Starting a new business


Advice from the people who’ve done it!

If you’ve taken the plunge this year and started your new business – or you’re thinking about it – then you might be overwhelmed by all the things you have to do and all the advice that gets thrown your way.

While there are lots of well-meaning people out there, many of them simply don’t understand the challenges of running a business because they’ve never actually done it.

Or perhaps you’ve found an article from an organisation like Forbes and the advice is just way too American or way too big for you as a sole trader. I get it. I’ve read them all and taken not much from any of them.

So here’s a local alternative: tips for starting a new business from people who’ve actually done it here.

But this isn’t just some ordinary list put together by American CEOs who trip over the zeroes in their salary.

These are Territorians – and people who work with Territorians – with a wide range of experiences. These are people running businesses right now in all different configurations. Some of them are running a single business in its early stages. Some have run a number of businesses and have even done the dreaded rebrand.

There’s a heap of nuggets of goodness in here. Take what you need and share this with anyone you think it might help.

In no particular order, here are the best business tips for all you Territorians wanting to start a new business!

Dante St James – digital marketing guru – founder of Clickstarter and the Head of Digital at Treeti and the smooth radio voice of the Clickstarter podcast for regional and remote businesses – has some brilliant advice for those of you in the early stages:

My best advice for those wishing to start a new business in 2020, is around mental preparation for what you want this business to do. I am not talking about dreams, hopes and all that “you go girl/bro” rah-rah stuff. I’m talking about a real idea about what exactly you are building a business to do.

Whilst it’s tempting to fall back on the Great Entrepreneurial Dream of “Doing what I love” the reality is that few businesses ever succeed that were built around some personal love of that business.

So, what exactly do you wish to do with your business? Is it a passion project for life? A money-maker to sell and retire from? A play towards building an empire for future generations? Or is your business all about achieving a community, or global effect?

Each of these businesses require very different input and vastly different paths based on what you are setting out to achieve. What methods you follow, gurus you listen to, and even business structures you take on, hinge around what your desired outcome is. Decide what the end game is of your business first. Then get to work building it.

Dante St James, Digital Guru

This is great advice and something many of us starting business don’t do very well. We get the great idea and get started but don’t take the time to think about what our actual business goals are.

Next up is Jess Cussen from Jess Cussen Graphic Design. Jess is an absolute gun at taking the ordinary and turning it into something beautiful that you want to read. Her tips are simple:

Put EVERYTHING in email. If you have a phone conversation or a meeting face-to-face, do a follow up about the conversation in email. It can save you if things go sour!

Also make sure you have clear and concise terms and conditions and signed contracts set in place.

Jess Cussen, Creative Designer

Jess is right! Getting your own processes in place will not only save you time and make you look more professional but it will protect you. Not everything is always going to go to plan so you need to be prepared for it.

You can buy ready-made templates for terms and conditions and work contracts online or get in touch with a local lawyer to help you.

Eva Pettifor from Darwin Web Design has been in business for more than 15 years and has seen it all. Here are her best tips:

Don’t let fear paralyse you – just START now and believe in your offering. It doesn’t have to be perfect, you’ll always be evolving with your website, pricing, processes. Even after 15+ years I’m still changing the way I do things as business and technology evolve. It also keeps things fun!

Don’t skimp on branding – get a nice simple yet professional logo and be consistent with your brand and colours across ALL of your marketing – don’t do your logo in Microsoft Word or use tacky clip art images. Invest in a graphic designer as early on as possible.

Check trademarks! I thought of a name I loved, registered it and got the domain name – then found it was trademarked so that was a waste of time and money. Luckily I did this before launching the business!

A cheap DIY website is okay for a start-up – BUT don’t try to do too much to the design or you will wreck it and it will look like it was done by a kid. Less is more. There is heaps of free info about SEO and Google but don’t expect results overnight, you can also promote your business offline. 

Collaborate with others for the things you aren’t good at or don’t like doing, don’t try and do it all yourself, you’ll only burn out and you’ll end up turning away work (or your quality will suffer) because you can’t handle it all.  

Take time out, you can get obsessed with your business and it’s easy to become a workaholic – but the best ideas and problem solving come when you’re outside in the fresh air or at the gym!  

Don’t EVER diss your competitors, it’s unprofessional and only makes you look desperate. Don’t get hung up on what they’re doing (being aware is okay but don’t copy them), accept there will always be competitors and that is healthy. Concentrate on your point of difference and soldier on.

Eva Pettifor, Website Wonder

I couldn’t agree more with not dissing your competitors. You can vent to friends if you need to but spending all your energy whinging and bad-mouthing your competitors is just a waste of your energy. Focus on what you’re doing and how you’re different. There is enough work to go around.

Claire Bell is the Director of Associated Advertising and Promotions, a boutique events management and communications agency that has been operating since 1999. That’s 20 years of experience here in the Territory.

In true Claire style, she’s kept her advice to the point!

My advice is keep it simple, so in ten words: Find your point of difference and always maintain high standards.

Claire Bell, Communications Queen

Maintaining your standards is really important particularly if your clients are referring you to other people. Giving one customer a great product or service and another a 50% effort job is going to cost you in the long run. Set your standards high and wow your customers every time.

Jackie McRae is the Director of Copy Cred, a newly established PR and communications company rebranded and refocused from the former Outshine PR. Copy Cred operates across the country and has some pretty great people on their books. (HINT HINT)

Jackie has done the rebrand thing and lived to tell the tale. Her advice is:

My big tip is to understand marketing – your target market, your key messages and the 1-2 major calls to action you want people to take. 

Why? Because no matter what’s happening operationally, you need to keep communicating. 

Jackie McRae, PR Prodigy

Marketing is so important, especially to a new business, but it’s something that even the biggest companies in the world do consistently. Coca Cola, McDonalds and Apple all advertise despite being mega corporations with brand recognition across the planet.

No matter what your budget is, figure out who your target market is (HINT: It’s not everybody), how you solve their problem and where you can find them. Market to them consistently.

So you’ve heard from the others. What are my best tips?


Build a network of like-minded business owners who you can chat to freely about the ups and downs of business and brainstorm solutions to problems. It doesn’t have to be a 50 person event – sharing lunch with one or two people is enough to get you away from your desk and get you thinking about your business from a different perspective.

Don’t be afraid to seek outside help. Whether that’s a business coach, someone to teach you about social media, or a bookkeeper to do your money stuff, it is worth the investment. Your time is better spent doing what you’re good at.

And make sure you find out what subsidised or free programs you are eligible to access when setting up and running your business. There are heaps! Check out ASBAS for starters!

You don’t need the best of everything straight away. My first business cards were self-designed and printed by Vistaprint. They were hot garbage but they did the job. When you can, invest in the good stuff but don’t feel like you have to have to spend your precious start-up funds on stuff or fancy programs straight away. Make do!

Nyree Slatter, Chief Wordsmith

So there you have it; business tips from people who’ve done it and have been every shade of scared, anxious, hopeful and everything in between.

Starting a business is hard. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s easy. It’s not, but it’s worth it.

The most important thing you can be is brave. Try things. Be prepared to stumble but then pick yourself up and keep trying. Meet people. Feel every butterfly and get it done.

Be scared and do it anyway. 

Now go forth and conquer!

What’s your best business tip? Let me know in the comments below!
Endless gratitude to Dante, Jess, Eva, Claire and Jackie for being so frank and generous in offering their tips!

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