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Leading entrepreneurs share the best business advice they ever received

Thursday, 10 October 2013 | By Patrick Stafford

A huge part of being a business owner is listening to others. Whether it’s good advice or bad, no one can do it on their own.

 

Great entrepreneurs have great mentors. They pick up tips along the way to make sure they don’t fall onto the wrong path. One of the first lessons a new business owner might receive is to find a mentor – and quick.

 

So we’ve taken some of the hard work out of that equation. SmartCompany contacted some of the best and brightest entrepreneurs in the country to find out the best pieces of business advice they’ve received.

 

Pay attention – you might just learn something.

 

1. Michael Fox – Keep focused on one core product

 

The co-founder of one of Australia’s most successful tech start-ups, Michael Fox has gone from strength to strength with Shoes of Prey. The company has even signed a deal with David Jones to have dedicated booths in stores.

 

His favourite piece of advice came from investors Mike Cannon-Brookes, (of Atlassian), and David Cunningham: “Keep focused on the one core product; don’t try to do more until you’ve nailed that.”


Plenty of entrepreneurs, such as Steve Jobs, have made their name on simplicity. Fox says success for him comes in the same vein.

 

“The few times we've been tempted to not follow that advice we've quickly realised our mistake.

 

“It's kept us on the path of staying focused on women's shoes only at Shoes of Prey and structuring Shoes of Prey and Sneaking Duck so they have two entirely separate teams.”

 

2. Dean Taylor – Always have a back-up plan

 

The online wine selling market is booming, and Dean Taylor is enjoying the ride. His business Cracka Wines is enjoying significant growth.

 

His favourite piece of advice is a crucial one for business owners, who always need to be prepared with a back-up plan.

 

“Never walk into a room that you can't walk out of,” he says.

 

“The person who said it to me was Brett Chenoweth, an old friend and the former CEO of APN. He swears by it,” he says.

 

“While you can easily apply the philosophy to much of life, it's primary relevance for me in business is in commercial negotiations. It's very easy to invest a lot of time and effort into an idea, deal or business opportunity, become emotionally attached and end up accepting unfavourable terms.

 

“Being prepared to walk away at any time might seem harsh, but it’s a heap better than finding yourself stuck in a role, partnership or deal that you later regret.”

 

3. Mick Liubinskas – Run the numbers

 

When Pollenizer founder Mick Liubinskas enjoyed a short stint at IBM, he met a friend – Kurt Bilderback – who told him to “always run the numbers”.

 

“Mick, you've got to run the numbers. Always. Not to get answers, but to know what the questions should be.”

 

It’s turned out to be a useful piece of advice – documenting your thought process can often lead to better ideas.

 

“Since then I've always done fast napkin testing with spreadsheets. I must have more than 5000. Some are worth millions. Most are worth nothing. But the process of thinking it through has been priceless.”

 

4. Gabby Leibovich – The difference between success and failure

 

When contacted by SmartCompany, Leibovich said his favourite piece of advice was actually something he received just a couple of weeks ago from retail entrepreneur Joe Segal:

 

"The problem with people is not that they aim too high and fail, but that they aim too low and succeed.”


“I absolutely love this quote, most people actually accept the current mediocrity in their life or in their business, while not realising that if you just push a little bit further what you currently perceive as the best outcome, can just keep on improving. Don't stop dreaming.”

 

5. Gary Ng – Get rid of the rules

 

Ng runs E-Web Marketing, a digital agency which has won several BRW “Best Place to Work” awards. His favourite piece of advice was provided to him by his mentor, Anthony Robbins:

 

“The more rules you have about how people have to be, how life has to be for you to be happy, the less happy you’re going to be.”


It’s no surprise this is Ng’s favourite piece of advice – his company eschews managers in favour of letting small teams work on their own projects.

 

6. Bruce Billson – Get to work

 

The nation’s Small Business Minister may not be an entrepreneur anymore, but he has had plenty of experience in running a company – he and his wife ran a shop on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula before he entered politics.

 

His favourite piece of advice actually comes from Jason Gehrke, franchising expert and SmartCompany blogger:

 

“For every $1000 you plan to invest in your business spend an hour of due diligence, planning and working out how you can profitably engage your customers.”


