A low moment in life became a blessing in disguise for Lynnelle Richardson. It led her to start website and logo design business 5 Small Stones. It was then acting on gut instincts that have helped her grow the business.
What were you doing when you decided to create your own business?
It all started three years ago when I was working as an office manager. I was stressed out and had been for around six months. The frustration levels were still rising within the job and there was no sign of change coming. It actually reached the point where I spoke with psychologist to work through the frustrations as I struggling to control my emotions. After a couple of weeks’ holiday, I received a phone call from my boss the day before I was due to come back and was told that my position was not there anymore. You can guess what that did to the already fragile, emotional state I was in. So, after the initial shock passed, I reassessed my life and decided a change was needed. I looked at the skills that I had and how that could meet a gap in the marketplace… 5 Small Stones was born! Looking back it was a blessing in disguise as this has made me accept who I am and recognise my personal drivers. I am always wanting more…so my business now lets me set the direction and achieve what I want to achieve in my lifetime.
What inspired you to start the business? When did you officially start it?
For the past 20 years, there has been a simmering fire to operate my own business. For me it is about controlling my destiny. I can be a little of a control freak at times and my own business gives me the freedom to pursue my goals and dreams. After experiencing the stress and frustrations within the workplace, I didn’t want to return to a position like that. I decided that if I am going to take on that level of responsibility, then the benefits need to be there for myself and my family. I find that even though there can be stresses as your own boss, it is different as you are setting the direction rather than having someone set it for you. You live by the decisions you make and that is fine with me. 5 Small Stones has been operating now for three years and in the last few months amazing things are happening and doors opening like never before.
What was your start-up cost? How did you acquire the money and what did you use it for?
It was on a shoe-string budget – less than $1000. My husband and I had some cash savings which I used to register my domain name and pay for hosting, printed my own business cards and had some uniforms embroidered. I designed my own website and used my network of contacts to initially promote my business. I couldn’t afford local advertising at the time so I relied on sending out emails and knocking on doors to get my clients. I remember the excitement of signing up my first website client off a cold call. The approach was based on my gut instinct. This was the first of those ‘gut instincts’ – walked in, handed over my card, make a quick (and probably fumbled) pitch and their response was ‘we have been wanting to get a website but didn’t know where to start’. I walked out with my first client. So often in the past three years, I will get a ‘feeling’ about a potential business and that I should approach them. I now follow that gut instinct when it strikes. It hasn’t let me down yet.
What was the biggest obstacle?
Isolation. I have always worked around people and to work alone (with only the family pets to talk to) has taken some adjustment. I feel for my husband as I must have just about knocked him over when he walked in the door of an afternoon. As a women, I have a quota of words to say in a day and I was nowhere near it! To overcome this, I started a business and career women’s networking group (and much to my husband’s relief) but it had an ulterior motive – that of putting me in front of my target market.
Focus. Not getting distracted with other activities or opportunities. Over the past three years I have wasted time and money working on projects that haven’t come to fruition and when looking back were merely a distraction from my core business. I tried to spread myself across too many activities and ended up losing focus. It also meant that I didn’t perform as well as I could have as instead of doing one thing really well, I was trying to do five or six things on an average level.
How did you rise above the tough days? Those days when people said no, things fell through or someone said they didn’t “get it’’.
It’s not easy to do the cold calling and it is easy to doubt your abilities. Having the self confidence and not being afraid of the knock backs have been one of my biggest challenges. The reality is that what I do every day without blinking an eye, others cannot do. I am now more confident in what I am doing and try new ideas, test them within the market and fine tune as needed. A knock back is not personal, it just means that the client isn’t convinced yet that the product or service is for them.
How long did it take for your business to become profitable?
It took about six months to see a return on investment and that could have been sooner had I had more focus. When things were slow instead of pushing harder in one area, I looked at what else can I do. Looking back, I needed to work harder and keep my focus narrow rather than broadening my view.
What do you love most about being your own boss? What is the downside?
I love being my own boss – the flexibility, the freedom, the responsibility – just love it! Whatever I choose to do, I take responsibility for it. If I make a great decision the reward is wonderful and I get a huge kick when something goes really well. There are no bad decisions, just experiences to learn from.
Downside? The only downside I see is in myself. I need to know my weaknesses and work to improve them and the risk that they may bring. For example, I can be impulsive and I have had to learn to control this. There can be times when being impulsive is good, however often I need to stop and think it through a little more which often results in an even better plan. I love bouncing ideas off someone so my husband has been a sounding board as too my business coach.
