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Learning ‘that’ key business lesson with the 2019 Telstra Business Awards Tasmanian finalists

Smarter Writer
Smarter Team

A team of business and technology journalists and editors that write to help Australia’s community of small and medium businesses access the technology and know-how that helps solve problems and create opportunities.

Smarter Writer
Smarter Team

A team of business and technology journalists and editors that write to help Australia’s community of small and medium businesses access the technology and know-how that helps solve problems and create opportunities.

Business is a constant learning curve – an ongoing challenge to review, adapt and grow. ‘That’ lesson learnt might be an error to retreat from, or a teachable moment that shows the way forward.

Here, a collection of 2019 Telstra Business Awards finalists from Tasmania tell their stories of ‘That’ lesson learnt: from finding audiences and candidate testing to the finer points of gin appreciation. Plus, how they’ve applied their learnings to achieve success.

‘That’ lesson is telling your story: George Burgess, Southern Wild Distillery

“At Southern Wild Distillery, we quickly learnt that having a great product is no longer good enough. The story behind the product, who we are, what we represent, and what we value is just as important.

“This became apparent one day early on talking to a major bar client when the question was, ‘What is the story?’ Rather than, ‘Let’s taste!’ They told us later that the story was why they chose to taste the product. That bar remains a strong supporter today.

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“All our messages are more than just about our great gins. We explain our Tasmanian origins and our connection to the land.”  

“We make sure that wherever the consumer is, when they taste our gin, they are sharing a Tasmanian experience. We communicate this to our customers, our distributors, and to every venue that embraces our product.” 

George Burgess is co-founder at Southern Wild Distillery, a Devonport-based producer of gins and spirits using local ingredients to infuse a true Tasmanian taste. Southern Wild Distillery is an Emerging & Energised finalist.

‘That’ lesson is understanding how potential employees think: Rena Frith, Biteable

“Biteable grew from five to 25 staff members over a two-year period, and one thing we learned is that CVs and references have a limit.

“When hiring, you really need to get your candidate to do some actual work, so you can watch how they go about tackling a specific problem. In certain departments of Biteable, such as engineering and motion design, we now ask potential hires to do a paid test. It’s paid because the test requires a solid day’s work to complete.

“As an employer, you have an opportunity to understand how someone thinks. You can even split the test project up into two half days with time for a short review in the middle. This allows you to give feedback on the work and see how they react to your suggestions. 

“Are they open to feedback? Did they listen? How are their communication skills?” 

“We’ve found paid tests lead to higher employee retention and happiness. Employees are less likely to take a role they didn’t want, and employers are less likely to place people into the wrong role.”

Rena Frith is social media marketer at Biteable, a finalist in the Medium & Making Waves category. Biteable is a digital marketing platform enabling novices to quickly build videos from a library of professionally designed content.

Essential tips for making the most of ‘that’ moment
  • “Look at your processes, who is using them and how. Ask your people how things could be improved, sped up or made easier. Then make logical decisions. Staff need to understand what they are doing and why.” – Mark Richardson, director, 4Front Services
  • “Have an open-door and no-blame culture. Provide opportunities for discussion, share the positives, debrief, solve problems and have difficult conversations to resolve issues before they become bigger.” – Felicity Sweet, business manager and owner, Kingston Beach Dental
  • “Establish relationships with similar or parallel service providers, share insights and lessons learned, build a mentor network. We have learned strategy and wisdom from companies that have progressed past the challenges we face today.” – Phillip Miller, senior SCADA engineer, IntegratedSCADA

‘That’ lesson is letting go: Catherine Byers, Miss B’s Student Services

“I am often telling my students that there are no mistakes, only lessons. Here’s mine: when my business started to excel, I tried to take on everything myself, from the day-to-day operations to making all the big decisions. I was very stressed. My team was suffering because they felt out of the loop and unable to help me.

“I quickly learned that the best business owners know how to delegate effectively.” 

“Since then, our team has strengthened communication and efficiency. I’ve learned to turn to my staff and utilise their strengths.”

Catherine Byers owns Miss B’s Student Services, a Social Change Maker finalist. It’s a tuition business working with children and adults whose needs can’t be met in typical educational settings.

‘That’ lesson is valuing your expertise: Mark Schmidt, Freestone Building Surveying

“Our big lesson came from understanding that we were giving away too much information for free, leaving thousands of dollars in lost revenue on the table. Our business revolves around our knowledge and the application of that knowledge. 

“We realised that our information is worth something, and we need to bill for it accordingly.” 

“We now structure our business to focus on paying clients, while providing limited information to potential clients to entice them to work with us. The important part is knowing how much expertise to give away for free before requiring someone to sign a fee proposal.”

Mark Schmidt is the director of Freestone Building Surveying, an Emerging & Energised category finalist providing site inspections at residential projects across Tasmania.

‘That’ lesson is recognising (in detail) how your business runs: Emma Petterwood, Petterwood Orthopaedics

“Prior to opening Petterwood Orthopaedics, we employed an experienced medical secretary. Due to circumstances out of our control, she pulled out 30 minutes before our first clinical session. This thrust me into a seven-day-a-week role, including running the front desk of a medical practice, something I had never been exposed to before.  

“This was a rapid learning phase, teaching us how important it is to have an intimate understanding of every single detail of the operations of our business.” 

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