Lyn Hawkins is the Director of Business Women Australia and has previously served as Non-Executive Director for Stirling Business Enterprise Centre, WA Business Assist and Tura New Music. Lyn is a serial entrepreneur, having started four different enterprises including a consulting business, multi-media company, a business development agency and her current venture Business Women Australia, with Co-Founder Jennifer Rose Bryant.
What lead you to Co-Found Business Women Australia, and what is its core purpose?
I personally wanted to give something back to support more women on their business and career journeys. This was the drive I had to set up a social enterprise with Jennifer as a co-founder of Business Women Australia. In it’s original format, as the state-based community that Jennifer was running, I had enjoyed supporting the group (I was in a corporate role then) and encouraged many women on our teams to get involved, learn the art of networking and meet women they would connect with.
These things are really important, but it was when I had left my executive life to establish a new business venture, I realised how lonely I was without a leadership team around me, juggling the financial and operational aspects of my practice with the pressures of client delivery and building a sales pipeline.
Women at every different levels of their working life need a tribe. We need knowledge and support. We need friends who will challenge us to step up and grow. Jennifer and I shared a vision to provide a place where business women can belong and connect, and be encouraged and equipped to achieve their goals. This is the core purpose of Business Women Australia and our model is evolving with the input and co-creation of our members. It is an exciting concept.
You’re a serial entrepreneur, having established four of your own distinct ventures. What would you recommend to other women who are considering starting their own business?
I have set up four ventures over the years, mainly due to circumstances. The first was when we moved to the country with our first baby and a new job for Simon. I had been in a high level role as a Marketing Manger for KPMG and suddenly a country mum. I set up a consulting practice and was lucky that the south west region was booming and didn’t have trouble finding quality clients.
After a few more moves we found ourselves back in Perth with four children under six (don’t ask?!). I ran a multimedia company from home that managed to capture a very healthy market share in the education space. When all the kids were in the school system I decided it was time to take on a project in the unified communications space as my business partner in the multimedia company and I were heading in different directions.
My next venture was nearly a decade on when I thought it was time again to set up a business development agency offering pop-up BDMs. This didn’t go far because I hadn’t done my due diligence with one of the shareholders and things didn’t work out. I lost a bit of money on this but learnt huge lessons.
My next venture was setting up my own consulting practice again and then I was able to be an angel investor in Business Women Australia.
So, my advice to anyone starting their own business, is to do your research and your numbers. Take rosy coloured glasses off and put them in the bin! Check that your venture will generate the revenue and income you need to thrive – and make sure that if you are going in with someone else that you have a values-match and back up funds to tap into. You must survey your market, test your concept and analyse the competition. Be sure you have prospective buyers who are willing to pay your fees, and do this investigation thoroughly by testing their appetite for various pricing models.
If you are in a steady job and thinking about making the leap to start your own business then it’s a good idea to undertake your research, map out your business plan and draw up your budget and expected financial forecasts before you cut off that stable income. Take your time to get those foundations in place first. There is a lot of support for start-ups through government small business development programs, incubators, universities and other education bodies, as well as tailored programs designed for new business owners.
As you gather your data and get a real understanding of the market potential of your idea, you will see clarity coming to light in your plan. You may find it doesn’t have the same appeal as it did when it was your initial concept. I think a lot of new businesses fail because they are hell bent on an idea that isn’t feasible, they can’t fully fund the first year of growth or don’t budget enough for human resources, establishing operational systems, marketing and business development.
How has the combination of your corporate experience and being a business owner influenced your leadership style?
The combination of my corporate and entrepreneurial experiences has influenced me to be a very flexible leader. I have learnt that one size does not fit all and every unique situation and opportunity requires it’s own creation process. In my corporate experience I was fortunate to have generous budgets and qualified teams to work with so my leadership style was shaped early to be adventurous and collaborative, incorporating the ideas and talents of others.
Leading in a company requires long-range strategic thinking, while encouraging the group to change direction if needed, making sure decisions are made with good data and processes are nimble enough to respond. I learnt how to lead with influence and have a clear voice within an executive environment.
As a business owner, the challenges are very much around cash flow management and establishing the processes that will enable you to work strategically and not get lost in day to day operations. A lean canvas is key, the right people with the skill mix you need is essential. My experience in establishing and growing my own businesses has encouraged my entrepreneurial leadership and made me very careful with budgets.
I often have to get my hands dirty to get things done, especially when we don’t have the luxury of funding others to do things. I love nothing more than bringing a group of experienced business women together and exploring new ideas and disruptive concepts. So I would say my leadership style has become very much about co-creating and being open to big ideas to solve problems.
As an experienced marketing executive, what are your suggestions for new brands who are competing for attention in a crowded marketplace?
My first piece of advice is that a new brand needs to be a better brand if it is in a quality positioning and needs to be doing something very different than what else is on offer. The alternative is being a whole lot cheaper, quicker or easier to access – new brands like this are really disrupting many traditional sectors and that strategy gets attention for sure! Selling in any crowed, noisy marketplace is all about knowing your customer better than anyone else, and delivering what they need at a price they are prepared to pay.
There are so many elements to crafting a powerful marketing strategy because it needs to be integrated in the overarching business plan. All facets of any business need to be fully focused on the customer. When new brands are competing for attention, I would suggest they identify what their unique value is and how to then connect and engage with their prospective clients. They need to inform, educate and inspire people to buy and they need to find out who influences the purchase decision.
Each brand is very different but all brands need a healthy budget for research, promotion and media spend to get attention, even if a lot of what you do is digital and based on rich content strategies.
Building a great product or designing an amazing brand with awesome service, does not mean the buyers will simply turn up. They have to know you exist. They have to try you out and then commit to spend their money.
This takes a multi-faceted tactical plan to implement and convert. I have never stopped learning and despite all my years in marketing something new is revealed every day. Overall though, don’t give up!
What has been your greatest challenge?
My greatest challenge has always been about turning off from work at the end of the day and on weekends. It is hard to be disciplined around time and to be fully present to my family and friends when there is so much going on. I am getting better at this though.
What are you most proud of?
I am most proud of my family. My husband and four children are my “reason for being” and I feel grateful every day that I have these amazing, loving, supportive people in my life.
What’s one piece of advice for future female leaders?
Chase your dreams because you can achieve whatever you set your mind to.