Tell us a little bit about your background and how you came to be in Coffs Harbour?
I grew up in rural NSW. After completing high school, I went to university in Armidale, where I completed my degree. I worked in Hobart for a number of years, and I established my first business in management consulting. As my business grew, I expanded services Australia wide and moved back to the mainland.
My family chose to live in Coffs Harbour because of its location; we wanted to live near the ocean, and it was well serviced by a new airport. My wife grew up in Sawtell, so it was a familiar place. Coffs also offered everything a growing family needed: good services, health care and education. It was a lifestyle choice, and we have never looked back.
Your business, PrincipleFocus is a full-service business consultancy provider. What does this entail?
We aim to be the trusted mentor /advisor to our clients. Business owners are required to juggle so many balls at once: finance, marketing, people, strategy, and still attend to today’s crisis! They are regularly challenged by very complex problems that often they haven’t experienced before, or lack confidence in solving. My role is to be their dependable 2IC, the wingman if you like, that a business owner or CEO can trust to give great advice and guidance in overcoming these challenges, because I deal with them every single day and have been doing so for 20 years.
Sean, you have had quite a diverse history, providing advice to a variety of different kinds of businesses. What are some of the types of clients you provide advice to?
I started out advising family run farms and agribusiness and over the years, this has evolved and expanded to include family owned businesses in all sectors.
My skills and expertise is in business management, and all small business runs on some critical fundamentals; get those wrong, and it doesn’t matter how good a tinker, tailor or baker you are. I do some corporate work, but I much prefer family business, because of the connection and passion people have to what they do.
I now advise businesses and corporations in a number of fields, including manufacturing, retail, construction, hospitality, mining, finance and investment, publishing and education. These businesses are structured differently from owner-operators, franchises to employed CEOs. I also work with all levels of business, from the board of directors through to divisional managers and the teams on the ground.
I am an active small business investor. I have passively owned stakes in many businesses over the years, often alongside clients. I currently have ownership stakes in five businesses. This is where I get to walk the talk; before my advice is applied to clients, I’ve tested it in my own businesses.
This professional services sector has seen a big shift in the balance between working at the office versus working virtually (from home). How has this impacted your business and how you service your clients?
I was a ‘virtual’ business before I knew that’s what it was actually called!
From a small office in Coffs Harbour with an internet connection, we built a network of over 50 staff, including 30 senior advisers across Australia.
I have worked with clients in every state and also in Africa, the US and South America and recently, Canada. Today, all that’s required is a laptop, a Skype account and a frequent flyer number to run a processional services business worldwide.
This shift has been a great thing for business; the myriad of tools to make working remote has definitely helped my team and my clients get more of a balance between work and lifestyle.
You have quite an established practice nationally and you are now focusing on the local market. What have been some of the challenges you face in establishing your practice in Coffs Harbour?
Like all businesses establishing themselves in a new market, the challenge lies in getting your message out to potential clients. I have been located in Coffs Harbour for over 10 years, but only recently have we focused on Mid North Coast businesses, because I would prefer not to travel as much.
Professional services is about reputation and track record, and we are not well known in the region – yet. So, initially we have a marketing challenge; hopefully, local business owners will see more of us in the press and at business networking events.
One of our next endeavours will be launched in Coffs Coast FOCUS, where I will be providing a bi-monthly business column which aims to motivate and challenge local businesses to improve their business practices and management.
Where do you draw inspiration from to continue to grow and develop your business?
I am passionate about business success and helping business owners create balance in their business and personal lives. I read widely, and I focus a significant amount of time on professional development and training. I was in Fiji training in July and doing the same in Sydney last week. I am a member of a number of consultant/coaching networks, and I also have my own mentors that I use as a sounding board. However, the number one place for motivation and new ideas come from clients; they are like a big research and development division.
What was the best piece of business advice you ever received?
Walk the talk. To maintain professional integrity, my team and I must practice what we preach in our own business and professional life.
In any business, trust is your most precious asset. It’s not recorded on your balance sheet, but if it’s ever lost, all other assets can disappear from it.
If your staff, customers and suppliers trust you, things will happen faster, more efficiently and more profitably than your competitors. Trust is the ultimate competitive advantage!
Leadership provides a key role in your business and how you execute your advice to clients. Just how important is strong leadership in a successful business?
Leadership is helping people achieve a goal they would not accomplish without you. It is simply taking people somewhere they otherwise would not have gone. Managing a business is important; however, leading a business is what makes it the best in its chosen field.
I don’t think that leadership needs to be strong – that’s an old military paradigm. The greatest leaders are almost transparent; they don’t hog the limelight and are even sometimes quite introverted, but you see evidence of their influence everywhere.
At PrincipleFocus, one of our company values is ‘we aim for world’s best practice, delivering life-changing experiences for clients and staff’. Therefore, we focus on building leadership skills and qualities in all areas of our work. I coach all our senior staff on leadership, and these skills are then passed onto our clients though the delivery of our services.
Your aim is to give your clients a leading edge over their competitors – what do you believe should be the top 3 key focuses of a business owner or manager?
In any business, there are three things that must be right, and a fourth that you just can’t survive without.
The first is recruit the right people, then ensure they are doing the right things, the right way, at the right time (this is where businesses can learn from the franchising sector).
The second is having the right strategy; if your map is wrong, you are lost from the start (this is where business can learn from the military).
And the third is execution; many business owners think correctly, they even plan correctly, but they just never actually implement what they know needs to be done.
Then finally there is cash flow; that’s the oxygen of business. You can get by with the wrong people, you can survive with poor strategy, and procrastination isn’t terminal … however, run out of cash – and it’s all over, red rover!
I love helping managers love their numbers (and all my clients do) and understand how to keep cash in their business
Thank you Sean.
This story was published in issue 25 of the Coffs Coast Focus