Armed with $25,000 in family savings, a laptop and one employee – her dog – Naomi Simson started her business, RedBalloon on the 1st of April 2001. Starting a business on April Fools’ Day might seem like a bad idea, but it was the least of Naomi’s worries in the months that followed.
By October, the odds were firmly against her. With the dot-com crash and the 9/11 tragedy still very fresh, consumers weren’t ready for good times but that was exactly what Naomi was trying to sell.
Naomi found herself saying, “No customers today, maybe tomorrow…” over and over again. By the time she made her first sale a few months later, she had begun to learn that hope, by itself, was not an effective strategy for growing a business. She also discovered that growing a business wasn’t even about money or resources and advertising; it was all about time, how she chose to use it and the relationships she fostered along the way.
Business is all about relationships
When Naomi stepped up to the stage at Bxponential last year, she reminded us that, “more than anything in this century, we want to trust who we do business with, whether we’re consumers or in our businesses.”
Our customers trust the promises we make them so it’s important to think deeply about the promises you are making in your business. Not only is it crucial to consider why your customers should trust you, Naomi also encourages us all to ask “what does the customer think?” at every step along the way.
It’s also necessary to spend time developing and strengthening the relationships within your business – particularly the connections between team members and leaders. Adversity is often brings to light the quality of these relationships, but Naomi says that it’s not really adversity at all: “it’s persistence, celebration and achievement” that will bring out the best in your team.
Naomi remarks that people will always be every entrepreneur’s biggest problem.
“They’re people! They keep changing their minds!” she reminded us.
Even though people are the biggest challenge in small business, they are what keeps you moving forward and they’re essential – you can’t do everything on your own, forever. “You have to bring people with you and you want them to be as passionate about your journey as you are.”
Disengagement is costing the Australian economy billions of dollars in lost productivity every year but it is avoidable. The Business Review Weekly has listed RedBalloon as one of The Great Places to Work multiple times between 2009 – 2013, so Naomi has learnt a thing or two about what keeps employees engaged.
Her advice? It comes down to the bare essentials. When your team asks themselves these questions, their answers can help you to know which areas you should focus on as you manage them everyday.
1. Belonging – “Do I feel like I belong? Do I connect? Am I part of something bigger than myself? We all want to belong to something.” Naomi knows that when team members feel as though they belong to the business journey, they are more likely to engage themselves and get the job done, smashing expectations as they go.
2. Physical health – Naomi encourages her team to get active, whether it’s going on a walk at lunch or participating in a challenge like September, they all encourage each other to stay healthy in any way that they can.
3. Brain food – it’s always important to keep learning, but it doesn’t always have to cost a packet. Watching Ted Talks together at lunch time or simply showing a fellow a team member a new way to perform a task – whichever way you choose to go about it, make sure you and your team are always learning something, big or small.
4. Recognition – “Am I noticed? Am I recognised? Do I know what I’m here to do? Did anyone notice and do I go home feeling like a winner?” It’s one thing for your team to do a great job, but if no one encourages them and celebrates their successes, it can be easy for them to become discouraged and disengaged. Keep focusing on the wins and always keep an eye out for the great work that your team does so you can make them feel valued – “because you want your people to keep showing up over and over again and playing full out.”
At the end of the day, all of our businesses and workplaces are different, “your workplace isn’t mine – it’s yours! We all do it our way, what works for us and we align our people to that.”
The bare bones of small business
Perhaps the clearest piece of advice that Naomi gave was something that she said at her son’s year 12 dinner. She reminded them that there were three things everyone needed to get through life, whether they were going to be business owners or not. A wishbone – the dream, passion and aspirations to drive you forward; a backbone – resilience, persistence, courage and follow through; and a funny bone – “because if you’re not having a laugh, what’s the point?”
So how do you create a business that you love? One that you own and it doesn’t own you?
“It all comes from how you are as a leader. I want to remind you that your most precious resource is your time and the second most precious resource is how you recognise the people around you.”