SME spotlight: Leona Watson

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Cheeky Food Group specialises in team building activities across Australia and New Zealand. Founder and managing director, Leona Watson, shares insights into her growth journey.

My approach to business planning is…

“Get clear on where you want to be in two years. Any longer is too far out. Then chunk it back.”

The big lessons I have learnt about business on the job are…

  • “Passion and inspiration is one thing. Implementation is everything.
  • “As a business owner, if you’re in a down mood, don’t bring it to the office, as that feeling spreads like wildfire. You literally bring the entire office down. You’re best off working at home for or go for a walk. Or if you need to go in, make sure you stop, smile and fake it when you walk in! Whether you like it or not, business owners set the mood… so set the one you know works!
  • “Don’t expect everyone to be as quick, committed, or as ‘on it’ as you. By all means hope… but never expect. 
  • “When you have whingey staff, get them out quick smart. Smaller businesses don’t have the luxury to turn people around.
  • “When you have great staff, make sure they know it. What you appreciate… appreciates!”

My thoughts on networking are…

“Mixed. Networking is one thing.  Building relationships is another. I only really do business with people I like, so to me it’s about relationships.”

The biggest influences in my business life have been…

  • “Definitely Entrepreneurs’ Organization. And the kick arse, no nonsense attitude of [Canadian entrepreneur, business writer and coach] Cameron Herold.
  • NLP [Neuro-linguistic programming] training.
  • Self-language sets you up to fail or be a success. It all starts with YOU.
  • Being a mentor with Australian Businesswomen’s Network. There I was supposed to be helping new business owners, but it was one big reminder to myself about what I hadn’t done! A great learning.”

My work-life balance over the time I was building my business was…

“Absolutely shocking in the beginning. What balance! Now it’s much more ‘real’. I exercise more, take more holidays, hang out with people I love and have way more connections outside my business world than I ever had before. There was one point where the balance really tipped and I nearly lost my business. A horrible lesson to learn for everyone involved.”

Advice I would give to young up and comers is…

  • “Learn how to do ‘what ifs’ on a spreadsheet. Cash flow is king in the first two to three years and if you don’t know how to quickly realise if you’re 10% up, or 20% down on sales, what the impact is….you’ll be out of action too quick.
  • Keep a part time job if you can. If you have some cash coming in, you’ll make business decisions based on good strategy – not fear of money.
  • Get out and PR yourself – it can have such a positive effect on your business and make you seem more solid and credible to your prospects! Costs nothing either.
  • If you’re not prepared to do the hours…don’t do it.
  • Don’t whinge. You attract more whingers into your space and they keep you down.
  • Say thank you a lot and appreciate what you have, rather than what you don’t. A massive mental shift, and so easy to forget when everything is going crazy.”

Something I wish I knew when I first started my business journey was…

“All of the above! I knew zilch! Would I have listened though? Probably not!”

My most successful marketing activity has been…

“Public relations in the first five years. Front page of the Australian Financial Review, magazines covers, Switzer News and Qantas Inflight, etc. It really helped launch Cheeky.”

I see my business in the near future

“Going through a re-growth, rebrand and refresh. It is 13 years old now and hitting it’s teenage hormone-crazy years. Watch out!”

On recruiting good staff I…

“Always get them to leave a voice message and say why I should interview them and why they’re interested in the job. Never send a resume. If they don’t sound positive and confident on the phone they simply won’t cut it. It costs me $8 a month to have the message bank system and saves me hours in going through resumes that tell me nothing about an applicant’s personality. Thanks to David Carlin from Action Coaching for sharing this idea with me!”

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