It might sound like a lot of work – but it’s worth the effort.

 

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7. Dave Slutzkin – Listen to your customers

 

The head of website marketplace Flippa has heard plenty of advice in his day, but his favourite is a mantra for good customer service – although he can’t quite remember who told him the proverb.

 

“Customers have your best ideas,” he says.

 

“Both 99designs and Flippa came about largely when we started focusing on what our users were already doing on the SitePoint Forums way back when, and there's obviously been a huge amount of success since.

 

“Since then we're always concentrating on what our large user base is doing, because if we can make their lives easier with a new product then we can probably sell that to others in the world.”

 

8. John Winning – Control the supply chain

 

The head of Appliances Online has been in business since he was young, with his father teaching him the ways of retail. But Winning’s favourite piece of business advice actually comes from his grandfather:

 

“You can't control what you sell something for; all you can control is what you buy something for.


“The market controls the sell price, so the only thing you can control is the supplier relationship and this will help you remain competitive."


Appliances Online has raised eyebrows for selling at such low costs and with free delivery. But based on the company’s $300 million in sales, it seems this piece of advice is doing Winning and his family very well indeed.

 

9. Andre Eikmeier – Be careful what you spend money on

 

Eikmeier and his trio of co-founders at Vinomofo have been enjoying a busy year after buying back their online wine business from Catch of the Day. His favourite piece of advice comes from his “biggest inspiration”, entrepreneur Seth Godin.

 

“Don't spend your resources on ‘customer acquisition’,” he says.

 

“Invest in your product; get your product so right that people love it so much they have to tell their friends about it. It's simple, but profoundly game-changing. It's real, and it's sustainable, and it keeps your efforts focused on what really matters.

 

10. Tristan White – Don’t try to do too much at once

 

Tristan White has built his aged healthcare business The Physio Co from nothing to a powerhouse with millions in revenue, double-digit growth every year and awards as one of Australia’s best places to work.

 

His best piece of advice comes from George Nadaff, the founder of the American fast food chain Boston Market: “You can’t sit on two toilets.”


George is adamant entrepreneurs should focus on growing just one business at a time,” says White. “Not trying to 'sit on two toilets' or run two businesses. George speaks from experience having grown and exited fast food franchises multiple times in the last 40 years.”

 

11. Naomi Simson – It’s in your control

 

The head of ‘experiences’ retailer RedBalloon, Simson has steered the company into huge success. Her favourite piece of advice harks back to 10 years ago – when the business was just a fraction of the size it is now. The proverb came from a colleague who attended a presentation.

 

“If it’s meant to be, it’s up to me,” she says.

 

“It is really easy to blame other people for how life is. Have you ever blamed the ‘traffic’ for being late to work? There is so much freedom when you learn to accept that you just did not leave home early enough.

 

“To me this does not mean that I have to do all the work. In fact, what a bad leader I would be if I toiled 20 hours a day. What it means to me is that I am accountable, and I can live in a world without blame.”

 

12. Jacqueline Arias – Your products aren’t special

 

The founder of Republica Coffee has built her empire on sustainable, free trade products. Her favourite piece of advice comes from Carolyn Cresswell, who founded Carman’s – one of Australia’s other food-based success stories.

 

"Stop believing that your products are special, and start playing the very best game you can play."


“This single statement fundamentally shifted my thinking about my business. I love everything about Republica, the ethics, the taste, the look, etc. But in order to grow the business I needed to take out my emotional attachment to the 'baby' I had created, and see it for what it is, a coffee product that competes on supermarket shelves.”

 

13. Dean Ramler – Details matter

 

Dean Ramler has built his online furniture business, Milan Direct, into a profitable empire, with significant growth ahead. His best piece of advice comes from his grandfather, who also worked in the furniture trade.

 

“There is no such thing as a detail too minor!”


“My grandfather taught me this invaluable lesson as he used to walk me around his furniture factory, and I would shadow him whilst he was speaking to and training his staff on all the smallest and finest details to improve their area of work.”

 

“At the time I thought he was fussing over some very minor details, but the lesson he was teaching me (and that he lived by) was that business is all about paying attention to the million little details that comprise the business.”

 

This story first appeared on SmartCompany.

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