Unlocking business success with Neil Perry and Andrew Griffiths

9 May 2024

Chef and restaurateur Neil Perry is no stranger to the difficulties of owning a business. “I opened Rockpool during the 1989 recession,” he says of his eatery in Sydney’s CBD. “In 2009, at the tail end of the global financial crisis, I opened Rockpool Bar & Grill and Spice Temple [both also in the CBD]. And the launch for Margaret in Double Bay was the day Sydney went into COVID lockdown. You could say I’ve had experience with catastrophes.”

While good planning will help you through bad times, Neil says having a sense of optimism is just as important. “You can’t choose what’s going to happen, only how you deal with it. It needs focus, optimism, a strong business plan and an understanding that these cycles come around and you must weather the storm.”

Andrew Griffiths, author of Someone Has to Be the Most Expensive: Why Not Make It You?, says building resilience can help you face headwinds. “There are different types of resilience, including organisational and financial,” he says. “Identify your weaknesses and take steps to help build resilience in that space.”

Here are more tips from business owners who have navigated challenges. 

Build a strong team 

Small business owners often do it all in the beginning – and have the burnout to show for it. Jonathan James Clare, owner of Odin Ice Baths (odinplunge.com. au), says building a team helped him get through those early days. “I wanted to give up every day for the first 12 months but every person on your team is someone who can take a bit of stress away from you,” he says. “If I’d failed, I would have lost everything but it helps when you’ve got people to help shoulder the burden.”

Befriend your bank

Good relationships are vital in business, including with your bank. “When we first went into lockdown, I rang my banker straight away,” says Neil. “I said, ‘Just a heads up, I may call to say we have to extend the overdraft.’ It never came to that but he gave us very positive support. If things around you are going to pieces, you need your bank’s support to make sure you can get through and all relationships stay intact by the time you get to the other end.” 

Be ready to pivot

You have a solid business strategy but what if it doesn’t work out as planned? Craig Andrade, owner of artisanal fragrance brand The Raconteur (theraconteur.co), thought he was going in with a firm idea of who his products were for. “Part of my strategy was to hone in on a specific demographic I thought our buyers would be,” he says. “But they just didn’t turn out to be good buyers.” The lesson? “It’s important to acknowledge when something’s not working,” he says. “I had to let it go, move on and find other people to target.”

Don’t let the bad times get you down

It can be tempting to wallow in the tough times but Neil says the only way to get through is to buckle down. “During COVID, I got super depressed. I’d just gotten everything organised for Margaret – we had so many bookings and the plan around paying bills was so perfect,” he says. “I went into a tailspin but then realised COVID would last a long time. That’s when I said to myself, ‘Snap out of it – you have people looking to you for guidance.’ When you’ve got a team, you’re the leader – the tone gets set from the top. I had to kick myself out of that funk really quickly.”

Take responsibility for your pain points

Time and again, Andrew sees small business owners struggling with the volume of daily tasks and, as a result, de-prioritising the most challenging ones. In his experience, these are often finance-related. “Learning how to manage your money is a critical skill in business,” he says, “but for many owners, it slides to the bottom of the list.” Andrew advises being honest about what the problem actually is (in other words, don’t stick your head in the sand) and then getting help – fast. “You have to take responsibility for the money in your business and then find advice,” he says. “It’s such a relief when you get problems like this sorted.”

Think differently

When Neil was staring down the barrel of letting staff go and closing restaurants during COVID, he was forced to think outside the box. “We started a meal service and then started doing takeaway burgers at lunch,” he says. “It kept us in neutral – I didn’t really make any money but I didn’t lose any so we ended up coming out of that scenario a lot stronger than we thought.” Look for ways to diversify or alter how you bring in money if there’s a temporary hurdle in front of your usual stream.

Create a network

It sounds like a no-brainer but having people to turn to can be a godsend for a small business owner. “I’ve experienced impostor syndrome with my business,” says Jen Nguyen, owner of the personalised robe company MyCloudy (mycloudy.com.au). “I’ve learnt that a great support network can be crucial. I’ve met people by going to networking events, putting myself out there and just saying yes.” 

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Things you should know

  • This article was originally published in Brighter magazine

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