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Year in review: Australian small businesses share their top learnings from FY21

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Angus Capel

Jun 24, 2021

Navigating in the wake of COVID-19 has been no easy feat for Australia’s small businesses. But as we look towards a fresh start in the new financial year, there are silver linings to be found. In this series, we speak to self-employed business owners about what they’ve learnt from the year that was, and how they predict these lessons will help them succeed in FY22. 

Sharon Winsor, Indigiearth, Mudgee NSW 

Growing up, I spent a lot of time in nature, collecting bush fruits and catching yabbies. Since then, my love of the land and its native foods has become a way to connect with my Aboriginal heritage. And it’s what led me to work in the culinary industry, using my knowledge of native ingredients in catering.

In 2012, I launched my business Indigiearth, sourcing native Australian products from Aboriginal communities who use traditional land management practices. Being able to showcase and share culture through sustainably sourced food is something I’m incredibly passionate about. What’s more, it ties me to spirituality, language and Dreaming. 

What I learned in FY21

The past twelve months have been a wild ride. But amidst the challenge of running a business through a global pandemic, I’ve learnt to think quickly, adapt my skills, and embrace new opportunities. Last year forced many small business owners to realise that there’s no rule book on how to survive. As a result, we’ve all started to think differently and rely on our instincts. 

My advice for other small business owners

Over the years, I’ve been told countless times that my business wouldn’t succeed. So I had to back myself when no one else would. Now, I speak to a lot of women who are in the same position that I was, and my advice is always the same: find a fire in your belly. If you can learn to tap into your determination, I believe you can succeed at anything. Use it to fuel your business, and trust that you’re on the right path. 

Behnam Nazifi, Blind Barberhood, Geelong VIC

I’ve been a barber by trade for just over a decade, working on Victoria’s Surf Coast for the latter half of that time. I’ve always dreamt of going out on my own, but it wasn’t until late 2019 that I started to put the wheels in motion. Then, the pandemic hit. It was an uncertain time for so many small businesses, however, salons in regional Victoria were lucky enough to stay open under stage three restrictions. So I pushed ahead with my plan. By August 2020, I’d finally found the perfect neighbourhood and shopfront to set up my business, Blind Barberhood

What I learned in FY21

In my first year as a small business owner, I’ve learned that it’s impossible to do everything by yourself – even as a sole trader. That’s why my advisor’s support has been invaluable. Since the beginning, the team at McHenry Partners have taken care of my finances, and I’ve gained a thorough understanding of where I can reinvest savings. As a result, I hired my first employee a couple of months ago, and I’m hoping to add another member to the team later this year. 

My advice for other small business owners

As well as having the support of a professional advisor, I think it’s important to hear feedback from others about what your business is doing well and where it could improve. Those opinions – from other entrepreneurs, team members, customers, or locals in your neighbourhood – can sometimes be hard to come across as a small business owner. But they help you understand where there are opportunities to learn and grow, which we should all be thinking about in the new financial year. 

James Tonkin, Tonkin Group, Albury NSW 

Albury Wodonga is a unique part of Australia where the Victorian and New South Wales border meet.  It’s also where my parents started a plumbing business, Tonkin Group, back in the eighties. Fast-forward to today, and what started as a micro family business in Albury now offers complete plumbing and refrigeration services to customers everywhere in regional New South Wales and Victoria. We’ve grown to a team of 50 employees and I’m proud that our family values have held strong over the past 40 years. 

What I learned in FY21

The pandemic has transformed the world as we know it. Once lockdown restrictions eased, it prompted a genuine sense of gratitude and appreciation for good health in my work and home life. I realised that mindset shift in our employees too. As a family, team and community, we’ve learnt to slow down, reflect and – most importantly – count our blessings. 

My advice for other small business owners

Embracing change is all about putting flexibility into practice. In the early days of the pandemic, our team was forced to make agile decisions based on our customer’s changing needs. And nearly 18 months later, it’s a skill that we’re still relying on. 

For any small business owner out there, I’d encourage you to step outside of your comfort zone. Pandemic or not, small businesses that think differently and adapt are often the most successful – so always expect the unexpected. 

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