My Story: "I Never Sit Still for Very Long..."


It all started when a friend dropped in to suggest we use my technical skills and his "gift of the gab" to create a design and T-shirt print business, with a BIG focus on the T-shirts.

We learnt a lot FAST -- a few good things and lots of BAD things, like if the customer is in the car out the front of the house waiting for his sporting club shirts, make sure you get them done fast… If your business partner says be there at 10:30 am on a Sunday, get there a bit later, especially if he is a womaniser in his mid 20’s! and if you have to be at a Sunday Market at 7:30 am then don’t count him in for the early shift!

I soon picked up that although he had the gift of the gab, it also meant that he was not good at other things. Sure he had charm, sure he had a way with customers that would take me a long while to learn, but in the end, success is up to you. Lesson learnt -- choose your partner wisely. The next thing I learnt was, just because you have the ability, it does not always relate to being good in business.

Profits were slim, talking and scheming were lots of fun and the late night drink sessions were a hoot but it didn’t make for good business. A local University was running a course on small business over 6 weeks, we got a ton of great information and so my learning about business began. All that was back in the mid 80’s.

Move forward to today and I am semi-retired with a big bunch of business ideas welling up in my head. Along the way I morphed the initial business into a sole trading business, altered it to include photography with the design work.

I then took on various jobs, and learning opportunities and found that although I had a range of skills, they never seemed enough to make things go bang, they seemed to go flop instead.

I went into a part time venture after becoming redundant in the 1990’s recession that Australia “had to have” -- I learnt about customer service and soaked up all the information I could get, I cut my teeth on customer backlash from being in a business that was treating them poorly and I knew then that business skills was a thing you could learn and profit from.

A change in direction saw me return to study, adding a Graduate Diploma of Education to my mix. Three years on and a miss mash of short term teaching positions filling in when teachers were away sick or on stress leave, saw me bundled out when the then state government announced there was an excess of teachers.

I had to reinvent again, I dragged out the business name and dusted it off. Desktop publishing was in full swing, so I bought a computer and a few programs and buried my head in learning the skills to create anything in print. I soon learnt that it wasn’t easy and may hours work in learning on my own was not the best way to go, but it was all I had.

I learnt some more -- attending seminars, one-day sales training events and finally got into a 9 week intensive Sales Course, some of the BEST training I have ever done. I listened to motivational tapes, I went to business breakfasts, I networked and hustled the best I could.

I was learning fast about marketing, I was exploring public speaking to help grow my business and I learnt fast that customers did not always appreciate the time and effort that went into what I did, and many of them I realised had no idea about business.

The more I spoke publicly, the more I learnt people liked what I had to say about business, marketing, innovation/creativity, setting goals, developing a positive work culture, and amongst other things -- Leadership. The business had gone from T-shirts to training with a few interesting deviations along the way.

The internet was in its infancy and people were getting more information than they knew what to do with. I spent ages looking, learning, reading, responding, writing and now creating articles. A local paper utilised 90 articles I wrote on business, a large daily newspaper also took on an a-z set of articles and I was having a ball. Not making much money but learning, talking, writing exploring, working part time, in business part time and feeling fulfilled.

I was asked to contribute to the writing of a book on goal setting (now in it’s fourth edition)

I stumbled rather inelegantly into a role teaching adult business students in the evenings a few nights a week in Leadership - Innovation and some training subjects, I had a ball in most of those subjects and the things we all learned were priceless. In one Innovation subject, about four weeks in, one participant told us he had saved his department 10% of their annual budget that equated to $100k per year ongoing! Just from one of the ideas implemented from the class… 

I was asked to run a certificate level small business course and threw myself into that. When I wasn’t presenting Mon - Wed, I was creating course content on the other days. It was all business related and I loved it.

My business had now turned and included coaching people in small business, I discovered quickly that those that needed assistance did not often seek it, those who got assistance could either flourish or flounder, the flounderers often gracefully bowed out.

I also stumbled into a directorship of a startup training and consulting business with three others and a loyal group of about 15 supporters. We all heard a story from the key person about how this startup would make us millionaires! We were all very interested in that. Another learning took place after I poured some cash in and spent six months helping to ‘build’ an empire -- it failed. The learning -- a big hit on the head, choose your partners wisely. I had learnt it before but it was coming back to haunt me. I should have asked more questions about the business plan that on reflection was so transparent you could see for miles. 

I asked the other Directors why they didn’t see the writing on the wall? They said they were following a strong lead from people like myself who they thought had a solid idea about how to make this work, I did. But that didn’t mean the main Director had a clue nor did he want to hand over the whole thing to others to make it a reality, if we had jumped in early the whole thing might have been quite different.

I focused on teaching and coaching after that, and fumed in the background that I got caught out again from the previous business deal. The teaching was fading out and it was time to take a new business turn. I jumped in to a franchise after what I thought was extensive research. It was not extensive enough and five years on, I bailed out, burnt out and very annoyed that I probably could have stood on a street corner and thrown away $30K for each year of operation and still been ahead of the time wasted and the opportunities that went buy in a what could have been scenario.

In amongst this, I was given the opportunity to develop an outline for a "business hub" enterprise that could provide jobs, and a range of opportunities to develop a suite of businesses to ensure a degree of stability. The focus was on ensuring it was community based and could also attract funding by being an incorporated body. A wonderful project with a great deal of scope, still going, although the igniting organisation has changed focus, I have retained the information and have built on it substantially.

I now work part time fulfilling my creative side in a business that requires practical and creative input (My current boss would have been about 10 years old when I started my business journey) while writing and exploring the business hub idea.

Some of the things I have learnt along the way

  • Follow your instincts - If it looks like a rat, it probably is. If it looks like it and smells like it, then it is a rat. A rat by any other name is not anything else, as much as we might want it to be
  • Strong start up capital - Can take pressure off the early phases of a business start up
  • Networking - You never know who you will meet or where they may take you, realise also you might meet  some duds on the way too
  • Cash is king - You need it to pay the bills, to keep suppliers happy, to pay yourself a wage, and to ensure there is some left over to grow, without growth you stagnate
  • Keep asking questions and seeking answers - Keep learning, formal or informal, both have solid merit.

“If you’re green you grow, if you’re ripe you rot.” Jim Rohn

  • Get up and get moving - If you fall down (and you will) get up, dust yourself off and move on. if you take too long to dust yourself off, you may well find a train hurtling down the train tracks you are somehow standing on, MOVE.
  • Get good at the basics - Know that Marketing, Operations and Management are all tied together and all need work, Know also they are held together by People - the Physical Environment and the Culture of the organisation.
  • Get advice - Any advice can be good if it heads you in a positive direction. Free advice - You may not realise the value of until it’s too late. - Paid advice you might spend time worrying about if you can put that advice into action! Stop worrying and get started…
  • Wisdom is knowledge in action - Learn a little, act a little, see the results
  • Business is about investing - In you, in your team, in your customers, you service etc, sow good seeds into good soil and with good watering and sunshine  you will be able to reap in a good harvest, therefore invest well.

Steve Gray

Steve Gray

Director at Gray Capital Investments

You're in business, you want to win, not fail, you want success not struggles. You have an idea, you have spent a lot of money and time getting started but now what! Get a strategy in place, develop a plan, call me and get an outsiders view on what you are doing well and what needs to happen next. In the meantime check the articles on my website. Cheers


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