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Overcoming ‘that’ challenge with the 2019 Telstra Business Awards South Australian finalists

Smarter Writer
Smarter Team

The Smarter Team is made up of business and technology journalists who write to offer insights to small and medium businesses about technology, business know-how and emerging trends.

Smarter Writer
Smarter Team

The Smarter Team is made up of business and technology journalists who write to offer insights to small and medium businesses about technology, business know-how and emerging trends.

Every business experiences ‘that’ challenge– when crises strike, when radical change has to be made, when failure comes uncomfortably close. If you’re lucky, you get to learn from it, and use it as a catalyst for ongoing success.

Here, a collection of 2019 Telstra Business Awards finalists from South Australia share their biggest challenges – from ghosting clients and empty pubs to customer education and the GFC. Plus, the strategies and solutions that got them through.

‘That’ challenge is an economic meltdown: Con Manias, FCT Holdings

“Before 2012, the bulk of our business was from outside Australia, and Australian staff were travelling to other countries to win sales and execute projects. Then the Global Financial Crisis almost sank the company. The GFC impacted the building industry and our main customers in the cement industry. The few projects still going ahead were fiercely competitive, so margins were slashed. Then the Aussie dollar reached record levels – FCT had become uncompetitive in the international arena.

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“We had a couple of disastrous years, then we made some fundamental changes.” 

“We developed innovative tech, established operating subsidiaries in key overseas markets to be more accessible and get that local understanding, and developed a highly  skilled work team to deliver for customers.

“What lesson did we learn? That markets are dynamic and changing all the time, and in our business, opportunities need to be anticipated and planned for.”

Con Manias is managing director at FCT Holdings, a global company designing industrial combustion equipment. FCT is a finalist in the Medium & Making Waves category.

‘That’ challenge is the ‘pubs are dying’ narrative: Simone Dougal, The Duke of Brunswick Hotel

“Pubs and restaurants in Adelaide are closing at a rapid rate, and the Duke of Brunswick was about to join the list of empty venues. That was our challenge. 

“We just had to redefine what a pub was.”    

“We started building a cosy place that any community could call home. We went looking for groups that needed a place to belong. It started with Adelaide Improv and Dungeons & Dragons at the pub, and spread to the Atheist Society’s secular social nights, ladies who knit, the Adelaide Morris Men and many more.

“In gathering our merry band of divergent communities we realised we could lift our game when it came to catering to patrons’ needs, so our kitchen is now 100 per cent gluten-free – providing an inclusive experience for everyone. Our narrative is: ‘The world outside doesn’t matter here.’”

Simone Dougal, CEO at The Duke of Brunswick Hotel, a socially inclusive venue in the heart of Adelaide and finalist in the Emerging & Energised category.

Essential tips for making the most of ‘that’ moment
  • “Surround yourself with people who are experts in their field. You’re the expert on your product or service, but that doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from working with a social media expert or an IT expert or a building planner. Ask questions, listen, take notes, ask more questions.” – Cindy Westphalen, owner/director, Cindy’s Classic Gourmet
  • “Trust your gut. You probably started your business because you had a strong intuition. In looking back, I usually find that my gut instinct is almost always the correct course of action.” – Dena Vassallo, founder/managing director, Society Marketing Communications
  • “Get some business mentors – they can be a great source of support for growing businesses.” – David Wilson, director, Green Frog Systems

‘That’ challenge is overcoming the loss of a major client: Melinda Parent, Oranje Creative

“In 2014, Melinda Parent Creative (MPC) faced an existential threat. Our major client broke our contract mid-term with little warning. The business learned the hard way that a contract is only as good as the financial resources you have available to legally pursue your rights. And – perhaps most critically – not to put all the business’ eggs in the one basket.

“We instigated a major business restructure, marked by a new corporate identity – Oranje Creative – and positioning in the marketplace. No staff were made redundant. The business overdraft facility was used to cover running costs, and I did not draw a wage. The business really dedicated itself to securing new clients. 

“We learned not to take anything for granted – even long-term, healthy client relationships.” 

“Oranje now has either formal, written agreements or individual project contracts in place, and three-year retainers with larger clients. All-in-all, the business is far more in control of its financial destiny.”

Melinda Parent is the creative director at Oranje Creative, an innovative advertising and brand design studio and Telstra Business Award finalist for Small & Succeeding.

‘That’ challenge is a transition period: Peter Flynn, Physio Fit Adelaide

“A big challenge that our business had to overcome was the directors, Andrew Zacharia and me, stepping back from consulting with patients day-to-day.

“It was one of the scariest moments in our business – letting go of control. But we knew we had to allow pathways for our team to become the leaders within Physio Fit.”

“The biggest lesson we learnt was the importance of creating time to work with your team and build a culture of success and happiness. Culture is not something that accidentally happens – you have to plan how you want it to be, hire the right people, and give them adequate support and training, before allowing them autonomy to do the best work of their lives.“

Peter Flynn is a physiotherapist and co-director at Physio Fit Adelaide, a Small & Succeeding finalist focusing on pain and injury management and prevention.

‘That’ challenge is the teaching the teachers: Jon Soong, Makers Empire

“Our biggest challenge has been getting educators to understand what a powerful learning tool 3D technology can be, and how it can be used to teach design thinking, STEM and 21st-century skills. Showing teachers how and why it all works.

“So we partnered with the Department of Education NSW and Macquarie University for a research project studying the impact of primary makerspaces on student learning and performance. We’ve published over 100 school case studies on our blog. We’ve shared testimonials and videos from schools showing how they use Makers Empires. And we’ve established an ambassador program so teachers can share their experiences at conferences. 

“Figuring out how to use the technology as an authentic teaching tool to increase student engagement, collaboration and performance is a whole another thing: many schools were buying 3D printers but not using the technology to its full potential.” 

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