As Mia turns 10, I’ve been reflecting on our journey. There have been many valuable lessons and even more amazing people that have made Mia what it is today.
Amid everything else that is going on, I almost missed the fact that Mia is celebrating its 10th birthday this week (thank you, LinkedIn!).
I can still clearly remember my very first client. I also remember the feeling of warmth and gratification – and, yes, surprise – that my knowledge was valued. Freshly out of government after 15 years as a public servant, I didn’t appreciate then what I know now – that government assumes businesses have a level of knowledge of government undertakings that frankly doesn’t exist.
Learning to value my intellectual property was a challenge for me in the early stages of growing the business. And, as I reflect over the past ten years, I’m remembering all the other valuable things I have learned.
So, I want to use this birthday message to recognise everyone that has contributed to the growth of Mia and share some of my business lessons.
Lesson 1: Don’t think you don’t need help. Lean on friends and industry associations to help you build your business. You don’t have to do it alone.
When I started Mia, I knew no world other than government. I leapt straight from being a public servant into business, with very few business contacts. Now I often reflect about those days and the courage I showed to build up my industry relationships. However, I also leant on some fabulous people that shaped my career then, and continue to support me now.
Russell Yardley, then a member of the AIIA in Victoria, provided me with my first leg up: a presentation to AIIA members on tendering for the eServices panel. Thanks to Russell, his belief in me, and the AIIA, I acquired my first lot of clients – and I’m so proud that some of those continue to work with Mia 10 years on.
Having no track record in consulting, I also needed to create some collateral. For me this was my first “10 Tips for Winning Government Business” document. We’ve gone on to enhance and update our 10 Tips, and also created a complementary version for government procurement officers. The fundamentals outlined in our 10 Tips remain the basis of Mia’s offering and indeed underscore the reason why I established the business.
Lesson 2: The best way to gain new business is to do your homework. Identify the gaps in service delivery with your target client and match those gaps to your service delivery. Approach the person who can get the most value from having that gap addressed and work out together how you can build the service.
Fresh from the success of eServices clients, I needed more business. I took my next brave step and approached Small Business Victoria with a proposal to rewrite the government’s Winning Government Business workshop program.
With Small Business Victoria we piloted this program in November 2010. Nine years on, we continue to deliver these workshops that provide such a huge amount of value to me and other Mia presenters. Inspiring small businesses to believe that government business is possible is so rewarding.
I want to thank and acknowledge Barbara Cullen and the whole team at Small Business Victoria, as well as the small business community, for their constant support of Mia.
Lesson 3: Surround yourself with people with big ideas and lots of courage, and be prepared to listen.
After 12 months my husband joined the business. I then went from ‘hobby’ mode to ‘business’ mode. Business became real.
By the end of 2012 I made my first hire, Alan Roe. I have so much to thank Alan for, not the least being his ongoing courage and inspiration, and of course prosecco! Alan was also the first of Mia’s many ex-IBMers!
Mia continued to grow with our comms expert, Ellen Gregory, and then David Watt, ex-IBMer #2! Ellen and David are Mia’s constants, still with us today, and I often wonder whether I could keep the business going without them.
Lesson 4: Social media is your best friend. Still today at least 10% of Mia’s clients are from LinkedIn or google searches. Invest in your blogs and SEO, refine a consistent message that reflects your brand, and be patient for it to take off. Because it will.
David introduced me to the world of big business and that’s when Mia began to transform.
One of the drivers for me to establish Mia was to coach big business on how to better engage with government. When I was in government, my director and I sat through countless meetings with Tier 1 companies when it was clear a) they didn’t know what our branch did, b) they weren’t that keen to tailor their offerings to our needs and c) they didn’t tell their fellow account managers they had already met with us!
David and I have had the pleasure of coaching Tier 1s for the last six years and we tremendously enjoy this strategic work. Thank you to those businesses that have believed in a small company like Mia.
Lesson 5: Focus on what you want to achieve, build your sales strategy around that, surround yourself with good people and work with them to achieve that outcome. You don’t have to do things on your own.
Then along came TechDiversity.
