INNOVATION

How To Help Your Small Business Go The Distance

Tips for some serious staying power.

24/08/2016 8:45 AM AEST | Updated 24/08/2016 8:47 AM AEST
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Nads
Sue Ismiel says the success and achievements of her business are linked to helping others.

Celebrating your small business's 20th birthday is no small accomplishment.

Even more so when you consider ASIC figures revealed 85 percent of businesses that collapsed from July 2014 to June 2015 were classified as small, with less than $100,000 in assets, and 79 percent with less than 20 employees.

But how do you prevent your business from becoming an insolvency statistic?

We asked the founders and directors of four long-term businesses to spill their secrets on how to go the distance.

Know Your Customer

Sam Wagner, who founded leading Australian fashion brand Sambag 20 years ago, said understanding your customer's needs is paramount.

"My staff ensure they build the right relationship with our customer base; small things like remembering their name, shoes size, dress size and style have all contributed to Sambag's success over the years," she told The Huffington Post Australia.

She said customer feedback also played a crucial part in business success.

"It helps myself and my team ensure our customers are always kept satisfied and keep coming back -- we gather feedback through in-store conversations, point of sale, online surveys and social media activity. We also have a seasonal in-store magazine 'SAMMAG' which really speaks to the Sambag customer."

Sambag
Sam Wagner founded leading Australian fashion brand Sambag in 1996.

Be resilient

Winemaker Andrew Margan, who founded Hunter Valley-based Margan Family Wines 20 years ago with his wife Lisa, said small businesses that wanted to go the distance had to be resilient.

"Make sure that your critics don't divert you away from what your intuition says is right and keep an unwavering eye on your vision," he told HuffPost Australia.

"Figure out who you are and why your customer chooses your brand and own that space. Plus (you also need) the ability to pick yourself up time after time."

Wagner said that she maintains a positive attitude that overflows into her business.

"I've found (positive thinking) creates a calmer work environment and helps me motivate my staff when they need encouragement," she said. "It helps build resilience and improves decision making which again has benefited my business as a whole."

Margan Family Wines
Lisa and Andrew Margan this year celebrated 20 years in the winemaking business.

Surround yourself with the right people

Entrepreneur and creator of Nads hair removal products Sue Ismiel said it's important to hire staff that don't just look good on paper but are also a good cultural fit for your business.

"We hire people with the right attitude and a personality that fits our business culture," she said.

"(They have a) proven track record in their specific field and we let them do their job."

Adrian Ryan, whose parents Peter and Heather Ryan founded soft furnishings company Lorraine Lea in 1986, agreed that cultural fit was crucial.

"A strong and caring culture keeps energy high and it keeps everyone on the same page," he told HuffPost Australia. "When your staff are happy and engaged, they are eager to go above and beyond and will take the business to new heights."

Margan said you need to know your product and keep your brand relevant.

"(That's) essential not just for the ever evolving consumer market but also to keep you and your team excited about the whole thing," he said. "Embrace change and employ people who love it. Be dynamic!"

Wagner said surrounding herself with a positive, dedicated team was "one of the best decisions I have ever made".

Lorraine Lea
Lorraine Lea was founded in 1986 by the parents of current company director Adrian Ryan.

Provide outstanding service

"As a boutique brand we provide our customers with a one-on-one service giving our customer in store our undivided attention," Wagner said.

"My staff go above and beyond for their clientele to ensure they will always return. Keeping your customer happy and satisfied, along with creating a great atmosphere in-store have definitely contributed to Sambag's success over the years."

Ryan agreed, saying if you treat customers well, they will keep coming back.

"We pride ourselves on outstanding customer service and strive to exceed expectations," he said. "When customers have a positive experience with our brand, more often than not they'll become a customer for life."

Have a purpose and be positive

Ismiel said Nads' success came from having a greater purpose.

"We link our success and achievements to helping others," she said.

"Over the past 25 years, we've helped many charity organisations; we strongly believe that we are all connected as human beings and when we look after others, we increase prosperity in our own world."

Margan said they had adopted 'big business' disciplines throughout their journey.

"(That) has ensured professionalism and consistency across all areas," he said. "Close and regular analysis of how you are tracking is vital for good decision making and long term sustainability."

Nads
Sue Ismiel launched Nads in 1992.

Take care of yourself

Mental, physical and emotional health must be priorities if small business owners are going to be in it for the long haul.

"Unless you take care of yourself first you simply cannot be a leader people want to follow," Ismiel said. "When life is imbalanced you simply cannot lead. To draw people towards you, you must take care of every aspect of your life.

"Your health, family, relationships, spirituality and finances."

Heads Up, in collaboration with Beyond Blue, also provide resources and information about how to stay healthy in the workplace and how to look after yourself when running a small business.

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