Monday, March 18, 2013

Back Down the Track

Well, folks it's been a long time since my last post and as to be expected much has happened. Now living in Adelaide I have come 'back down the track' back to continue running my business here in a bigger pond with more colourful fish.

It seems like a natural progression to move a growing small business to a large market, though it's not without its challenges. For example, where to base my office, and myself after 18 months away and never having had to rent commercial space here before? Fortunately Adelaide is a networked place for locals, of old school friends, clients, outback travellers and regional passers by, so it didn't take long for me to take up an old school friend's offer of renting out a room in her city office. There's some benefit to 20th high school reunions or the connection set up between our school friends might never have happened.

Josie is a conveyancer, and the first person I sat next to on day one of year 5 in my new school, St Dominics, back in 1985. And she's still helping me out! My office is a bit of a concrete block, no windows and precarously close to an overworked printer and photocopier, but despite this, I have flexible and reasonable rent terms and it's good to experience working in a city again.

Earlier this year I had to say goodbye to my friends in both Quorn and Port Augusta, my neighbors who watched my chooks while I was away, the kids who played chase in my yard, and the new housemates I lived with in Port in the late part of 2012. A trip to Tassie to see my folks and one hot summer in Port weathering out blustery winds with briny smells and I knew it was time to head south and try my luck in the 'big smoke'. It was good to say goodbye on my own terms this time.  I took it slowly, and while putting all my goods in storage where they remain for now, felt exhausted with the thought of moving and packing again after these past few experimental years.

Business has been good in the past 12 months; I've had to tender for jobs I didn't get and learn the hard way not to give away too much of my intellectual property for free. I learnt that the less your client is clear about a job they think they want you to do, the more wary and carefully I need to tread to get them to define it so I can price the job within reason. Ive also learnt to rely on others to get work, and to sell myself in every meetng - you have to when that is your only income. Letting people know what you do and how you do it without being pushy, is a basic survival technique for aspiring entrepreneurs.

Starting a consulting firm in a small place has had its advantages. I've been able to experiment and take risks without too high a cost to my business. Ive learnt what it is I actually offer and can now talk about it in a really simple way. That's taken me a year to work out! In a place where people talk and share knowledge, it goes around fast, what services I provide.  I got project opportunities through a regional networking group called the Loose Collective - a group of consultants and contractors in graphic design, events, community development, PR and planning. We caught up every few months for lunch and to encourage regional councils to use local professionals for local projects instead of bringing in consultants from Adel or Sydney - which was happening a lot!

Being the outsider though, also has it's advantages - small town businesses and organisations don't always want someone who knows their business, but can bring a different perspective and some new approaches.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Karma Sutra of Business Positioning

The music between thoughts.
So may steps between
saving and closing;
The actions required in Microsoft Word.
In my kitchen
The events of a day re-run as I wash up.
The illusion of business run from a bedroom in pyjamas
In the deep north of country SA
Humours me in the quiet chuckle of my own company.
Two new opportunities landed like bubbles, unpopped
In my unsexed inbox.
The value of following up reinforces itself.
Am I worth it, flashes red briefly through my mind like an unstopped bus.
Capability statements. Proposals. The language of the day.
Timing is everything.
Me, stunned something so easy lands in my lap.
And now, the fine art of positioning descends like cling wrap around me.
Best laid gently. Tucked in at the edges after hitting the hard edges of a plate.
I have to compete play my own game without losing myself.
Against unknown competition.
A little scared of what I am worth in this market.
The creeping heebie jeebies of fear of winning – not losing!
What would that smart Sydney-sider say with his rounded vowels
The pinstripe in his voice, a little tired.
I realised he’s in property. Position, position position.
I’m the tourism expert.
Two worlds collide in a slightly awkward corporate conversation
I grab my pearls and jacket in case of Skyping.
All this wrestling to position myself
The karma sutra of business positioning
While not getting me laid
Is actually getting other doors open.
(It's my KPI to ensure they are not mutually exclusive.)
Short sentences are one step away
from being bullet points.
But context is everything
and the plastic art
of poetry,
Outbox style.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Fleeing for the Hills

Some  bright soul has been banging out Christmas Carols on a P.A. system the Foo Fighters would dream of, down at the local oval all afternoon. I thought it was my neighbours across the road doing weird karaoke to one another once their son left in his lime green ute. I don't really know them that well, but it turns out, they are not as dorky as my imagination would have them. After 'closing' my door with more than necessary force in a futile , somewhat childish protest, turning up my own stereo and feeling righteously Grinch, I realised the sound was floating cross town from down at the school oval....and would be all afternoon.

