterprise.

3) It’s not about the money
If you are driven solely by financial success in business, think again. Great businesses solve a problem; they make life ‘easier’ – they do things that have not been done before. They make a difference to other human beings. You could argue that great businesses make the world a better place.

All of the great start-ups that you can think of solve a problem. Facebook was about keeping college students connected. Google was about making the world’s information accessible. And think of the number of problems Apple has solved.

So the first step on creating a viable business is to work out what problem you are solving, simply asking ‘what is your purpose?’ It is far easier to create an enterprise when you are really clear about its purpose.

I just happened along our purpose after listening to the impact RedBalloon was having on customers. We believe everyone deserves to have fun, feel good and be happy. We are passionate about giving people more good times. RedBalloon was not the first business idea I had – but as I look back now I realise that of all the ideas I had, it was the one that inspired me, that I was passionate about, that I could see myself making a difference with.

If I was to pose a question for you to think about it would be ‘Why do you do what you do, and who will give a damn?’ ‘Are you building a better mousetrap or are you changing the game of rodent management?’

Being a great business is all about “the why?”
You need to rally your people behind a cause, a goal, a mission or a number – whatever it is for you. Everything you do, every day needs to play a role in achieving this “why”. Articulate a reason, and then share it with others. Know your definition of success. For me, it’s knowing how many people have had a RedBalloon experience and how we are creating happiness, not only among our customers but also our employees.

Are you absolutely clear as an entrepreneur and business owner why you are doing what you do?

Imagine creating a business about happiness – that’s what Naomi Simson did when she set up online experience retailer RedBalloon in 2001. Since then has sold 1.8 million experiences and Naomi has been recognised with the 2008 National Telstra Business Women’s Awards for Innovation and the 2011 Ernst and Young Industry Entrepreneur of the Year Award. She shares her insights at – in Australia’s top 15 Best Business Blogs – and is a LinkedIn Influencer, dispensing knowledge with an audience of 200 million members..

Ignorance is bliss: Are you really ready to start a business?

Have you ever heard the saying, “ignorance is bliss”?  That was pretty much the approach with which I started my business.  I had just had my first baby and decided to study interior design by correspondence, adding to an earlier attained arts degree.  I enjoyed it so much, I decided to chuck the corporate job in marketing (when maternity leave was up) and start my business in colour consulting and interior styling.  I was going to build up a highly successful and profitable business around the kids and all within a couple of years!

I mean how hard could it be?  I’m great with colour and people, I like providing good customer service, can source things like no-one else and am sensible, reliable and am ok with figures.  All I had to do was go find some customers. Right? Ha!

If I’d known then the challenges I was going to face over the next five years, I may not have had the courage to continue with the dream, and gone back to my soul-destroying corporate gig and lived a boring life for the remaining years left to me.  And yet here I am, about to celebrate five years in business, and loving (almost) every minute of it.  The dream of building it to a bigger and better is still burning within and I’m pleased to say I am moving towards the fantasy goals slowly but surely.

Research, Research, Research!
Research your chosen industry and the marketplace so that your eyes are open and you are realistic about the challenges you will face.  Having said that, if you’re willing to back yourself, you will find a way to make it happen.  The difference in being aware, is that there will be fewer nasty surprises!

Build Your Skill Base
Most small businesses are run by people who may be great at the actual job, but have no real training or knowledge about running a business.  And this was a bit of a rude awakening for me.  I had never had to worry about the financials involved in a business as I had always worked in a large organisation with lots of staff and big budgets for marketing campaigns. As an entrepreneur, I suddenly had to handle EVERYTHING, while trying to do the actual creative work of interior design AND run the home and family.  There are days I look back and think I had rocks in my head!!

But through experience and great support you get through these hurdles.  I’ve had contractual issues, non-paying customers, been reported to Fair Trading, and had advertising that returned not a jot.  And with each challenge, I have added to my terms and conditions, tweaked and improved my processes and financial reporting and have gotten a business coach.

As they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither will your business skills.  But be honest with yourself. What are your strengths and what areas do you need to develop. Put together a list with time frames for which to either develop those skills yourself, for example, MYOB training, or hire someone to get these things done for you, such as a virtual assistant.

Other areas to consider getting some training are marketing and customer service short courses.  As your business grows, you’ll be able to employ people to focus on particular areas of your business and free you up to do more of what it is you enjoy.  When starting out, most people have to be the Jack or Jill of all trades.

