Pregnant during the GFC: What better time to start a new business?
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After ten years in my family business, I desperately wanted to do something on my own.
Although I started my career as a lawyer, my father was a prominent Sydney car dealer and motorsport personality. Working with him within my family business had given me a fairly unique background in the automotive industry. I had helped with all of our legal and HR issues and also worked alongside several manufacturers and industry advisors. In 2005, I was appointed dealer principal of our Porsche Dealership, Porsche Centre Sydney South, which we went on to sell in 2008.
After that sale, I decided it was time to start my own business. Looking back I was five months pregnant with my third child, the GFC was looming and the outlook wasn't great for the automotive industry – one could say that this was not the ideal time for me to be changing my life so dramatically. Not only was the pregnancy a challenge but the fact that I had no experience in the recruitment industry made it all the more risky for me to start the business.
But I saw a gap in the market for a recruitment agency that understood the automotive industry, and the type of people leading manufacturers and dealers need to employ to stay competitive. The automotive sector is huge but very few people really understand and appreciate the career options it can offer.
Career Driven was funded by personal savings. I didn't borrow any money and made a promise to myself that if I couldn't make it work in 12 months I would walk away. I think it is a real privilege to be able to start a new business and I was lucky to have a supportive husband who cut back his hours at work and helped me by picking up the kids.
Despite those tough times, Career Driven now employs seven people and is now growing 100 per cent year on year.
It hasn't been easy. Making the first calls was especially tough. I sat in my little office staring at my second hand commander phone system trying to build up the courage to start. I think there were mixed reactions to the fact I had gone from being the dealer principal of the biggest Porsche centre in the Southern Hemisphere to cold calling on behalf of my new recruitment agency. I knew I had to work hard to position Career Driven as better than and different to our competitors if I had any hope of maintaining my credibility within the industry.
So what have I learnt along the way?
- Don't undersell your services. When Career Driven opened for business, I wanted to start conservatively with small clients and low fees. But I soon found out that it doesn't pay to be cheap, as I was refused work by a potential client because my rates were too low.
- Make yourself stand out. I believe a large measure of career success is the ability to differentiate yourself. I was lucky enough to have some contacts within the auto industry but that didn't make it any easier to make cold calls to sell my services. I had to work hard to position Career Driven as better than and different to our competitors. My advice is don't waste any time in doing this – be proactive.
- Use your community as support. If you are going to juggle family and business, it is important to stay active with your friends, family and community. Be there for others and they will be there for you when things get crazy.
- Make an improvement every day. This was a throwaway piece of advice given to me when I first started my business but it is a rule that I live by. When you are in business, you have to keep moving forward step by step, the minute you stop making decisions and improvements you go backwards.
- Be tenacious. I had so much going against me when I started Career Driven, but I had to keep chipping away, savouring every little win and learning from each mistake.