Goodbye peaceful Sunday on the veranda reading the paper. These carols sucked. I'm not a big Christmas who-ha person anyway but soprano notes on All I want for Christmas were making my stomach turn. All I want for Christmas is to stop these stupid carols. (Newsflash - "Grinch Grouch pre-middle aged woman dies with ears bleeding  and gritted teeth. Unknown if due to business or cheer-related stress.") I washed down my beer quickly and started to cook. Frustrated. Not wanting to be inside. I'm inside all week! I had energy to burn, but didn't want to do anymore housework.  Nor listen to this unholy racket.

Shoes on, pre-exercise beer in the system,  I started off down the street to explore north Quorn in more detail.  Just about every time I go walking in Quorn, I discover something new: a foot bridge, a sleepy lizard, a new park, a short cut. This time I saw two kangaroos, another sleepy, walked past two ten year old girls in cowboy boots looking for a boy in blue who had done the dash from a birthday party - before the cake was even cut!!!! Imagine. The party was kinda near the school oval. Poor little bugger.  Flee, flee for the hills!

I walked past horse yards, down Arden Vale Road, feeling free and happy with my choice to live here. Choosing a tree change. Feeling good again about this little town, my new home. A blue heeler flew out of the yard barking and scared the living daylights out of me as I wondered past his turf.

"Chill out Bluey," I coo. He snarls back unconvinced, smelling soprano in the air.

I high tail it back down past Williams St, looking at the native gardens and sinister pine trees making noise  in the winds that have been gusting all day.  I look at abandoned houses, and the backstreets of a town with its roots in the 1800s, the iron clad and stone cottages restored, painted, so quiet. I head back toward my own. I pass a fig tree in an abandoned block and pull three early season ripe figs and think of grilling them tonight, with turmeric honey and pistachio ice cream.

Entering my own garden at 7pm with the evening glow stretched across the yard,  I inspect my own trees and pull another 4 figs from my sprawling fig and relish the delight of fruit-bearing plants,  being able to share  excess with my new neighbor friends down the road and more broadly, a grander hope for fun times in the years ahead.

With the year coming to a close, Im looking forward to travel again soon, the anonymity of the airport transit lounge, time off and cold climate Tasmania with Mt Wellington as the backdrop, and yes, fresh seafood and more fresh produce.

The carollers are still going. They are now repeating carols. Holy moly. Cars parked up and down the street. All the life in Quorn is at the oval. I pull out the bottle of Baileys and slink ice cubes into a large glass. If you can't beat em, join em.

Deck the Halls and Lets Get Trollied!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Business Survival Pep-Talk

Nobody talks of entrepreneurship as survival, but that's exactly what it is and what nurtures creative thinking.

Anita Roddick

That's what it feels like - like being born into battle, landed like a wet heap on the floor after a few comfy months and facing a long summer when the market goes quiet and the savings are ebbing.  Entrepreneurs adopt a sort of bloody mindedness about priorities in every aspect of life that costs something. Everything  is under review, in the act of paring back scant resources and pushing forward priorities. Things have to be said directly and honestly and brutal decisions made, for a business to take shape and get momentum.

Pure survival. For 3 hours driving back up to Quorn from a weekend break in Adelaide I thought long and hard about what I can do to generate more income to keep going. Thoughts about going to China to complete my MBA are fading fast, think what $4000 could do in my business! I don't want to give up damn it, I won't give in with this much invested. Database marketing, write letters send out those fliers. Get that website up! Jesus, how can you run a regional business without one?! every week it's not up, I'm losing around $1000 I reckon - potentially.

My chiro and physio - both small business owners while treating my body this morning gave me the pep talks I was looking for, advice and support coming from unlikely places:

You need start-up capital to support your business, have you considered a loan? 

I got great advice from so-and-so in Adelaide and he turned my business around in 3 years when it was going down hill. We bought a house that was too expensive and we had negative income when I started. I had an accountant who said 'yes', now I have one that says 'no' and tells me why, and he's the one who has helped me turn it all around...

