More challenging: Creating a business from scratch or being a mum?

This week my company Taurus turned 16, as did my first-born daughter. I’m not sure which has given me the most challenges! Creating a business from scratch or mothering Charlotte, who has just celebrated turning 16. Both have caused great celebration, moments of deep concern, a huge amount of learning and an ultimate pride and feeling of satisfaction, success and wellbeing.

With Taurus, I’ve employed over 200 people, mentored 40 interns, trained over 100 graduates, worked with 50 contractors and serviced 1000 clients here and overseas. I’ve worked through the night, enjoyed watching staff take over my responsibilities, won awards and had some knocks along the way. Taurus has seen 25 children being born to employees.

The biggest joy and greatest endorsement is that my original staff members are still with me albeit as contractors now that they have started families, and my first client is with me too. The majority of my clients take Taurus with them as a supplier when they move companies. The ultimate compliment.

As a marketing and PR agency, how to do business has changed considerably in those 16 years and I haven’t had a moment to be bored. Exhausted? Sure, but bored, no. In 1995, when I registered Taurus, the internet was in its infancy, Facebook was a twinkle in Mark Zuckerberg’s eye and tweeting was unheard of. Phones were large and cumbersome and it took minutes to dial into and download email.

I sent press releases out by fax — and the phone was my primary business tool — for phone calls. Where as today, my phone is the centre of my communication hub — email, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and text.

I’ve had moments late at night, certainly in the early days, of feeling overwhelmed. Trying to keep two babies quiet on conference calls working from home — Georgie came 18 months after Charlotte — and pushing a double pram into client meetings when they were newborns. Thousands of parents are juggling working life all over the country today and working late into the night. I salute them.

The early days were a constant juggle to parent successfully versus growing and running a business — trying to be present on both counts and not glued to a computer screen or a mobile when I should be engaging genuinely with my children. The palatable pressure of being there for clients in a press office 24×7 and picking the right team to help me, and relieve the pressure.

Every leader I have spoken to from Top ASX down says it’s about people and getting the right people on the bus to help you drive strategy. It remains my biggest challenge, my biggest joy when it works well and my biggest headache when it doesn’t.

The GFC came and went and I engaged management consultants to investigate my strengths and weaknesses to pull through. I did. Of the 2,074,247 businesses operating in June 2007, 84.6 percent were still operating in June 2008 and only 73.6 percent were still operating June 2009. There were 2,051,085 actively trading businesses in Australia (June 2009) and of the 2,074,247 businesses operating in June 2007, 84.6 percent were still operating in June 2008 and 73.6 percent were still operating June 2009. 38 percent of business failed between 2007 and 2009.

During the GFC, we reined the expenses in, didn’t replace natural attrition, cut back and marketed hard. We grew by 30 percent last year.

I’m going to steal Zahorsky’s business tips because they resonate so closely with my own. His seven tips are:

1. Cultivate inner networks — Identify and build relationships with peers, mentors and advisors. This inner network provides support and direction for your business.

2. Customer centric — Business success requires an unwavering commitment to the customer, focus away from business and profits, and toward what you can do to improve the life of your customers.

3. Humble honesty — Business success requires the ability to know your strengths and weaknesses, take time to know yourself and business.

4. Adaptability — Business success requires the ability to adapt to changing situations, being flexible allows you to respond to changes without being paralysed with fear and uncertainty.

5. Opportunity focused — Problems are a regular part of business life, being opportunity focused makes the game of business fun and energising.

6. Finding a better way — Productivity is the cornerstone of business success, productivity can be enhanced by technology, automation, outsourcing and improving business processes

7. Balances lifestyle management — A business can consume an owner’s time and energy, separating time for daily business tasks, profit driven tasks, and free time is a habit that will make your business and life more enjoyable. Take time to plan each week.

I continue to subscribe to the 7 Habits of Successful People and continue to systemise and template my business so I leave a legacy. I foresee the next 16 years leading to more contracted employment, consolidated agencies, working on a federation model, faster, shallower communication and the rise of China and India as both sources of business and skills.

As I work through the next three-year business plan with my advisors right now, I am reminded “We are continuously faced by great opportunities brilliantly disguised as insoluble problems.” — Lee Iacocca (1924- ) CEO, Chrysler Corporation, 1978-1992

Live long and prosper!


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