Learn from your Mistakes and Grow your Indigenous Business

Those who start businesses are usually full of enthusiasm and passion for the product or service they are marketing. However, this enthusiasm can wane. Factors, including a lack of growth and failure to win new customers, can lead to a feeling of disappointment. Certified Suppliers are not exempt from this experience.

Despite the opportunities afforded to Indigenous businesses certified by Supply Nation, there is no guarantee of success. It takes hard work, determination and unrelenting passion to get a business off the ground.  More importantly, it requires a gap in the market, a customer base and just some general good luck. This is something many of our Certified Suppliers can relate to.

Certified Supplier Experiences:

Certified Supplier Integrity First Aid Training, a national supplier of first aid training, first aid kits, and flu vaccinations, was born out of a rethink about what the market wants. By contrast, for Pindari, a supplier of electrical maintenance, labour solutions, and building maintenance in Western Australia’s mine sites, it took eight years (and a bachelors degree) before the business took off. As their businesses gained traction, it became clear that being an Indigenous business could provide them with more opportunities than challenges.

The Businesses:

Integrity First Aid Training:

Liam Harte, Integrity First Aid Training’s CEO and Lead Trainer, has been a paramedic for over six years and had a long career in the Australian Defence Force and the United Nations before that. In 2013 he was awarded the title of New South Wales Ambulance Employee of the Year for contributions to the Aboriginal Health and Aboriginal Economic Participation Strategy and he is currently a finalist for a NSW minister’s award for clinical excellence in health.

Mr Harte established a business before Integrity, which could be described as a ‘successful failure’. The successful failure is one where, although the business failed, the lessons learnt through that process inform future business decisions and make the next venture a success. “We were trying to make the market fit our idea,” said Mr Harte. “With Integrity, we sat down and tried to identify what the market required and built the business around that.”

QUOTE: “We were trying to make the market fit our idea,” said Mr Harte. “With Integrity, we sat down and tried to identify what the market required and built the business around that.”

What did the market require? First aid training for people in government departments and corporate sectors, fist aid kits for their offices, and annual flu vaccinations. Regulations and policies around work place health and safety have ensured these markets are stable and have constant demand — Integrity First Aid Training recognised this and built their business model around it.

 Pindari:

Although Pindari was never closed completely, Founding Director David Pidek, describes his business as having two distinct phases. Established in 1997 as an electrical contracting company, Pindari was struggling to grow and was lacking the key business structures that would have allowed it to flourish. Mr Pidek decided it was time to leave it behind and went on to do an accounting degree, with the intention of becoming an accountant and starting a business in that field. Fate had other ideas, however.

After responding to a small job at a big mine in the Pilbara to help pay his HECS debt, Mr Pidek realised there was actually a number of different jobs he could complete while he was there. “I said ‘I can do that’ and they said ‘all right’!” said Mr Pidek, “I still had the appropriate business structure, so I thought why not go for it.”

He revived Pindari and eventually became pre-certified to work for the mining company that owned the lease on that land. This time, Mr Pidek, with a degree under his belt, had a clearer understanding of how his business should act and what its purpose would be. A vision of Indigenous empowerment, rigorous bookkeeping, and regulations followed to a T were all tenants of the reborn Pindari. From that foundation it has flourished to become one of the largest Certified Suppliers based on annual turnover, doing work with a number of our Members.

What it means to be an Indigenous business owner

Their Indigenous heritage proved to be an opportunity for both men. For Mr Pidek, he was able to use his Indigenous background to educate those he was supplying to on the merits of supplier diversity. The managers of the company he contracted to were not aware of his Indigenous background initially, Mr Pidek noted. Once they found out however, they made it clear how proud they were to have him on their books. Now, when he is bidding for new business, Mr Pidek is quick to highlight the fact that Pindari is a Certified Supplier and that they have at least 30% Indigenous employment. A key motivator for him is the opportunity to be independent. “There is flexibility and control in being a business owner. I don’t ever feel like I’m not in charge. I’m answerable to only myself,” he explained.

For Mr Harte, being certified by Supply Nation has provided his business with enormous opportunities. As a Certified Supplier, his company has access to over 150 corporate and government members. Typically these organisations have a national reach. Because of this reach, they are also looking for Certified Suppliers who can deliver contracts nationally. The opportunity is getting a large, steady, nationwide contract and the challenge is getting the business to a position where it can confidently deliver the service as promised.

“Thankfully we have sorted all of that,” said Mr Harte, “We are now a national reach company. But then when you do have the ability to fit into a national reach company, you have to establish what your target market is.

“Are you aiming to do business with state government, national government, or large corporates? For us we’ve done some work in the Federal [government] and large corporate space, and that’s where we are making some inroads – especially as we gain a much better understanding of the IOP [and Exemption 17],” he concluded.

Once they established a methodical and measured way of growing their businesses, both businesses were able to use Indigenous ownership as a point of difference.

The Lesson:

Small businesses all across Australia often have a slow start or fail because they are based on an unsound business model. Indigenous businesses are no different. However, if you step back from your business, give yourself time to think, and analyse why customers aren’t buying and why your business isn’t growing, you might find a way of giving your business a much needed kick start — just like Integrity First Aid Training and Pindari. For more information on measuring your own success: click here