Business Masterclass with Lady Jane Edwards - video transcript

Julian Simmonds - Our next speaker - we're going to do things a little bit differently. We don’t like to think that we are killing you with PowerPoints or set presentations, so to mix things up a little bit, our next speaker has very kindly offered to be put on the spot by me. I'm going to - we're going to do a bit of an interview style and I'm going to throw some questions without notice to her and try and be as gentle as I can. But if you could please join me in welcoming Lady Jane Edwards up the front.

[Applause]

Julian Simmonds - I will give you that one.

Lady Jane Edwards - Are we going to sing?

Julian Simmonds - No, no, no singing.

Lady Jane Edwards - No singing?

Julian Simmonds - I wouldn’t do that to anyone here. Now most of you would know Lady Jane. She's been a very prominent Brisbane businesswoman for many years. She started her own company in BBS Communications in 1989 and is a communications and business specialist. She's also sat on many government and arts boards as well around the place over many years, so is very experienced in the Brisbane business community. But I thought, if I may, you’ve got to start somewhere and probably the appropriate place to start is you setting up BBS, when you went about that. Many people in this room would have had experiences in setting up their own businesses, or have their own small businesses and potentially want to grow in the future, so I thought perhaps you could explain to us how you went about setting up BBS and how you went about growing it as well.

Lady Jane Edwards - Well thank you very much. It's great to be here and I think worth coming out this evening just to hear Kieran - beautiful accent - explain all that digital material to us. But yes, it is a very interesting thing. I'm a journalist. I was a journalist for 12 years and it was all I ever really wanted to do. It was Expo 88 which really gave me my change in career path. This is, I'm sure, what happens to lots of you. You set out on one path and then all of a sudden you find that something comes along and it takes you in a different direction. So my role there was really to create a personality for the expo, so I used my background as a journalist and found other journalists and put together a five year program to make sure that people knew what it was and came along.

So when it was over I set up my own consultancy. Public relations as we know it today really didn’t exist, well particularly in Brisbane, so I began by using things that I'd learned at Expo, and that was there's certainly a strong element of media relations but it's much more about communicating with people about what you do in your business. But you need to take your business out of that business and communicate with your marketplace. So that’s what I learnt to do, and hopefully some of you will have questions about how you might do that yourselves.

Julian Simmonds - So if you're advising a small business out there in the community, how would you advise them? What's the best way to go to get their message out there? Is it through traditional channels like the newspaper or is it online, or what would you suggest?

Lady Jane Edwards:   Well things are changing and I think the conversation here this evening about Digital Brisbane is a very key one because I was a newspaper journalist - and radio and television as well, but principally newspaper - and now when you think about what I do for my client base, so much of it is online. So it's the future, but it's here and now as well. So for everything we do for our clients, all of it has a digital base in some part of the program. For a small business - and mine was a small business - I had three people and now I have 30 in Brisbane and offices in Melbourne and Gladstone and the Gold Coast. For a small business, I think what you need to do is have a really good look at what you do and who your market really are, or is.

So if you're making a particular product and you want to sell it to particular markets, I think you need to communicate to them why your product is better than the others in the marketplace, but also what it can do for them. People are really only interested in buying something if it's going to do something for them. So your job is really to talk to your colleagues, or if it's just you talk to yourself. But if it's - get together, even with friends and family and say, well I'm making the very best cream cakes in Brisbane and I need to make sure that the city knows they're the best and they want to drive to Chermside to get them. So the ways that you do that is certainly through publicity and through media. I can talk to you individually about how to do that - fairly standard. But the thing I guess I've learned through 30 years of communication is nothing beats face to face communication, like we're doing here tonight.

So I always say to my clients, I think you need to get out into the community and you need to join some organisations. You need to take on, in your local community, so that you can integrate. You need to take on one arts or sports organisation, you need to take on one industry organisation and you probably need to take on one charity. Now that’s a lot when you have a small business to run and a family. We're all, I guess, in the same boat, but what you're able to do by putting yourself into those networks is to get to know people in your surrounding area and to talk about what you do to those people, and then it's word of mouth about the product that you're offering. If you integrate that with some publicity, some advertising and a strategy, which probably should be rolled out over 12 months, I think you're in a very good position to get your product into the marketplace.

