Business has been a part of my life since as far back as I can remember. When I was too little to work on the family ag-farm, I remember my two sisters and brother slogging it out one hot summer chipping acres of tomatoes in order to save enough money for a cassette player.
They did it and our parents bought it for them (and we were able to record Take40 Australia on a Sunday). I wanted to be out there too but was too young so I would help make the boxes to pack the vegetables to then be transported to Brisbane and Sydney to the markets for sale.
Mum and Dad spoke about business a lot. And I listened a lot.
And when my siblings all left home, I was tasked with managing the payroll (then BAS and GST) and help my parents with any other operational support. I was 13.
And whilst I hated it at the time (most teenagers had a different upbringing), it taught me many of the business skills I use today in my business, Sparrowly Group and have passed onto my children.
Four years on, I reflect on my biggest learnings of running a small business and with that share my four fundamental business insights:
Stick to your values and be ethical - at all times
Values - such a buzz word but when they come from a place of truth and championed from the top down every day (and I am not talking about posters and motivational meetings but through every day actions), you should never feel compromised.
Our values of connection, diversity, integrity and legacy and the truths behind them were created from the get go when it was just me. Following these has meant I have never hesitated when I have had to call out unethical or unprofessional behaviour, as well as immediately and without doubt being comfortable to say no to work that doesn’t fit with our values or ethics.
As such we openly share that we are a-political (we work across the country, local, state and federal so it’s about the business, industry and the people not the politics). We will not engage in any work that is related to gambling, smoking, religion or defence.
I will never have my team feel compromised - as my people are my number one priority. Without care for my people we can’t care for our clients and network.
Don’t compare - it can make you sick
In 2016 I started calling it comparatism syndrome - seems that term has taken off.
I fell into that trap for a short while in 2017 and it was unhealthy. Social media is the best example of smokes and mirrors and can be damaging if you let it be.
My philosophy to posting on social media is this sense checker before every post or comment - “Do I sound like a wanker (if yes, don’t post) or “Am I adding value to or helping someone in my network” (if yes, post).
What you see is what you get, we don’t jump on trend bandwagons, we set our own by just doing the best we know how to, sharing our smarts freely and minding our own business.
My Dad would always say, “don’t worry about what everyone is doing, focus on what you are doing and doing your very best”.
No surprises to note that when I took this advice which Dad drummed into me for years, my business grew substantially.
Trust your gut - instinct is key to humans and animals alike
When my daughter was 6 months old, I knew something wasn’t right with her health but I didn’t have a medical degree to diagnose it, so I relied on specialists who fobbed me off (one paediatrician calling me a neurotic young mum).
But my instinct told me otherwise and I persevered. Finally, someone listened and we have been able to get her the help she needed with connections to the right medical professionals. I was told then by the right medical professions, that if something doesn’t feel right, your gut instinct is often right.
The same applies to my network. My network means the world to me because I believe in supporting and give to others freely with no agenda, but by god if my network is taken advantage of, you will know about it. So if you feel you are being taken advantage of or catch someone in the act, trust your instincts and call them out.
Similarly in business, if something isn’t sitting right with you, you need to deal with it, quickly. I am not always great at this (in fact I am dealing with a gut instinct issue at the moment which I am hesitating on) but it’s important to remind yourself that you are brave and must do what it takes to protect your business because this is your livelihood, even if it feels risky or awkward.
Think big - but don’t get too big for your boots
I hate the word entrepreneur particularly when people are self professed entrepreneurs.
Rather, I prefer to take the approach of think big, set yourself some goals, have an open mind to opportunity and map out a series of practical and steady steps to get you there.
At our business planning offsite at the beginning of the year, the facilitator asked what makes Sparrowly Group different to which I replied, “Because we aren’t arseholes. We give a shit about each other, our people (and our clients and network are our people) and the work we do. Even when we lose a pitch, we are so engaged with it that we keep in contact and send as much helpful information to that organisation to help the successful consultancy because we just want to see positive outcomes for business, industry and people.”
Most importantly, as your business grows, it’s important that you don’t get too big for your boots, remember where you came from at all times and when someone reaches out to you for help or advice, make time for them.
Because we are all human and life can throw all sorts of challenges your way. Don’t shit on people, ever. You need people to have your back as much as you have theirs.