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'This is a great time to be in business'

With the 2017 Small Business Festival Victoria underway, Suzi Dafnis shares her insights and experience, mentoring women entrepreneurs for more than 20 years

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Suzi Dafnis

28 August 2017

For the past two decades, Suzi Dafnis, through her company, HerBusiness, has been assisting women get connected, stand on their feet, start their business and thrive. This kind of experience and know-how has made her an expert in small business, hence her participation in the 2017 Small Business Festival Victoria which is currently under way. Speaking to Neos Kosmos, she's happy to share her valuable insights.

What has your experience with the Small Business Festival been so far?
What I love about the Small Business Festival is that it reaches so many small business owners all over the state and there is such a diverse range of training opportunities, no matter where in Victoria you live. And in many cases, you don't have to leave home and can attend online - which means less time spent travelling. I wish more states offered this sort of support to Australia's small businesses.

What can people learn from your webinars this year?
We love presenting webinars because they are a powerful way to learn without leaving your desk. This year, one of our key focus areas has been doing business online. One of our most popular topics is about how to be successful with email marketing. Small business owners really want to know how to use email - an inexpensive marketing strategy - more effectively, without spamming, and they want to learn how to cut through people's very busy inboxes. The training looks at how to build an ongoing, engaging and authentic connection with your audience; how to make your emails something your customers look forward to, rather than just another message clogging up the inbox; what kind of emails will get people BUYING from you … and even better, becoming your raving fans, even referring their friends and family.

They say that small businesses are the backbone of Australian society; what is your take on the health of the sector today?
Small business remains the backbone of our economy and economies all over the world. This is a great time to be in business. It's easier and cheaper than ever to get started and so many business are started with little more than a laptop and an internet connection. Business is still the best way to create wealth and to create freedom in your life. But it's not easy - you must stay committed to your business' education, always learning and staying up with business trends and finding new ways to reach clients. And it's important to surround yourself with like-minded people who are also in business - so that you can swap ideas and learn from each other. You might be in business on your own, but you don't have to do it alone. There are great networks and business organisations designed to support you in anything from how to do a business plan to how to use social media. I encourage people to take the time to take part in the festival. There is so much on offer.

What specific challenges do women in business have to cope with?
Usually, women are also balancing family duties - whether it's children or ageing parents. They are still taking on the majority of the responsibility for these areas. So, they have less time and need to be more efficient with their time. My first piece of advice is to find a mentor. A mentor can help guide you and you can learn from their experience. They can also help you fill knowledge gaps. I've personally always had Mentors, right from my early days starting my first business in a spare bedroom in my apartment. They've helped me avoid mistakes and then picked me up and helped me correct my course when I went wrong. I can't imagine how I would have achieved what I have without them. That's why I'm so passionate about Mentoring, as a way for business owners to really make a difference.

What is the role of HerBusiness in this ecosystem?
For over 21 years we have provided training and mentoring for women business owners all over the county. We offer a lot of free resources - webinars, ebooks, blog posts, podcasts - as well as more in-depth paid courses and we are even taking a group of women to Hawaii this week - so that they can get away from the day-to-day to do their business plans and to learn advanced marketing.

What have you learnt about women entrepreneurs during your long association with the sector?
We have found that the same business problems occur sometimes when you are new or experienced; they are similar but different. The important elements of success in business are: to have a clear vision of what you want to achieve; to surround yourself with the right people - teachers, mentors, staff; to stay educated and prepared for changes in the market; to invest in your personal development; to take action (not to overthink everything).

'Innovation' is one of the current buzzwords, in any conversation about growth, development and the economy, but its meaning is often elusive. What does it mean to you?
Innovation simply means to create something new. It doesn't have to do with technology and it doesn't mean that you have to create something never created before. You can innovate your product by making improvements or the way that you deliver your service, or work with customers. It can be using an old media in a new way, or using a new technology. For example, after 15 years of running in-person live seminars we stopped and moved all our trainings online. It was risky because the internet was very new - but we knew it was the way of the future. It was innovative and lead to us having an award-winning business in the area of online training. We developed blogs, podcasts, webinars, online courses - things that just didn't exist before. And it meant we could help more people, all over Australia and the world.

The main objective of any entrepreneurial activity is profit, but there are other aspects that remain either under-explored or just emerging, such as self-fulfilment, or social impact. How do you see the business culture evolving today?
Money alone won't usually sustain a true entrepreneur. But it's important to ensure you have a viable business and that you understand how business finance works. What tends to fuel ongoing commitment to business is to have a purpose larger than yourself, to use the business to make a difference to your customers, your family, and your community.

What is the most important thing that you have learned through your own experience in business?
Business is the biggest personal development journey I could have ever embarked on. What I learned early on was that the skills I had when I started weren't going to be enough. So often businesses are started by us as experts in one area - we are an architect, or a designer, or a physiotherapist - and we know how to do that really well, but we don't know how to run business, how to attract new clients, how to market our business, how to do a budget or how to hire and keep staff. Business success is a long-term thing. It doesn't often happen overnight. For us, in the first two years in business we were losing money - it was really hard. Then we got the right education and mentoring and we changed our business model - and we turned things around. Now, 21 years later I can't have imagined what a journey it would have been. I wouldn't change the ups or the downs for anything. I do what I love every day. And I have the financial freedom to live a life I love and to help many people.

How has your Greek background influenced your work?
My culture has influenced my choice of career. My dad was a builder all his life. So many of my relatives, my aunts, uncles and cousins, are hard-working small business owners. In fact I have just been in Greece visiting them - they have souvlaki shops, hair salons, they grow olives, they're electricians, joiners, they are business owners - they work hard.That can't help but rub off on me. There's so much pride in doing your own thing, creating your own future.

* The Small Business Festival runs throughout August and until Thursday 7 September at locations throughout Melbourne and Victoria. Suzi Dafnis will take part in the 'Small Business Big Ideas' festival event. For more information go to festival.business.vic.gov.au.
* Suzi Dafnis' free 'How to Succeed with Email Marketing' webinar is available here.
* HerBusiness webinar 'How I got started' is available at https://herbusiness.com/learn-item/how-i-got-started-sbfv-2017/
* HerBusiness offers a free ebook on mentoring at http://bit.ly/mentoring-ebook

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