What I wish I knew before I started

Larissa Ham asks successful business operators for tips on getting off on the right foot.

Larissa Ham asks successful business operators for tips on getting off on the right foot.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing - both in life and in business. If only you knew the mistakes you were likely to make before you wasted time and money making them.

We asked a successful illustrator, two entrepreneur mates and a young franchising go-getter what they'd do differently if they had their time again.

Learn to plan for the next job. Illustrator, artist and children's author Elise Hurst has worked on more than 50 books, but when she started in 1996 job offers weren't exactly flooding in. "My first few jobs were accompanied by a constant mixture of elation and terror," Hurst says. "I was so busy finding out if I could actually do what I'd promised that I wasn't even thinking of the next job. When the job finally finished, I was in a panic to suddenly find the next source of income."

Be yourself. Many people follow a certain career path because we love it and believe we can do something special, Hurst says. But while learning from others can be valuable, she warns against simply replicating your competitors. "There's a good chance they're doing it better," Hurst says.

Enjoy the journey. "It sounds kind of twee but when you run your own business, especially if you are converting a passion into a job, you're not usually charging towards some end goal," Hurst says. She warns that it's easy to forget that just doing the job, "in all its alternating glory and mediocrity", is the goal. "I have finally learnt to allow myself time to explore aspects of my work for fun without always having a dollar value," she says.

Get professional help. Scott Bradley was 23 in 2009 when he started frozen-yoghurt business Yo-get-it with mate Sean Towner, aided by $70,000 Bradley won on the TV show Deal or No Deal. They now have four company-owned stores and two other kiosk shops in Melbourne. (Towner still has a stake in the business but is no longer involved day-to-day.) With such rapid growth, Bradley says obtaining professional help - from architects to consultants - has been essential.

Prepare for peaks and troughs. "Just because one day you make 200 per cent of your budget doesn't mean you will do the same the next day," Bradley says. "Plan for this and make sure you can sustain falls in sales." Similarly, he suggests always overestimating costs and underestimating sales.

Don't cut corners. When Yo-get-it changed to a cheaper yoghurt supplier in the early days, believing the quality was the same, it backfired. In just a few days, sales were dropping off and Bradley and his team were puzzled - until customers started complaining about the flavour. They immediately set about creating their own recipe to guarantee quality and vowed never again to compromise on quality.

Spend money to make money. Don't be afraid to give away some of your products, or offer generous discounts, Bradley says. "Get people hearing about you and trying your product ... they will enjoy it and be back as a paying customer."

Have more confidence in your instinctive decision making. "When you're starting with a new idea, you generally have stacks of enthusiasm and ideas and energy," say Dave Roper and Will Miller, the mates behind bag business Crumpler. "Everything's 'Yeah, yeah, yeah, let's do this, let's make that, let's open here, we're gonna be huge.' However, not everything always works as planned and a few setbacks can dent your confidence." Once reality hits and money's harder to find, it becomes more important to stick to the foundation of your idea. "Most of the time you just instinctively know what needs to be done," they say. "Stick to it."

Be a little less stubborn. "This may sound contradictory to what we just said before but once the foundation and clear direction is solid, it's important to share ideas and be open to doing things differently," the Crumpler pair say.

Kick back and enjoy a nice glass of wine more often. "Taking everything seriously is a pain and stressful in itself," Roper says. "Sure, work hard and respectfully, but, my god, you have to draw the line on all the frowning and figures somewhere. Relax - you only live once."

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