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Overcoming ‘that’ early struggle with the 2019 Telstra Business Awards Australian Capital Territory finalists

Smarter Writer
Smarter Team

A team of business and technology journalists and editors who write to help Australia’s community of small and medium businesses access the technology and know-how that helps solve problems and create opportunities.

Smarter Writer
Smarter Team

A team of business and technology journalists and editors who write to help Australia’s community of small and medium businesses access the technology and know-how that helps solve problems and create opportunities.

All businesses face ‘that’ early struggle – simply getting the courage to take the plunge, finding the finances, or doing it all yourself. It could be a moment that’s make or break, but the lessons learned from these carry the business forward in better shape than ever.

Here, a collection of 2019 Telstra Business Awards finalists from Australian Capital Territory share the early struggles they’ve faced and overcome – each have their own story to tell. Plus, they share how these initial challenges shaped their business thinking.

‘That’ early struggle is starting small: Jamie Wilson, Coordinate Group

“We’re a full-service marketing and communications consultancy. We believe we can make a positive difference to our community through collaboration with brands, people and movements we believe in.

“Coordinate started from humble beginnings in a storage room: a supply of excess toilet paper, boxes of wine and supermarket shelving. It wasn’t at all an appropriate place to take clients for meetings.”

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“Likewise, being founded by a 20-year-old made it challenging to attract work and, being a sole operator, it was difficult to deliver the work without full-time resources. But we grew slowly by having an agile business model that outsourced work to university students and contractors in Australia and abroad until the business was stable enough to hire staff members.

“Through the process of starting small and growing we learned that, despite the challenge, there is always a solution and a way forward. Lean upon advice from trusted sources or mentors to get perspective.”

Jamie Wilson is founder and director of Coordinate Group, an agency that delivers strategy, creative and media to brands. Coordinate Group is a finalist in the Medium & Making Waves category.

‘That’ early struggle is funding the beginning: Fiona Lester, The Markets Wanniasa

“We’re inspired by the community atmosphere of weekend markets and we’ve channelled this in the creation of our bricks-and-mortar store that retails handmade Australian-designed products.

“In the beginning we hit the ground running, unprepared for how busy we would be. We had little to no financial backing behind us when we started.

“We knew what we wanted to do, but hadn’t put loads of thought into how that would happen. And we started with no processes, so we had to create these as we went – we made loads of mistakes working out the best way. Processes are super-important. It’s okay to make mistakes in the beginning, as long as you learn from them. 

“Owning a small business is all-encompassing, so be prepared to put in the long days and nights, and commit completely to it at the beginning – water it, and it’ll grow!”

Fiona Lester is a co-owner of The Markets Wanniasa, a permanent space with a market philosophy showcasing craft and creations from locals and makers across Australia. The Markets Wanniasa is a finalist in the Emerging & Energised category.    

Essential tips for making the most of ‘that’ moment
  • “Embrace failure. Go forth and make a mess of it because how else can you build resilience and learn? After you fail, go and search for people who have walked in your shoes already. Learn from them and don't be afraid to ask questions.“ – Nathan Hitchcock, owner and founder, Define Fitness
  • “Develop a clear vision and strategy and apply it to your market with precision. Regularly review and, if necessary, adapt your approach. Engage proactively with feedback and a variety of advisors.“ – Fiona Grimmer, marketing manager, HorizonOne Recruitment
  • “Speak to your clients and know their wants and needs. Knowing what your clients’ expectations are will help you better tailor your service offering.“ – Nicole Dwight, owner, Axis Hairdressing

‘That’ early struggle is doing it all yourself: Anthony Evans, EPL Electrical

“With the belief that customer service is paramount to building a thriving business, EPL Electrical provides a personal approach to power and lighting maintenance and repairs.

“Making the jump in 2016 to be a business owner and operator was not an easy decision.

I was in a comfortable position as an employee and I was used to routine. I knew what my pay cheque would be at the end of each week and I knew I didn’t have to take work home with me.

“It was easy, but I knew it wasn’t me. I was too driven and motivated to succeed and better myself, because I knew my potential.”

“So I went for it. I learnt that the combination of business knowledge and hard work is required to sustain a successful company. But I became an extremely busy electrician with nothing to show for my hard work. Working 12 hours a day, seven days a week, paying myself less than I would make if I was working for an employer, led me to experience anxiety and stress and then depression. I was ready to give up the company and throw all my hard work away.

“But one phone call from a recent co-worker, Michael, was the turning point in EPL. Michael joined EPL in 2018 and as a co-director has brought a wealth of knowledge and commitment to the company. He lit the spark again and contributed to ideas, decisions and solutions to the operation of EPL Electrical.”

Anthony Evans is the director of EPL Electrical, an electrical services company dedicated to delivering efficient and effective solutions to their customers. EPL Electrical is a finalist in the Emerging & Energised category.

‘That’ early struggle is turning theory into practice: Dr Julie West, Workplace Research Associates

“Workplace Research Associates offers clients an evidence-based approach and advice that will have a positive impact, not only on the business, but also on individuals within the workplace.

“Our early struggles were mostly presented by the work itself. Organisational psychology consulting can address very demanding problems faced by workplaces. We had a lot of theoretical knowledge and research findings behind us, but with each assignment we had to thoughtfully and thoroughly craft solutions. 

“As the business continued, we ensured that we captured all aspects of business intelligence and learning that we had acquired, so we could apply this again in the future where possible.

“We’ve learnt from our struggles that it’s important to know your stuff, research, and truly understand your clients’ needs and tackle them head on.” 

“Building the right team is essential. Recruit the most talented staff possible and support, recognise and reward them.“

Dr Julie West is the principal of Workplace Research Associates, an organisational psychology consulting firm with the aim of being the ‘psychology behind better business’. Workplace Research Associates is a finalist in the Small & Succeeding category.

‘That’ early struggle is finding innovative ways to engage: Darren Black, OzHelp Foundation

“We started in 2001 to offer evidence-based suicide prevention, physical and mental health workplace training and support programs nationally. Our vision is to see every Australian workplace contribute to improving workforce wellbeing.

“Building and construction was and remains a high-risk occupation, characterised by a workforce doing physically demanding tasks. It has a workplace culture dominated by ideas of toughness and self-reliance. 

“OzHelp Foundation needed to be creative and innovative in developing ways to engage successfully with workers.” 

We overcame this by developing programs and materials that reflected the language and imagery of the construction industry, developing relationships with workers and their workplaces through informal events and conversation, and ensuring staff going on-site were a good cultural fit, approachable and could develop rapport and trust with workers.

“This led us to realise the value in working in partnership with others in the market, building strong relationships, staying true to your core purpose, and keeping actively engaged with trends and the market beyond the organisation.”

Darren Black is the CEO of OzHelp Foundation, a national not-for-profit provider of mental health and wellbeing programs for the building, construction and mining in sectors. OzHelp Foundation is a finalist in the Social Change Maker category.

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