In business for 13 years

Why do we do it? Each new year I ask myself this question, and every year a new lesson is added to my list.

Happy new year to you all. I wonder if you took time off over the Christmas-new year break and, like me, had a bit of trouble letting go initially and then found yourself easing into enjoying a little time off from work commitments.


It’s when I slow down that I find some of my thoughts drifting to why I got into business for myself in the first place. There is a good reason for this. You see on Wednesday 9 January 2008, my business will be 13 years old.


Around that time, 13 years ago, I wasn’t happy where I was working. I felt personally limited and professionally constrained by the “restricted” corporate approach to business I was working within, especially in relation to sales, people leadership and development, and wanted to see if there were different ways to do business yet still be profitable and successful.


So I had a bright idea. I would start my own business, never having run a business before. I didn’t know what that was going to look or feel like so, in blind ignorance, I set off and started BARRETT in 1995 with $3000 and the knowledge that I was useful, hard working and determined.


I chose “improving sales” to be the initial focus of my business was because I was sick and tired of seeing talented, capable and motivated people going to waste in a “one size fits all” approach to sales performance and people development. No one followed any logical structure when training or recruiting sales people and too many people focused on fads hoping to get a kick in revenue and profit.


However they never realised any medium or long term sustainable benefits – in short their efforts to increase sales where costing them money, not making them money. Something needed to be done! It wasn’t good enough.


The spark that fuelled my fire to start BARRETT was my belief that I am a whole person and that I can (and now do) challenge traditional paradigms to create success on my own terms. And I came to realise that the manifestation of BARRETT was so much more.


I wanted to see if I could create a work environment that was able to connect a bunch of talented people to produce a community for thinking and action… where ideas, issues, innovations and the achievement of results could be blended together using a more scientific approach to achieve real and sustainable results with a genuine ROI (return on investment). And where we could value our whole lives and adjust our work practices to accommodate family, health, well-being and the vagaries of life; yet still be successful.


I admit I didn’t know what I was letting myself in for and yes I could have done things a whole lot easier and better, but I am glad that I did what I did. Because I know I am a better person for the experience


Starting and leading BARRETT into the future has been like doing multiple degrees on the run in: MBA, Leadership, Marketing, IT, Accounting, Law and Psychology. You have to know and apply so many things. If I had started BARRETT knowing what I had to learn I probably would have been too overwhelmed to start. But once again ignorance was my saving grace.


It wasn’t that I couldn’t learn it – because I have. It was that there is always so much to learn and more often than not, nothing goes according to the book. All those theories – they’re just theories. In theory they work, but in real life I learnt you had to have a your “chippie’s trailer of life” – stocked with a few good reliable tools you could build anything with. Take a bit of this and mix it with a bit of that. Especially for SMEs.


The last 13 years have been a very conscious journey of self discovery and evolution both personally and professionally. Here are some of the lessons I have learnt along the way. (PS, the learning hasn’t stopped. I am still learning new things more than ever before and trying to master what have I already learnt.)



Some lessons learnt (so far)


Vision: Create your vision. What are you going to stand for? What do you want achieve? How are you going to do it? Really examine what is driving you. Why you have taken the risk to start your own business.

Values: Define your values and what you stand for. What is acceptable and what is not. Make that part of your daily work habits, your charter and your selection process when hiring people.

Strategic planning: Is your vision and mission viable? Can it make money and be self sustaining? Once you have decided to move forward, build a plan. From top to bottom and back up again – strategic to tactical. Review it on an ongoing basis, not just once a year. Involve all staff in its development; make it actionable, accessible and relevant to every role in the business.

Value proposition: Find out what you are good at and how it best helps people solve problems; define it in language clients understand and then do it – stay focused and don’t get distracted.

Passion: Without passion you just won’t have enough energy or desire to make business success happen. Staying focused is crucial. Set goals and “see” yourself achieving them.

Health: Look after yourself and make sure you take care of the whole person – exercise, diet, rest, get variety, holidays, etc. Because if you don’t then you are no use to anyone, especially yourself.

Creativity & innovation: Create something new; think outside the box; challenge prevailing views and attitudes and don’t let yourself be bullied. Read outside your area of expertise to see how others learn, lead, make decisions, function and work – look at how it may apply to you and your business.

Structure & foundations: Have in place processes and measurements for leadership; strategic planning; human resources; customer & market focus; process management; information and analysis; organisational relationships; competitive environment; strategic challenges; and business results.

Always run your business as if it is for sale: Always have up-to-date financials, strategy/business plan, full pipeline of business opportunities and current work on the go.

Mentors and advisers: Find them and use them. Learn how to ask for help in business, marketing, law, personal development, finance, leadership, etc.

Listen to and trust your inner voice: Despite all the advice you seek, listen and trust yourself. You do more than you think you know.