One of the best things about owning a business is that it provides a platform to achieve great things. In the words of a gentleman I very much admire, Steve Hodgkinson, when you are in a position of influence and you can do good things, then you should do good things.
I won’t lie, TechDiversity has been hard. TechDiversity is 100% volunteer work for myself, Tracey, Claire and Soozey. We work on TechDiversity at night. But it is worth it. I am very proud of TechDiversity and the outcomes it has achieved. I am proud that through this foundation some people have found jobs and many people can bring their whole selves to work.
Lesson 6: Business training comes in many forms. Open yourself up to change and learning. Watch how someone achieves something and think about how you can apply that to your own practices. But most importantly, be authentic.
TechDiversity has also given me the opportunity to work with three amazing women who have mentored and coached me in so many ways. I am a better business woman today because of what I have learnt through them. Most importantly they taught me that to be a successful professional I don’t have to act like a man. I am successful because I am authentic and I want every single young woman to understand this.
Soozey Johnstone, Tracey Habron and Claire Marriott truly are wonderful, genuine, supportive and very clever people.
Lesson 7: You need to jump out of an aeroplane. A business won’t grow if you continue to sit in your comfort zone. Of course, you must enjoy yourself, but don’t kid yourself, you still have to push yourself.
Mia also allowed me to support the Victorian Council of the AIIA (Australian Information Industry Association) and to the AIIA I owe many of the successes of Mia.
Many of my readers may think me outgoing, an extrovert and confident. However, mingling, crowds, events and networking are among my least favourite activities. They take a lot out of me and I need a long time to recover from them.
But professional networks play a critical role in any business’s life. Even today, amid this pandemic, the business and friendship support I have received through the AIIA keeps me going.
Rebecca Campbell-Burns, Warren Hill, Fulvio Inserra, Bambi Price, Brett Findlay, Susan Sly, Brian Fitzpatrick and so many more, you have all shaped Mia in so many ways.
Lesson 8: Understand what you are good at and what you aren’t good at. Ask for help, don’t be afraid to hand over the reins, create space for you and your business to thrive.
2018 represented the next stage of transformation for Mia. I have long known that being a subject matter expert is what makes my blood sing. And I acknowledged to myself that I want to lead, not run, the business. So I hired Diem Huynh as Chief Operating Officer.
Diem has single-handedly grown Mia, opened up new channels of supply and introduced much-needed processes. She has created the space for me to lead and provide vision, which in turn supports business growth. Mia is truly blessed to have Diem.
Fast forward to 2020 and Mia has a team of 10 wonderful people supporting it. Some are FTEs and some are contractors, but they are all an integral part of the Mia family.
Lesson 9: Understand your business values and ethics. Communicate them and adhere to them. The hardest thing to get back is reputation. Reputation built a business and can destroy a business.
Mia is successful because of our people and our relationships. We are also successful because of our values and ethics. We have walked away from clients that don’t reflect our values and to me this is a sign of our business’s success. I would prefer to be defined but what we won’t do, and what we stand for, rather than compromising what we stand for.
Lesson 10: Have fun. Don’t let business be a noose around your neck. You created something out of nothing. Think about where you can take your business but also recognise that you can walk away from it. A business can enable so much, when you adopt the right attitude towards it.
By far, my greatest joy in running Mia is spending time with our clients. I love helping businesses, but even more I love meeting and talking to our clients. I have formed such special bonds with so many clients that it makes work a joy. A business man told me that work is our social life and that is so true.
There are some clients that have been with Mia since the beginning, and continue to support, not just Mia, but other Mia initiatives such as TechDiversity. Tom Crampton, Mac Lemon, Adam Centorrino, Brendan Dover, Lyndall Thomas, Damien Bueno, Andrew Brydon, Andrew Barton and so many more. Thank you for the opportunities and your ongoing support of Mia.
Finally, I want to thank Leo Hogan for the idea of Mia. It was 2005 when Leo planted the seed in my mind. Leo, it might have taken me a further five years to implement it, but guess what? It’s paid off!!
Thank you Mia for the last 10 years. I look forward to the future and seeing where this business can take us.