How have you been using social media to grow your business?
Yes, after telling my husband often that Facebook was a waste of time, I relented and joined the social media revolution. Now, I am on there every day and primarily use it for business purposes. The use of social media has resulted in sales from across Australia rather than just my local area and opportunities are still being presented on a national and international scale. A big tick for one of my business goals!
There have been a number of strategies but the best results have come through regular posts and putting a mix of information on Facebook and Twitter. It’s very much about connecting with your customers so what you post needs to be relevant.
How have you been using public relations to grow your business? What strategies have you used?
80 to 90% of my sales would be from referrals and word or mouth – I rarely advertise in traditional media. I love engaging with people, so I use my people skills and connections to grow my business. I try to be generous with my time as I believe this is great PR and you have to give to receive. I have also supported complementary businesses with gift vouchers for services in the past to gain some extra exposure and am open to join promotions. Supporting public events such as International Women’s Day and ‘R U OK’ Day have also been part of my PR strategies.
Where do you work from?
I started my business working from home in what many might call a cupboard. It was a space only 2 metres x 1.5 metres. However, after 18 months, I decided to come out of the cupboard and take over one of the living areas in the house. Recently, I have been able to negotiate the use of some downtown office space on a trial basis to test the difference of a more ‘visible’ presence on a local level.
Who are your entrepreneurial role models? What’s so inspiring about them?
Peter Irvine (co-founder of Gloria Jeans Coffee) is definitely up there. I recently had the opportunity to spend an afternoon talking with Peter as part of a small group of business people and walked away feeling more enthusiastic and determined about my business.
What inspires me is that Peter is not a man of hype. He is practical, down-to-earth and makes sense. I also admire that he is of Christian faith (as am I) and find this common belief flows through into his approach to business. I found him so easy to talk to and you can see he has a genuine interest in helping other business owners. The Gloria Jeans story is one worth hearing and how he never gave up even after a major fire destroyed the factory. He didn’t give up but instead found a way to be back operating within days. Love that focus on the positive approach!
How have you acquired the skills and knowledge you have to make your business successful?
I am always looking to learn more and have lots of books on business related topics. Where possible, I will attend seminars and workshops as I believe even if you walk away with just one thing, it was worth it.
What’s the best piece of business advice you ever received?
Believe and value yourself. If you don’t believe in yourself you can’t expect anyone else to either. The same goes for valuing who you are. My time, knowledge and skills are valuable and I am not afraid to charge what I feel is a fair price. Don’t’ feel the need to undercut on your pricing for I find that when you do, those projects will be the most difficult. If you believe and value yourself you should be proud of what you do and not be afraid to set your fees and stick to them. Obviously you need to know your market so you don’t price yourself out of it, however, I feel at times we can easily undervalue what we do.
On a business level – forget about what the economy is doing. It will always be there, it will always be a factor but don’t let it stop you from moving forward.
What is your favourite product/service that you offer?
This one is making me think as I enjoy everything that I do. However, I would have to say working with a client to develop a website concept for their business is always exciting. That creative streak in me always fires me up! The best thing a client can say to me is ‘we are so happy with what you have created for us’. This just makes my heart sing and I know I am doing what I need to do at this point in time.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
Don’t doubt what you can do. With patience, perseverance and determination, you will be surprised what you can do when everyone else says you’re wasting your time. If you want it bad enough you can make it happen. It might take some creative thinking, a different approach and some hard yards but just keep going. Find someone you can bounce ideas off who will give you an honest opinion and take on board what they say.
You don’t need to know everything. I am no sales guru, marketing whiz or brilliant business planner. I am an everyday mum who had a dream and decided to take a chance. Surround yourself with positivity and people who are in the world that you want to be in. Mix with successful people and you will be successful. Join networking groups, chambers of commerce and other business groups that will help you make connections.
Use your strengths and manage your weaknesses. Know your limits and stick to them. If you try to work outside your strengths, then it can end in disaster. Engage professionals to help you e.g. website designer, bookkeepers, sales/marketing coach, etc. – a great way to build your team. This not only takes some of the pressure off you it also enables you to be more productive, focus on what you do well and can give you more credibility in the marketplace.
Whose story has inspired you? Who are your business role models?