Almost 28 years ago I started building a company from my home in Sydney and just like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, I’ve been travelling “The Yellow Brick Road” on a journey of self-awareness, courage and understanding about my true values & goals in life.
As an entrepreneur, the road to building a successful business is never straight. Like in the various movie adaptations of Wizard of Oz, there’s been lots of turns and roundabouts with obstacles and challenges; even scary episodes where I wasn’t sure if we were going to make it. Luckily, like Dorothy, along the path I found mentors, who eventually became friends, and surrounded myself with loyal team members that shared my dream and came with me on the road to the “Emerald City of Oz”.
The similarity between Dorothy’s adventure and my own is not lost on me. Along the way, I learnt countless lessons but these are my Top 5:
1. Be Brave
Building a business takes guts. No, it takes nerves of steel… and maybe a bit of naivety. You have to have a goal in your mind that is as clear as you can see your image reflected in a mirror. Know where you want to go and don’t be afraid to go after it, no matter what the naysayers tell you.
I remember I was 100% certain that unless I expanded my business overseas I would be unable to continue to grow it or eventually sell it to a large international company (which I finally did). But so many people told me I was crazy. Especially since my goal was to open in China. Many people gave me frightening examples of companies who had lost money trying to do this. But I was determined to do the impossible.
2. Find Mentors
I was the young kid on the block when I started out in the exhibition industry in Australia. It was a very male orientated industry back in the 90s. I always found it fascinating listening to the stories and advice of the guys who had been in the industry for years. Many of them around the world have become great friends, readily listened to my questions and gave me their unbiased opinions. Their advice was priceless.
3. Find the Scarecrow, the Lion and the Tinman
I know everyone says that their team is what makes their company, but mine really did. I surrounded myself with people who could do all the things that I couldn’t do. This sounds easy, but you firstly have to really look deep inside yourself to understand your own weaknesses. Then you have to make sure you find the people whose strengths will support you.
Growing with a loyal team who eventually become your “family” makes the journey bearable. And finding the ones who want to set off on that path with you is necessary if you want to reach your goals.
4. Be Kind & appreciate your Competitors
It took a while, but I eventually realized that my competitors were my teachers. Learning what to do right…and what not to do, was easy. I just had to keep my eye on their progress. I also formed strong relationships with similar companies to my own, in geographies that I had no intention of entering. It allowed us to openly discuss issues without a feeling of threat.
They say that copying is the greatest form of compliment, but it is so annoying when it happens to you. I knew this was going to happen when I went to China, but instead of it negatively affecting our business, it grew the industry and eventually established us as the leader in the marketplace.
5. Understand how much your Family sacrifice for you
I’m a mum. Actually, that’s not really true – I’m a dad. When our 2 daughters were 5 and 4 years of age, my husband sold his business and became the main care-giver for our children. That was almost 20 years ago when it wasn’t a main stream thing. It was a very bold step for my husband, and it released me to do what I had to do to grow the company.
At the beginning I didn’t really appreciate the sacrifice that my husband and my daughters made for me. They didn’t see me as often as I would have liked. I missed a lot of their childhood. I didn’t get to any of the swimming or athletics carnivals, and I didn’t get to meet any of the mothers at the school. I had to learn not to feel guilty about this but more importantly I had to let go of my motherly responsibilities. It was really hard.
There’s No Place Like Home
We did it! We grew a great company which is leading the way with cutting edge technology in the events and exhibition industry. This year we launched our facial recognition software and are working on incorporating blockchain technology to create a better process for our industry in the future.
So in January 2018, when the colossal, multi-national, family-owned American company Freeman approached us, we knew we were home. The fit was perfect, the same values, the same ethos when it came to customers and staff first.
Am I leaving the company? No way! It’s just the beginning of a brand new adventure but this time I have the support of The Wizard of Oz and my world is my oyster. Watch this space…