How did you get your income up and running? I spoke at schools, told people what I did and how I did it, not why I was the greatest. You guts it out, develop your nerve. You will never have the security that a salary gives you, you leave it at the gate to do what you want.

I chose to market not through advertising, but word of mouth on solid reputation. his is a longer path, be prepared to go hungry, and work long hours. I wanted customers who would come back again, not the quick fix.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Virgin Birth and Bus Ticket Wisdom

Spending all day on a computer without a colleague to interrupt me with the stupid  banter that I love and that  bonds humans together is beginning to bug me. First, I really loved being able to get up and make myself a coffee in my bright big kitchen, and not have to crawl around in the annex that was my last workplace kitchen.

But now I question  trading company for space and the privileges of home ownership in a country town. Sometimes I'm not sure that was a good trade.  This comes as another wave hits...Im battling in the surf again. Aghhhhhrrr...splutter!   The other thing I'm finding tough at the moment, is working with sub-contractor designers in Adelaide and having to initiate, initiate, initiate the whole time. I'm feeling a bit out of sight out of mind. I'm only 4 hours away, but to Adelaideans, it's like a world away.  I'm exhausted and need perspective on this business thing. Bring on Christmas. Virgins giving birth and Wotif only had a bloody barn available. Now, there's perspective. I could be in a whole lot more trouble!

I'm going to have to do this better, because I'm spending a lot of time driving projects forward - but that's what my clients are paying me for. I feel like I'm repeating myself - why don't people listen to what I'm saying? I'm not saying it loud/clear/well enough?  Do I really have to be a relentless hounder before shit happens?   I have a feeling I could be a real whip cracker - but when my income is depending on my site being up, and after 3 months it's still in draft stage, I am beginning to get tetchy.

In small business, when you live a long way from others, how do you make your priorities someone elses without being a tyrant or a bitch face hound? Or do I need to be a better bitch-face hound? What is it I'm not communicating? Is it the love? Is it the need? Surely if  a designer says they can do something in a budget and a time frame, and don't, I'm justified in being a little cranky.

Big breath in. Think of the horses I visited today. Im going at a different speed to my surroundings. I need to slow down.  Stay away from the panic button. I'm writing this outside in my backyard under dark clouds, turning pink in the sunset. It's been a wild hot northerly wind coupla days. Im pooped.  I feel like Im walking on that knife edge again, this is taking a lot of energy all this worry...

"Worry is interest paid on trouble before it is due." I love that. Read it on a bus ticket years ago, and its just stuck around, like wisdom does.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Sunshine after Rain

It all started with a massive scary storm, last week Back Up the Track. I sat in the darkness of my kitchen damp with humidity and ready for bed, watching the silent electrical lightning display through the looming black clouds outside.

Don't be fooled, this big scarey sky is a perfect setting over Dracula's Jacaranda. 

The wind picked up and was  literally howling and whipping at  the kitchen windows. I scurried around my little house stuffing tea towels under doors keeping out the now heavy rain.  I wanted to feel the wind after a humid sticky day, the change to blow through my home and clear out the hot still air. But it's so overwhelming, the wind just refused come in nicely and sit down.

Would the roof stay on? Would  the neighbor's roof stay on?!  Then the random odd thought -   at least the tanks will fill up and I can have a bath without worrying.


Locally the favourite building material is corrugated iron. The stuff surrounds me and as the storm blew in I imagined sheets of it flying through the air, whipped up into a tornado tunnel and..oh, there goes Dorothy and Toto! Yet, unlike the Wizard of Oz, no tornado came.  I was wearing the wrong shoes, clearly.

Since that night, Ive been a bit panicky about coping against natural disasters- will my house be too hot in summer? Will I have enough water in my tanks? Can I afford a new air-conditioner, or should I get insulation? How many jobs do I need to win before I build a veranda?  Should I fill up with cheap petrol here or the next town? Can I live off the contents in my cupboard a little bit longer?Should I get a paid job like normal people? Would life be easier that way? Why am I doing this business- thing again?  What would I do if a bush fire came through? Will I get poisoned if something dies in my tank?  I was beginning to feel very, very small.

