19 years of business and the lessons I have learnt!

Many people dream of starting their own business… but not everyone attempts to make that dream a reality. It is (understandably) daunting to take the personal and financial risk of setting up on your own or bringing that great idea you have been nurturing into fruition.

When I started Dawtek 19 years ago, I wasn’t thinking about this far ahead, or how long I would be in business. I was only thinking short term. Is that a failure? Many might say that not having a business plan is a failure, but I have to disagree! So today, I wanted to talk about some of the lessons I’ve learnt in my 19 years of business.

Back in 2001, working as a consultant or going out on your own was not as popular as it is today. The tools and the systems we have available to use now are wonderful, and if only I had them back then my life would have been a bit easier.

Although it may seem like a bad omen to think too much about the possibility of your business failing, knowing why small businesses fail can be useful information to have when starting out.  This way you can learn from other peoples mistakes and hopefully build your own successful business.

I didn’t have access to a lot of the tools and information we have today, so I sat down with my father, a very wise and wonderful man and told him my plans. Dad was, and is, so supportive of all my ideas and dreams and he’s always told me to reach for the stars.

So over a few glasses of red wine, we made some big business decisions.

What am I going to call myself and how am I going to do it?

Today, I still get so many questions about my weird business name. Dawtek Risin Pty Ltd is an anagram of Kristine Daw. Daw-tek was about me being a technical writing firm and Risin was up and coming.  Ingenious, right?

I remember the day I got my Pty Ltd certificate and I was so proud of even just taking this small step.

The first thing I did was register in the Yellow Pages and then I developed myself a website.  That should be it, right? Customers will come flooding in…

And they did, but let’s call it a trickle.

For the first few weeks, there was a lot of daytime TV in my PJs. And then I remember thinking, I must make some money. From very early on I’d learnt to be very disciplined about my work. I mean, I had just bought a house and had a mortgage to pay – so I had to work.

I remember my very first client – John – who had a transport and logistic business in Essendon. I was on my way! I put my heart and soul into his project and it resulted in a new contract for his company. I continued to work with John until he retired a couple of years ago. To this day, I still value each and every one of my clients.

Back then, I was reactive to my clients and the services I delivered. I didn’t have a business plan and certainly didn’t have a marketing plan. Fast forward to 19 years later and my business is very different.

Dawtek has changed considerably. I went through the stage where it was all about market domination – and I had six staff, an office etc. But guess what? I wasn’t doing the work. I was managing everything, and that was not me.

I missed writing tenders (I know… crazy, right?).

So after I had Max (over six years ago), my business focus again changed. And now, after 19 years in business, I am back where I started: working solo and from home.

And do you know what? I could not be happier.

Some of the key things I have learnt along the way aren’t in the typical list of – set up a website, have a business coach, and so on.

But these are the ones that I realised are important to me.

Business Names

Pick a business name that encompasses what you do – and one that is easy to remember. I have moved away from Dawtek Risin to just Dawtek, which is easier to remember.  If I knew then what I know now, I would have gone with Kristine Daw or something specific around tenders. But with 19 years under my belt, Dawtek has an established reputation and so changing my business name would not be beneficial.

Social Media

Think about social media (now this is a hard one for me!). 19 years ago, there was no Facebook or Instagram or even LinkedIn. I have set those accounts up since starting my business. But if I was doing this now, I would look for a business name that is representative of me and what I do (also one that’s easy to spell or remember) and ensure it can be easily transferred across to social media platforms. You don’t want to end up having several different names out there – it will make it confusing for your potential clients.

Understand your Business Brand and what you Represent

Find your niche – in your clients and also your products or services.  Dawtek has gone from being a Tender and Technical Writing firm for any business (large or small) to specialising in Tenders for Small Businesses and Not-for-Profit organisations. As a result of this journey, I now know who I want to work with, and where my specialities are.

