Going green for growth
Katie Patrick started the Green Pages directory in 2006 after discovering a gap in the market for a register that connects customers with suppliers of green products.
The company is on track to earn $2 million for the current financial year, employs 16 staff and connects customers to over 1000 suppliers of products ranging from solar panels to cleaning supplies. The downturn has presented new problems, but Patrick says she's determined not to use the economy as an excuse.
"The downturn didn't really hit us until January or February, but since then we've really begun to notice it. Like any publication, we rely on sales and the sales team is giving me information on how they're just much harder to get. The sales right now have been a lot lower than we expected them to be."
Many businesses would quickly try to switch to their contingency plans when sales start to dry up, but Patrick is determined not to panic. Instead, she is concentrating on making sure the business is running as lean as possible.
"I think it's really easy to blame the downturn. There's so much you can do within your own organisation to combat that, and so because of that I don't like to blame external factors for internal problems.
"We have been running at the absolute minimum cost we can run at anyway, and get the most out of what we can - even in the downturn. We've got such a skeleton staff as it is, so there's just no option to do anything else. There wasn't anything we could have done to cut back our expenses because they were already as lean as possible."
Improving the business
But Patrick continues to concentrate on improving the structure and processes within the business, including customer services and HR.
"I've employed a lot of people before and tried to make it a fun environment without the structure and reporting of a business environment. I've been focusing very closely on the core business in this area in the last couple of months. I just felt we needed a proper structure to work with.
"We have had a few unhappy clients in the past and had to figure out how to make customer service part of the company's architecture. I also thought we could do HR a lot better. I've got a loyal hard working group of staff, but if in the future I want to get the business to where I can attract incredible people at affordable rates, I've got to get this area really, really sharp."
Patrick recommends that those suffering from poor sales should look at their customer service roles.
"I listened to an audio book recently that said if a business can just focus on staff satisfaction and customer service, everything else will fall into place, and that really resonated with me. "
Patrick founded Green Pages while working as an environmental engineer. She discovered that several companies were attempting to find providers of green products, but simply didn't know where to look.
"The whole industry was trying to go green at that stage, nobody knew then what sustainable things were about, and there were no directories or websites guiding people at that stage. I thought there was so much information out there, why not put it all together and make it accessible."
Building up a new publication is hard enough, but Patrick says she had to battle the regular start-up problems while lacking business experience.
"Cashflow was hard, especially for me because I started with nothing. I had to survive on whatever money was coming in. Finding talented people that could replace my skill set at an affordable rate was also hard.
"I tried putting people on higher salaries that were hopeless, then on lower salaries that were hopeless. I have some great employees now but I've gone through quite a few who I had high hopes for. It's been difficult for me to find the right group of people."
Having dealt with the initial problems of starting a new business, Patrick says the future is online. She regrets not moving into cyberspace quicker, but now aims to have the publication turned into an interactive online community.
"I haven't capitalised on the digital media front nearly quickly enough. It's frustrating for me because I don't understand the digital media world as well as someone who comes from that background. But I've had to appoint people doing that because it is so essential.
"I'm trying to build up the online side [more] substantially and leave print where it is. We've got quite an intensive plan to bring in a whole number of different websites and then grow the business globally. We've got 17,000 subscribers now, and we want to build those people to be a more interactive community with the site."