I need that New Girls' Guide to Country Living!   (will probably write it myself ) My optimism was sky high two weeks ago. And then I fell flat, body tired from driving, of thinking, meeting strangers, explaining my business, on the hunt for jobs, from  working without being paid.

Being self employed in a remote town and owing my own home is testing my limits and blowing old ones away. Emotionally, financially, psychologically, physically, creatively.

This tough guy is seriously called Pimpin Mallee so that's why he has prize place in the garden, next to the compost and the rubble. 

My conversations with others are better,  slower, more paced and more present. (I'm g-e-t-t-t-i-n-g sl-o-w- cos I'm f-r-o-m the c-o-u-n-t-r-y).   Humour is everywhere.  I'm enjoying others' company more, given I spend so much time at home on my own, which apart from the odd occasson I don't mind. I'm laughing more,  I'm happy when I go to sleep, and I'm happy to wake up. I'm happy to leave the house and I'm happy to return home. I'm happy to have a beer at 2pm and wear the consequences.

I'm happy to have your beer at 2.20 and wear them for you too!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Chilli Mango Muffin Madness

One batch of chili mango muffins later,  Sue Lee can say she has landed a monty!

I won my first 'big job' today and I'm stoked!! And just had to post this, because now business is up and running after 4 weeks of marketing, wondering, doubting,committing, recommitting, applying for night-fill at Coles,  I have landed a retainer job for 6 months which means I can basically pay for my mortgage and eat. Woo-hoo!

The week has progressed nicely. One feels as though the proverbial 'rollercoater' has been workshopped, oiled, wiped down and set back on track to resume her hurly burly way, with full-bellied passengers ready and up for the ride.

Last weekend, to sooth doubting business nerves, I channelled Martha Stewart and baked my little fingers off. When I realised I had more cake  in my house than I can actually eat, I packed up chili muffins with the idea of feeding the entire staff at the Whyalla Regional Economic Development Board on our first date. I drove  104 kilometres on a warm spring morning to deliver them with my own special brand.  Chili mango muffins = marketing 101: "People do business with people they like". Major suck-up? You bet.

Turn these over and you get chilli mango syrup on the bottom,  mmm...they're the business!

But,  in the rush to get out of my car on time I chickened out. I had a great meeting anyway, discussing sheep, workshop ideas and failing supermarkets in Wilmington...and drove to my next meeting happily eating warmed-in-the-car muffins, all  70 kilometres back to Port Augusta. This, took me past the delightfully named Iron Knob turnoff  (I think I know him, he was a steely bastard.... tee-hee) that just gives so much childish pleasure for new locals.... plus the rather speccie twin tank graffiti exhibition documenting the winning local footy teams over the  past decade. Its like Melbourne's Laneways graffiti meets footy bogan culture  on a grand public scale.

With childish pleasure I wonder at the small but endlessly amusing things that human beings do for entertainment in regional Australia.

Re-entry in to a regional town is a pretty nice thing if you haven't burned any bridges.  As a past resident in Port Augusta, I have less nerves and more comfort about where I am and who I'm talking to than I did 3 years ago - the difference to me is massive. People say after the first introduction at the squash club....  "So...why are you back? " Coming back is unusual and locals are quite shocked I've actually returned. The toughness new people face coming to town is the years of stamina locals build to being left over and over again, the waves washing over the glass that breaks down to sand, eventually.

I'm a bit in awe of locals because underneath is really the softest, warmest  and most accepting side of people who are willing to do it tough and looking for a different quality out of life than sheer modern facades, doorbells that chime Australian Idol Hitz and 'look at me I'm 24 and in love with nothing' attitude.

Picture Port Augusta Squash Club - fans whirring the air above, heat rising off the sweating players, balls slamming and scores being yelled out over the noise. People leaning over the railings, clustered around the action.
"So, Sue, are you around for awhile?"
 "Yes! I have no plans to be anywhere else, really..."
"That's the best way to be!"
Smiles all round.  Simple pleasures. I'm back on the squash team, just like that, a regular spot.  Two games of squash won 3-0. Sue Lee is back on track.

I'm being treated like a local, except I've forgotten street names, the cousin of so-and-so, or that you are actually a grandmother not the aunt.  Jeez - where's a chili mango muffin when you need it?