Persistence is Key
One of the main lessons I have learnt – which takes a lot of pressure off – is that you do not have to have THE answer to everything right here, right now.  Trial and error is the name of the game.  Whether it’s testing an advertising avenue or a Facebook campaign, the more experience you get, the clearer the path needed will become.  Remember, it’s better to get it 80% right and active than striving for 100% right and never get the campaign under way.  You also have more to lose if you don’t try then what you can gain if you do!

I once read an article about Anthony Pratt of Visy and he named persistence as perhaps the most important tip for success.  You can have brains, money, and luck, but you won’t get through the hurdles without committing to the finish line.

I try to attend as many business events as I can to speak to others in a similar boat as me and learn tips from them.  I try to read as many articles and blogs from quality sources for tips and inspiration. But there another great resource accessible to almost everyone – Youtube!  There are so many how-to’s on Facebook campaigns, Google analytics, even Photoshop, that you often find answers in that direction.  It is simply amazing what resources are out there when you start looking – you’ve found Start Up Australia, right?!

Monique Sartor is a Sydney-based interior stylist, who is somewhat obsessed with colour and things to make your home simply gorgeous.  Her aim is to make the world a more beautiful place, one room at a time (while saving her clients time, money and angst)!

Check out her gallery, blog & shop here

You can follow her in these locations:

Start-up thrills!

By Angela Vithoulkas.

There should be a drum roll, a symphony written specifically for the unveiling of a new business, and fireworks. Definitely fireworks. Starting up a new business should give you a breathless, anxious exciting feeling – head spins and focus simultaneously.  Launching a startup should be something I’m used to, since I’ve been setting up new businesses for decades. But its always a roller coaster ride of risks for me that appears to be my drink of choice.

When you launch a start up – regardless of how long it’s been on the drawing board, they are always full of weeks of nail biting moments, fantasy dreams, weird desires, work and friend conflicts, family and business dramas. My hands shake the entire lead up time and then when it’s all over I feel kind of flat. Oh, and I have to go back to my day job because it’s unlikely the new start up is making money from kick off. And there are those pesky details of paying the bills and making a living to attend to.

Start Up Details

Lets get some details into context. I have always been a business owner in start up mode for the past 20 odd years – even longer if you include the fact that I caught my first shoplifter was I was 3. I have been buying, selling and setting up cafes my entire life. Along the way I have been fortunate to win some awards, gain some industry recognition and been afforded the privilege of giving back to the community through mentoring and amazing organisations like Start Up Australia. A few years ago I started doing a community radio business show and loved the fun of it all but struggled with there lack of entrepreneurship.  So I asked myself the fateful question “how hard can it be to build your own radio station?” Of course I built it in the café!

When Is A Café A Radio Station?
Speaking of cafes, what is a café owner doing in the radio world? Well, there have been some special moments  when I have asked myself, no YELLED at myself the same thing. Especially about 3 minutes before the live shows. At first it was a fun idea  Then it started to become reality. Funny thing reality, in business you have to put your money where your mouth is.

At some point it has to stop being in development phase and it has to start being in real life business phase. The stage where you can’t hide anymore, the stage where you have to show and tell. The stage where those exciting cash flow predicting projections meet the fork in the road and you have to pound the pavement and get those bottoms on seats.

Shiny New & Nervous
Only there are no seats and this is not my field of expertise. Sure I have opened and built loads of businesses, some have even done well. But this is NOT an area I know and I’m scared. Scared that as a food retailer I wont be able to deliver what the business needs because its not food! Scared that my instinct is wrong and in fact not only will I fail but EVERYBODY is going to know it. Ok, we get it right? I’m scared. Haven’t been like this since my second business in the eighties. One or all of my partners weren’t even born yet….

I have been learning along the way, sometimes there have been naïve moments, some have been more along the lines of “I have no idea what everyone is talking about”. The experience I have gathered is more than just an APP build, I got to do something I have been threatening myself to do for years – put my decades of business experience to the test. I created something from nothing. It wasn’t a shell of a shop waiting for a fit out.

Others may copy it, love it or hate it. But I made it. I did what I started out to do. I didn’t do it alone, I’m not doing it alone, but I have jumped outside of my very comfortable comfort zone and I have risked everything to try something new. I believe the big corporate world refers to it as diversification. Hey, I’m just a café owner who wants to take over the world. One coffee and a radio station at a time.

Elected to the City of Sydney Council in September 2012, Angela Vithoulkas has built a successful and award winning career as a business owner and entrepreneur.  Running her CBD business – VIVO Café, establishing her own online radio station Eagle Waves Radio and launching her political career translates into a unique perspective.