Julian Simmonds - So talking about how you do that, obviously when times are tough everybody is trying to run an efficient business. One of the easiest things can be to scale up or down is the marketing budget, and often it's the first thing to go. So in your experience, is there a correct formula of how much you should be spending on marketing and publicity, or is it something that you can do with little money?

Lady Jane Edwards - Well I think a lot of the things that I can teach people to do are usually free, which is a very good thing. They're free, but they take a bit of imagination and they take a lot of energy and shoe leather. So conversations with people about what you do and what you do well, the services you offer. Something to remember always is that people like to do business with people they know and they like to do business with people they like. So if you start your relationships with the community that you're selling into, those things will carry you through. So there are lots of free things you can do. You do have to have a budget, I guess, but I think the budget should be principally applied to perhaps some key advertising during important periods like quieter times, that sort of things.

But I think it's important to get to know your local newspaper, to get involved with your local council member, to get involved with your local chamber of commerce and just make sure that you don’t spend all your time in the office. Make sure that you go out and talk about what you're doing through all the various channels we've talked about. So if you don’t have much money, you can do well. If you have a bit more money, it's probably worth investing in a professional in my field to help you put the framework together. But I think a trick to spending that budget is to not go into a retainer, which is what a lot of companies like mine like you to do because they have a guaranteed income for a period of time. One of the clever things you can do is to either get them to do it on a project by project basis or you can get them to do it quarterly so that you get maximum value, but you just do it four times a year, for example, or six times a year, whatever suits your budget.

Julian Simmonds - One of the most - when it's done well, one of the most cost-effective ways to get your message out there is using online things, so Facebook and Twitter. But there's also some pitfalls, which I'm sure you’ve come across companies that fall into. How do you make sure that your online experience is a positive one and that what you're getting is good reviews instead of bad reviews and likes on Facebook rather than negative comments?

Lady Jane Edwards - Yes, Facebook, that’s an interesting one. Well I've taken all our Christmas party photographs off Facebook, so…

Julian Simmonds - That’s a good start.

Lady Jane Edwards - …that’s a good start. But it's an interesting evolution because for example, my firm works for a lot of very large, professional services firms - big law firms, big Chartered Accountancies, big construction firms. In the past 18 months a lot of the CEOs and CFOs, partners that we deal with have been coming to me and saying, can you train me in how to use LinkedIn? I want LinkedIn training because I - people say, well I'd like to be linked in with you, and you go, yes okay, that’s good, let's link in. Then what?

Julian Simmonds - I don’t have LinkedIn. I need some training.

Lady Jane Edwards - Too busy, too busy. But it's an extremely useful tool for putting your product into the marketplace and connecting with other people who are either like you or people who might want to use your services. So it's probably a good idea to invest in some training, basic training, and then advanced training on how to use LinkedIn particularly effectively. Facebook, meh, I haven’t got time for it [laughs].

Julian Simmonds - Okay, so I've given you plenty of thinking time. Before I hand over to you all for questions, one last question and that is more - going back to more general - as you were growing your business, if there is three - top three things that you could impart in terms of words of wisdom, what would be your advice?

Lady Jane Edwards - As I say, as a journalist I have absolutely no financial or business training, so it's been a wing and a prayer pretty well every year. I think the most sensible thing I've done, apart from having wonderful mentors like my husband, Sir Llew, who's run a medical practice and has - I think was the treasurer of the State at one stage, so he understands finance. But I think the best thing I've invested in is a really, really good bookkeeper. She's been with me 18 years now and so when I'm busy looking after the clients and making sure my staff are producing products to the level I expect, I know that every single penny is being watched and that - you have to really watch that bottom line - so a bookkeeper.

I think an understanding of the fact that even though you’ve got to work in the business, you’ve got to get out of the business to make the business flourish and make contact with other people, even though you're weary or have other priorities, it's simply a must to get out of the business and into the business community. I think the other thing is to choose your staff, very ,very carefully. Look for staff that just have that X factor and who really have a bit of get up and go and happy to turn up to work on time and do their best and fit in with everybody else. Otherwise it's exhausting trying to manage them through the process, a bit like the Council really.

Julian Simmonds - So surround yourself with very good people. Lord Mayor - ladies and gentlemen, that’s it from us. Can I hand over to you for questions? We'll get you a mic coming around, but any questions for Lady Jane - this is your opportunity to talk about your own marketing efforts in your business and perhaps how you can improve.