Partners & distributors: Don’t get intimidated by people just because they look like they know more than you do – find out what substance and content they have and make sure it isn’t just rhetoric – don’t fall for the “don’t you trust me?” line, especially when they want a piece of you or your business.

Mergers: Walk away if it doesn’t feel right – if their values and yours don’t align then the businesses never will.

Protect yourself: Get a good contract and intellectual property lawyer – scrutinise everything!

Prospecting & sales: business development is a constant process and prospecting for work is an essential, unavoidable part of the process. It means identifying and overcoming your fears about prospecting and picking up the phone to promote yourself to the people that need to know about you.

Visibility management: Must be a daily discipline. Never miss a chance to get your name before current or potential clients. Involve clients in good news stories – let everyone know when good things happen. Word of mouth referrals provide unbeatable credibility and their value that can’t be overestimated.

Marketing & PR: You don’t necessarily need a brochure but if you do produce one write it for your clients, not for you; you don’t have to pay for advertising – submit articles on topics of interest to publications; speak before relevant industry groups; take a “knowledge leader” position in your area of expertise; put yourself out there.

Employ the ‘right people’: Know what work functions your company needs to operate successfully; review these on a regular basis as your markets and business change; have current job and person profiles which support selection and performance management practices.

Retain and develop the ‘right people’: Create the opportunity and space for your people to develop their own sense of self; let them see how they contribute directly to the business’s success; develop and support “employer of choice” practices. Even after adequate support and development opportunities if the person is not performing, move them out sooner not later – set objective and measurable key performance indicators and stick to them.

Self discipline: Employ people with disciplined thought and disciplined action in their business and life practices.

Money: It is not the priority, although must always be a priority. Don’t over commit and over spend when times are going well – save some money for a rainy day.

Market challengers: Look for clients who will experiment and push a few boundaries; are willing to take a risk; they are often the right ones to go for.

Leadership & humility: Central to management and leadership is trust, respect and openness; listen and learn from your staff, clients, mentors and guides and adjust yourself on your journey to become a proficient, effective leader; build a bridge and get over yourself – don’t let ego get in the way; follow through; don’t assume anything; be available and responsive; it is important to remember that helping others helps you.

Communication: Open door policy; consultative; inclusive; listen more than you speak; seek opinions and advice; be clear and connect with each person; follow up straight away if there is an issue, don’t leave it; remember it’s not what you say it’s what they do with what you say that is the most important thing – connect people to the common vision.

Respect the person: Having a family and running a business is never easy, so make sure you create flexible work practices that allow you and your staff to continue to have a fulfilling career and a fulfilling personal life that creates an environment of health and prosperity. The key is that “it’s not a one size fits all approach”. With all this in mind it is essential that you listen to and help individuals balance their needs with the needs of the company, helping both to reach their goals.

Theories: Don’t get hooked on only one way of doing things – and most theories don’t hold true in real life.

Experimental kit bag: My “chippie’s trailer of life”. Always have a full kit bag of ideas, processes, resources, etc you can draw upon and learn how to use them when you need them in real life; take bits and pieces and apply them; trust your common sense; be prepared to make mistakes and learn from them.

Managing setbacks: Always confront and resolve issues straight away, as they only get worse when ignored. Don’t be afraid to take risks. If you fail at things always try to learn from your mistakes. Never see yourself as a ‘failure’. Listen to people but be aware of saboteurs who are jealous of your success – put their comments through the “FACT versus “EFFECT” filter to see if they are being genuine or not. When you feel things are getting tough look to your achievements versus your mistakes – weigh them up and take a realistic view not an “overachiever’s” view.

Trust, faith & courage: Even when things are not going the way you want them to you need to trust your vision and have faith in yourself and others that you will come through. Courage in the face of adversity – don’t forget the basics that make good business and make sure that you practice what you preach.


Along the way, and most importantly, I have also been blessed with two beautiful children and a loving partner who has supported me all the way. I also go for a walk or run everyday and am a keen practitioner of yoga and meditation. I have also somehow managed to do the odd performance in theatre and really start to evolve my painting.


And so while I write on sales and will continue to do so, it is but one part of a very big picture for us all. I wish you all a very successful, prosperous, happy and peaceful new year.




Sue Barrett is Managing Director of BARRETT Pty Ltd. Sue is an experienced consultant and trained coach and facilitator. Sue and her team are best known for their work in creating High Performing Sales Teams. Key to their success is working with the whole person and integrating emotional intelligence, skill, knowledge, behaviour, process and strategy via effective training and coaching programs. For more information please go to


For more Sell Like  a Woman blogs, click here.



Daina Peel from DLA Accounting writes: Brilliant! Thanks for sharing your wealth of knowledge.



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