Back yourself and just get started: 10 lessons from this year’s Smart50

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Back yourself and just get started: 10 lessons from this year’s Smart50

Above: the team from costumes.com.au

Backing your big ideas and empowering employees are just two of the ways you too could find yourself among Australia’s fastest-growing SMEs.

Each year the Smart50 contains a wealth of knowledge from some of the smartest innovators, marketers and retailers around.

With this in mind, here are 10 lessons from the Smart50 class of 2015.

1. Just get started

Sam Bashiry is the co-founder of $15.4 million telecommunications company Broadband Solutions.

The business was founded in 2005 and it took Bashiry and his co-founders just 12 months to achieve more than $1 million in turnover.

“The most important lesson I could give any young entrepreneur is that if you are passionate about something and you really believe that it will work, go and do it,” Bashiry says.

“Nobody is going to hold your hand and tell you that it can be done. In fact, more often than not they will tell you that it can’t be done.”

2. Back yourself

Pana Barbounis, the founder of popular raw chocolate company Pana Chocolate, has grown a $5 million business within three years.

This is despite facing the initial setback of realising he would have to charge a lot more than other businesses for chocolate bars similar to those already on the market.

However, customers are flocking to buy Pana Chocolate’s products, with the business now supplying more than 3000 retailers in more than 20 countries.

“Believe in yourself and believe in your product,” Barbounis says.

“Have a clear direction. Experience doesn’t always pave the way for the right way. Travel, become worldly. Engage with people on all levels because they bring ideas.”

3. Don’t forget marketing

Edward Thirlwall, founder of Supercheap Storage, told SmartCompany business owners often get so caught up in running their company they forget about the important things such as marketing.

“Don’t make the mistake of treating marketing as an afterthought,” Thirlwall says.

“Stick to a strong sales and marketing strategy and don’t get ahead of yourself. Carry out detailed market research including competitor analysis to stand you in good stead.”

4. Treat your employees – and yourself – well

The Noosa Chocolate Factory enjoys a low staff turnover rate, which has been a big help to the business’s bottom line.

Ninety per cent of Noose Chocolate Factory’s employees have stayed on with the business for 12 months or more.

So what’s the secret?

Co-founder Chris Thompson says it’s all about treating people who work for the business – including yourself – well.

“Be really positive among your staff, even when you are having a terrible day,” he says.

“Their attitude will mirror yours. Also, keep yourself healthy – fitness before business. If the business can’t run without you for three weeks or you can’t afford to turn it off for three weeks, then it is time to fix that.”

5. Get the basics right

Nathan Huppatz, the founder of $4 million business Costumes.com.au, told SmartCompany a successful business relies on solid foundations.

“I would advise small business owners to get all the basics in check like accounting and inventory management,” he says.

“This is so that when you grow, your systems can grow with you. You don’t want to be caught playing catch-up with systems that are breaking under the strain. Use technology where possible to automate process, to provide reporting and insight into your business, and make sure you have all the tools you need to compete and be visible in a digital world.”

6. Look for growth, not profitability

Denise Meyerson founded Management Consultancy International 11 years ago.

Today, the business employs 80 people and turns over around $23 million a year.

“I believe growth is most important in all aspects of business as with growth, comes more responsibilities and challenges to overcome,” Myerson says.

“Growth allows you to continually challenge yourself to think outside the box for new or improved ways to do things, establish industry trends rather than follow them and keep a mindset for forward thinking and planning.”

7. Put the customer first

Pacific Retail Management is the business behind popular brands such as Go Sushi and Wasabi Warriors.

Founder Nicola Mills says success in retail is all about making everything you do about the customer.

“Do your research with the customer first,” Mills says.

“Start with the customer and work your way out from there. Stress test your brands in a location before investing in large launch campaigns, and be prepared to make adjustments – some financial and some strategic.”

8. Know your business inside-out

Universal Communication Group has quickly become one of Australia’s leading suppliers of broadband cabling, design and construction services.

While the business was only founded in 2008, it now turns over around $47 million.

Founder Rafael Luna told SmartCompany it is absolutely critical for entrepreneurs to have a good grasp of the industry they’re hoping to crack.

“Anyone contemplating starting a business must be involved and understand all the aspects,” Luna says.

“Only by having this in-depth knowledge can you pull the right levers at the right time, understand the pitfalls that will inevitably occur and drive the improvement in the team required that can only come from really knowing your business and industry.”

9. Be in it for the long haul

Success doesn’t happen overnight, according to the co-founder of Queensford College.

“Be consistent,” Rupesh Pathak says.

“Like everything else, business has a good time and a bad time. You just need to have faith, but during the bad times you also need to have a strategy on how you can survive.”

10. Be in the right place at the right time

According to Daniel Werzberger, the co-founder of $18 million business Are You Selling, timing is everything.

“No matter what business you’re in – new or established – timing is absolutely key for success,” Werzberger says.

“We’d go as far as saying that it’s probably the most underestimated factor in all businesses. Yes, it’s OK to be proud of your idea, passionate to get it off the ground and secure in your financial backing… but if the market isn’t ready for your offering, success can be a hard thing to come by.”

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Broede Carmody is a former senior reporter at SmartCompany. Previously, he was a co-editor of RMIT University's student magazine Catalyst.

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