Lady Jane Edwards - Happy to answer anything. Yes?

Brett Clark - It was just more of a comment. When I launched the ePharmacy business back in 1999, 2000, the first person I approached was a PR company because I was told - and it was a different time. The internet was bubbling along and it wasn’t like it is now. I can't remember what the investment was, but let's call it $20,000 or thereabouts, which I invested, which - I didn’t have a lot of money but I put it there. The coverage and the momentum we received in that first probably six to nine months - take it on board it was a different time, but - was astounding. I must admit I was a bit dubious about taking that approach because I'd come from the old school of just marketing - take the ad out in the paper and see what you can sell. But - so I'd have to endorse your comments. I think if you - but it gets back to you have to have an offer that the consumer wants. If the press are going to pick you up, you have to make it either sexy or scandalous or something happening, or else it's not going to happen. So probably more of an endorsement than a question.

Lady Jane Edwards - Thank you very much. It's interesting about your product because it's fresh, it's new, it's newsworthy, it's ePharmacy and you're - the other thing, too, is you're a person standing behind it. Nobody really wants to know about the pharmacy. They're interested in you and what you have to offer, so thank you for that.

Chris Jeffery - Hi Lady. My name's Chris Jeffery, I run a business called CyberGuru. I started this off full-time this year. I ran - won an award late last year and I've started to use that to promote my services, but I still am struggling to get the word out there, I guess, trying to get the attention to my business. Oftentimes it's done by cold-calling or sending a letter. How can you get responses in a more effective way?

Lady Jane Edwards - Cold calling is heartbreaking. We've all done it in way or another, but that’s why I've emphasised the business of getting to know your networks personally, because when you think about the average - even my office would receive 20 or 30 pieces of mail each day selling something. Mostly we don’t have time to look at them, so I think that’s why you’ve got to - I think - what did I say? Join organisations like your local chamber of commerce or local sports or arts organisations where you can actually mingle with people and talk about what you're doing. I don’t think there's anything wrong with ever asking for advice or saying, do you know anybody who'd be interested in this? People expect it so that would be my advice. It doesn’t cost anything; it's just energy really. So I'm happy to talk to you later if you like.

Julian Simmonds - Do you have another question?

Chris Von Wilpert - My name's Chris from Snowed Under Sno Cones. Our business has been running for about seven years and we're close to raising about $100,000 for local schools and sports clubs.

Lady Jane Edwards - Wonderful.

Chris Von Wilpert - So I'm thinking this is a pretty good story to get out there, but I'm thinking how do I go about it and get the word out?

Lady Jane Edwards - Well I think if you don’t want to employ a professional public relations person or a journalist - there are lots of people who provide media services - what you could do with your family or professional colleagues is sit down and write a list of things that you’ve done, so how you raised it, what it's going to be spent on, why the business thought it was important to get involved and put all those thing together, and then write a letter to your local paper, or better still, call in and see your local paper and say, I've got this information. Here it all is written out, because they're busy, and just say, what do you think I should do to make this interesting for the paper? They might say, well we need a photographic opportunity, or, we need - so you might need to go - you know what I mean. You need to talk to the editor about how to do this. If it's a good local story, as a journalist I can tell you they will be interested, and that’s a great story. So yes, just get - distil the information down into a list of, say, 10 or 20 things. Go in and see them and say, what about this?

Simon Penrose - How are you going? Simon Penrose from Brisbane North Chamber of Commerce, and just again an endorsement. Local chambers, we're doing a lot out there in the community, running networking forums, running a range of other educational sessions. Last week we had - last week or the week before we had the Lord Mayor coming along to speak as well. So we've always got access to those areas, so certainly getting involved with the local chamber. Whether it's the inner west if you're at Milton or Pine Rivers if you're out at Strathpine, there's a number of them that are around and it's certainly one way of getting a lot of business if you're wanting to keep your business local within your community as well. So it's certainly a big endorsement for what you're saying there. Join those local chambers and local business organisations.

Lady Jane Edwards - Thanks for speaking up. Maybe you'll meet this guy here in the red tie.

Julian Simmonds - Excellent. Everybody happy? Great, thank you very much. Please join me in thanking Lady Jane Edwards.

[Applause]

Lady Jane Edwards - Thank you.

Go back to the Business Masterclass with Lady Jane Edwards video.

15 January 2016