I am incredibly passionate about small business (after all, I am one) and I know the challenges presented by the tendering world. So, my services are based around not only my experiences but also tender writing for my own business.  I love working with Not-for-Profits and Social Enterprises. I am lucky to have an incredible amount of experience from Job Active, Disability and Indigenous businesses, to government grants, employment and children’s services. Now I have my niche areas, I can have a set of specific marketing tools; rather than a broad range which can get very expensive.

Planning

Have a plan! Yes, I know that is easier said than done. But I didn’t have a business/marketing plan for the first 15 years of my business. Was it hard? Well, yes it was, but I am a bit of a “fly by the seat of your pants” person.

Pinpointing the areas that you will need help with at the beginning is almost guaranteed to save you time and potentially money in the future. For example, realising that you are not the best at economics and financials at the beginning means that you can compensate and concentrate on those areas of your business where you are the expert.

Making sure that all areas of your business are covered, not just the ones you excel at will ultimately benefit your business. But these kinds of realisations may only become apparent as you go along; thus it is also important to regularly take time to reflect on how your business is going. What is working well, and why it is working well? Can you solve it yourself, or do you need outside help? You will undoubtedly learn a lot as your business develops.

But now I too, have a plan. I have a clear direction to where I want to go and what I want to offer my clients. Whilst it is a work in progress, the direction is very clear.

So take the time out to work out your end point. Then work backwards to how you are getting there, and all the information and steps you need to implement to get there.

Continue Learning

To this day, I am still learning about business and about how to make my business better. I have partnered up with some wonderful people and companies and I do try and learn as much as I can. Find experts to assist you, otherwise you will spend unnecessary time on things that aren’t relevant. It is only in the last two years I have started doing courses related to my business. I have completed three courses and will be undertaking one more this year. I have really enjoyed expanding my knowledge into different but valuable facets of my business.

Accounting and Money

Nobody likes talking about accounting and money. 19 years is a long time in IT and the availability of new accounting software has changed the way I can do business. I recommend investing in a package such as Xero (which I use), MYOB or Quickbooks as they are worth the upfront outlay. Get your finances sorted and you will be able to make good financial decisions. For me, I don’t only ask my accountant for financial advice, I still chat with my Dad. He gives me a life perspective rather than just a purely financial one.  This has been great as I have been able to adapt my business to my lifestyle. It is important you can have someone to talk to.

The lessons I have learnt

So would I do it again – absolutely! Dawtek has been one of the best things I have done in my life. I feel incredibly honoured to have worked with some amazing companies and to have been part of their successes. I am also very fortunate to have built a business that can change with me and my lifestyle.

Gone are the days of working from 7 am to 7 pm; now I work around my son Max and his schooling. Is it easy? No, but is it worth it – Yes!!!!!

Don’t get me wrong, I have had many days when I have cried my eyes out. I’ve come close to shutting my doors three times and there are some days when I am just not motivated at all.  But I have learnt that this is ok.

I still actually love writing tenders and helping businesses. I am continually trying to implement new ideas and services into my business, to give people that little bit more. My work-life balance is continually changing, and even more so now in the current climate.  So I understand that I need to change with it.  I am going to continue learning on this business journey, and also continue sharing the lessons I have learnt. Because, if this helps one other person, then I am happy.

Having your own business gives you the freedom to make your own decisions and forge your way in life.  I am very thankful for not only the success of my business but also the clients that I have worked with and the wonderful people I have met.

Kristine Daw is the Managing Director of Dawtek, a Melbourne-based company specialising in tenders and proposals, technical writing, business documentation, copywriting, editing and creating business templates. Kristine and her small team have a range of clients including small businesses, multi-national corporations, all levels of government and not-for-profits. 1300 DAWTEK or dawtek.com.au

If you’d like to connect with a tender writing professional with almost two decades’ worth of experience, let’s organise a time to chat.

I’m also on social media so I’d love to connect with you via our Facebook or LinkedIn pages.  And don’t forget about our closed Facebook group The Tender Hub – learn more.

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