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Have you got what it takes to make it in business? Previous Telstra Business Women’s Award winners tell how they took a good business idea and made it work.

Margot Spalding

Margot is the co-owner and co-director of Jimmy Possum Furniture Pty Ltd, a furniture design, production and retail company. Established by Margot and her husband 13 years ago in a small shed with just one employee, today Jimmy Possum Furniture employs 130 people and offers more than a thousand products through seven own-name retail stores, as well as supplying furniture to 66 stores across Australia. Margot won the Victorian Business Owner Award at the Telstra Women’s Business Awards in 2006 and was subsequently named 2006 Telstra Victorian Business Woman of the Year.

DB: What elements have been vital to Jimmy Possum’s success?
MS: We’ve really stuck to our initial tenet that we wanted to create high-quality, well-designed furniture. We wanted to appeal to the part of the market where people really care about what’s in their homes. We’ve stuck to that policy and importantly, we’ve stuck to the Australian made policy. We make all the furniture in our stores and if the material can be sourced locally, we use it.

I think originality is also of vital importance. In business, you need to have a point of difference so you can distinguish yourself from your competitors.

Other than your product, you need a strong work ethic and a good set of personal values. Honesty is very important and must extend across every facet of your business. You must be honest with your staff, your customers, your suppliers—everyone you deal with.

DB: What advice would you give budding entrepreneurs?
MS: Be focused and passionate. Passion is your fuel. Without it you won’t have enough energy to go on. In business, you need to be extremely energetic.

DB: How important is to recognise the achievements of women in business?
MS: It’s so important. The status of women in business and careers in Australia is tragic. We need more women in politics and in upper management and executive positions in business.

When I won the Telstra Business Women’s Award in 2006, our business gained credibility and my profile was raised. It gave me a lot of pride. Since then we’ve opened two more stores; one in Bendigo and another in Adelaide. We hope to end up with 10 stores and are currently exploring options to expand our presence into Canberra, the Gold Coast and Melbourne.

Leanne Preston

Leanne is the founder of internationally successful Wild Child. She founded the business after discovering that the most common head lice treatment available was toxic and had the potential to kill. After a period of intensive research, she developed a prototype of a product called Quit Nits, which used entirely natural plant oils. Such was the popularity of her product that Leanne was able to rapidly expand her business from its modest beginnings to a position where she now develops and markets natural health care products overseas. She won the 2007 Telstra Australian Business Woman of the Year.

DB: What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
LP: Believe in yourself, know your market, never be afraid to ask for advice, surround yourself with mentors, be innovative and establish a point of difference—there’s no point being a ‘me too’.

Most clients don’t think about the difference between a home business and a small-to-medium company and their expectations of service will be the same. Invariably, early experience shows that the customer will be the toughest boss you’ve ever had. It soon becomes apparent that small businesses are almost always under-resourced. Prudent outsourcing and time management can make the difference between success and failure.

DB: Is the current economic climate is a risky time to start a business?
LP: Any time can be risky. Wild Child began for me as a compromise between parenting and the need to gain an income. To some, the idea of a home-based business sounds idyllic but the practicalities of maintaining a balance between home life and work can require discipline and careful planning.

DB: How important are awards programs in recognising the achievements of women in business?
LP: Very. Mine has given me the opportunity speak about issues that face us all. Now more than ever, with people’s confidence at an all time low, we must respond to the greater needs of our society by instilling confidence and leading by example.

Bronwyn Sheehan

Bronwyn is the founder of Queensland’s Pyjama Foundation which recruits, screens, trains and supports community volunteers—Pyjama Angels—to read to children in foster care on a weekly basis. Bronwyn has grown the Pyjama Foundation from an idea into a statewide organisation, with Government involvement, celebrities and 600 volunteers.  Its volunteers now read to more than 1,000 Queensland children. Bronwyn Sheehan won the Community and Government Award in the 2008 Telstra Queensland Business Women’s Awards.

DB: What inspired you to start your own business?
BS: I founded the Pyjama Foundation in September 2004, after seeing what fantastic contributions foster carers were making in the community. Every day, these unsung heroes open their homes to our communities’ most vulnerable children. I wanted to help out these amazing people, so formed The Pyjama Foundation to contribute in a positive way to the lives of not only the children but offer some assistance to foster carers.

DB: What has been vital to the Pyjama Foundation’s success?
BS: Communication skills are vital. You need to be able to inspire other great people to come on board and share your vision. It’s important to surround yourself with great people who have different skills to contribute.

DB: Was there a point when you thought ‘Wow, I’ve made it!’?
BS: My goal is very large and that is to reach all of the 31,000 children who are in foster care in Australia. Maybe I’ll think like this when I am 80 years old, but at the moment there are always goals to achieve.

DB: What is the most challenging part of running your own business?
BS: There is always so much to do! If I didn’t need to sleep then this wouldn’t be a problem! I’ve become very good at prioritising, and not sweating the small stuff.  Also cashflow is always a number one challenge when starting off.

DB: What was your biggest lesson learned in business?
BS: I think I am too trusting. I think this is also a positive trait, but it has caught me out on more than one occasion. It is very beneficial to have clear guidelines right from the beginning so there is no confusion later on. In other words, have strict key performance indicators so everyone is kept accountable.

Leanne Wesche

Leanne owns and manages Safeguard Innovations and Pacco Group. She took on the business world at 19, and has successfully launched five companies over the past 22 years. Leanne got her big break when she bought a little cottage business called the Sprout Factory and turned it into a multi-million-dollar enterprise.

Pacco Group is Western Australia’s largest fruit and vegetable packing house which employs more than 55 people and handles over 150 tonnes of produce every week. Safeguard is now helping to protect families from food-borne diseases around Australia and the globe, with sales into 11 countries in the first 9 months.

DB: Any practical advice for budding entrepreneurs?
LW: I don’t ask anyone to do anything I wouldn’t do. I coach my team rather than just fixing their problems and allow them to make mistakes along the way.  Make sure the goals you set are measurable and ensure your staff know their goals to give them a sense of responsibility, ownership and accountability. Be consistent in your message and follow through on your goals and change them if necessary. Twenty years from now you’ll be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than the ones you did.

DB: Who are your inspirations in business?
LW: I’ve not had a mentor as such, but have employed some great people over the years and they have impacted greatly on my businesses. I have contracted various coaches over the years to use their knowledge and expertise to help manage my businesses, but this is often not results-orientated enough. I ‘ve preferred to employ people, coach them as best I can and allow them to grow with me. I subscribe to many publications and never have the time to read them on a daily basis but sit down for a whole afternoon on the weekend and rip out lots of interesting articles and file them for future reference. I am always inspired by Australian innovation and what amazing things people are achieving.

DB: What qualities are unique to women that make them successful entrepreneurs?
LW: Women are not too proud to ask for help and are great multi-taskers. Women often judge themselves harshly for not being at home full-time with their children but you can have a successful home and business if you are serious about your success.

—Nominating someone for the Telstra Women’s Business Awards could change their life forever. Visit www.telstrabusinesswomensawards.com.au

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