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Bouris talks small business battles and finding balance

Mark Bouris is a household name thanks as much to his high-profile business success as his hosting role on the local version of The Celebrity Apprentice, a new season of which is due to air on Channel 9 any day now.

Bouris founded Wizard Home Loans in 1999 and sold it to GE just five years later for close to $500 million. He’s been credited with changing the way Australians secure home loans, with Wizard becoming one of the largest non-bank lenders in the country, and he now features on the list of Australians worth over a billion dollars.

He’s been keeping busy with a new business venture since 2009, when he founded Yellow Brick Road, which delivers a holistic approach to wealth management and whose client base features many SMEs.

Bouris talks to Dynamic Business about planning, remaining in control and whether it’s possible to achieve work/life balance as the owner of a small business.

Q. What are some of the biggest issues SME owners face?

SME owners are under-resourced for a start. They’re doing everything from opening up to paying the wages, sorting out their staff’s personal issues and looking after customers. They don’t have the time to plan.

And if you’re talking about those five-year plans, I think they’re nonsense. Things change too rapidly; if you can do a decent plan for the next 12 months you’re doing well. You can have five-year hopes or wishes, but you can’t plan that far ahead. That’s like sailing a ship and planning your route but not having any control over the weather or conditions.

Q. How do you suggest owners stay in control of what’s going on in their business?

You have to have structure. You have to have your personnel bases covered, you have to have your sales force well managed, and you have to have your back office and your systems well managed. Then you’re pretty good to go through any changes in conditions.

If your business is well structured and well managed you’ll be in a position to make changes quickly, which is one of the biggest advantages of small business. You have to be able to take advantage of the ability to do that. You also need to have your ear to the ground for any changes in the market, to be flexible and forward-read your marketplace.

Q. What is an important instinct you think SME owners and entrepreneurs need to be successful?

Gut feel and common sense. Gut feel does depend on the instincts you’ve developed as you’ve grown up. It depends how well developed they are. A lot of people, have no gut feel because they haven’t developed character.

Sometimes those kind of people are better off looking at a textbook than going with their gut.

Q. How should small businesses be planning for their financial future?

First, make sure your revenue line is realistic and execute on it. There’s no point having a great shop front or back office if you don’t actually have the revenue … Business is about generating income. It’s not about having the flashiest office or having all your ducks lined up in a row, nicely proportioned. It’s about going out there and selling a service.

Too many people spend before they earn. As painful as it is, only have expenditure that keeps pace with your income. If that means you’re constantly one person down, then that means you have to work harder to fill the gap, not to go hiring a marketing manager or a secretary or a CFO before you have the money to cover costs. It’s a sure way to go broke.

Make sure you know you have a competitive price but that you understand you have to make a profit. There’s no point having the cheapest and best service in the business if you’re not making any money. And that does often happen.

Q. What about work/life balance, is it possible to achieve this?

Unfortunately, you have to take it [an opportunity] while it’s there so yes, sometimes you do have to sacrifice things like holidays. You shouldn’t sit around getting dark on everybody else who seems to be having a good time while you’re working hard. This is the risk of owning a small business.

Once you’re past those times, you have to take every opportunity to spend time for yourself. If that means you have to get up an hour earlier to go to the gym then that’s what you have to do. But if you want to stay in bed an hour longer one day then do that, and you see it as giving yourself a little luxury.

Q. Do you think business owners need to love what they do?

If you like what you do, that’s half the battle won. There’s a lot of opportunity in a day for moments of a fun and a smile here and there goes a long way and can be worth more than several nights off.