No matter your business or the number of years you’ve been wrangling businesses towards success – finding beneficial advice is nearly always difficult. Dive into our interview with talented business consultant Jane Leslie, as she freely offers pertinent business wisdom.
Jane, please outline the professional journey you’ve undertaken to reach your current position?
I’m the Founder and Principal Consultant of Aerium. My qualifications are in business, workplace coaching, corporate governance and human resources. I worked for 10 years in many varied roles in large business. I established Aerium because I believed I can add value to local businesses.
I have worked in strategic planning, marketing and communications, operations management and corporate management. I also contribute to the community in a few ways:
—I’m Chair of the West Gippsland Healthcare Group;
—I’m a member of the Regional Development Australia Gippsland Committee;
—I’m Treasurer of Latrobe Women in Business.
My community work provides me a great picture of Gippsland – our great places, resources, businesses and people.
Could you please provide us with an overview of your business, Aerium?
Aerium is a Gippsland-based business consultancy formed in 2010. We work with companies big and small. Our professional services include executive leadership and coaching, corporate governance, facilitation and community engagement. We’re skilled at advising on business strategy, brand and product development, marketing and communications. Infrastructure planning, human resources and project management rounds out our skillset.
Aerium’s “why”* is to help individuals, organisations and communities be their best. We aim to assist to effect positive change and to reach new heights.
*Sinek’s Why – The purpose, cause, or belief that inspires you to do what you do.
What have been some of the trials and tribulations in establishing your business?
For a small business starting out, there are plenty of trials and tribulations, offset with many exciting times. It takes time to build both your personal and business brand, and a small business can be a competitive and sometimes lonely place.
At first I was the Marketing and Sales Manager and the Bookkeeper. I was the Consultant and Head of Quality Control too. I was keen for a work-life balance, particularly given my young family, but I also had to feel comfortable making mistakes, as they say it’s the only way you learn and grow.
Aerium is my third child, and is as demanding and challenging as children are. However, it’s super rewarding when you see the results of your efforts. The trials are soon dissipated by the rewards.
What programs are available for Gippslandian businesswomen?
There’s now greater appreciation and understanding of the best way to engage and support the growing number of women in business. Yet, we still need to encourage more young women (and men) into business.
Across Gippsland’s shires there a several Women In Business networks, and I’m proud to be part of the Latrobe division. Our purpose is to create opportunities where women can get together to think, act, grow and prosper. Membership is open to all and we have regular functions on a range of topics throughout the year.
Topics include leadership, personal development, business tips and more. The only prerequisite is networking and fun. To learn more visit latrobewomeninbusiness.com.au
Are there Gippsland-specific challenges when beginning and growing a business?
People talk about the ‘two-speed economy’ and the ‘industrial relations challenge’.
Gippsland is different to other regions. We don’t have a centralised hub, and this creates considerable inefficiencies and duplication. The Councils must work as partners to create a unified and inspiring brand for investors to our region. We need to focus on how we can improve Gippsland’s competitiveness.
Innovation and change typically comes from entrepreneurs. Therefore, we need to better support and promote them. I believe we need to recognise our strengths and be honest about our weaknesses. When we do, we can address them in a strategic and sensible manner. I believe we have all the resources and capacity to do what we choose.
Gippsland businesses need to be ‘worldly’; meaning, we must look to other regions and their success stories. Only then we can benchmark ourselves and discover our competitive point of difference. Work is changing – we need to focus on productive workplace practices to be competitive. These challenges will remain and make us stronger when met or overcome.
We need to stop talking and start doing. Gippsland has hidden gems everywhere in business that we need to recognise, celebrate and learn from.
What would be your three key points of advice to a young entrepreneur starting their first business?
- Have a plan. As they say, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. I’ve seen many entrepreneurs that have a great idea, but no plan to bring it to life in a commercial and sustainable way. There’s only so long you can operate in this manner before things go south. Make sure you have clear milestones and you stop to celebrate them.
- You won’t have all the answers yourself. Seek advice when you need it, develop a trusted network, learn and learn some more. Ask plenty of questions and learn from your (and others) successes and mistakes.
- Be brave, take calculated risks, but hold ‘realism’ in good measure. An entrepreneur isn’t, usually, risk-averse by nature. Remember, starting a business requires confidence and many hours of effort.
What attributes should a leader be trying to continually develop throughout their career?
Leaders must work at being emotionally intelligent and operating with a growth mindset. We can build our emotional intelligence. We use the strength this will bring us to genuinely influence the way people see and feel by:
—Listening, taking feedback as feedback;
—Respect other’s model of world;
—Being humble and owning mistakes;
—Being genuinely interested in people;
—Listen, actually really listen, to what they are saying and understand what motivates them;
Taking risks and learning from mistakes. We are not taught to be entrepreneurial at school. We tend to be risk-averse and see it as a negative rather than an opportunity.
How would this advice differ from a business that has been in operation for 5-10 years?
I think the fundamental advice is the same; the only difference is the context in which it happens. No matter how old, a good business has a current business plan. A plan that can flex as the business grows or things change. As your business grows, you’ll build a team or a network of providers who you’ll rely to provide advice. Being brave is making the tough decision when you need to.
Which develops improved leadership skills: on the job experience or schooling and training?
Both! Training exposes us to new ideas and thinking. On the job experience allows you to develop your unique leadership style.
What would be your advice to a manager trying to get the very best from their staff?
My best manager had a genuine desire to understand her team’s capabilities, passions and values. She said, “Make sure staff understand what they do each day fits into the bigger picture. Also, ensure you take the time to reward staff for their efforts – big or small”.
Currently in the Latrobe Valley there’s a feeling of the region being at a crossroad. Do you feel that this is a moment of opportunity or decline? If you believe it’s a moment of opportunity, how can businesses best leverage this opportunity?
The Latrobe Valley is at a crossroad. We face significant challenges and we may take a step back in the short-term before we go forward. Time is not on our side and some businesses are doing, or will do, it tough. We need to be proactive in owning, creating and leading opportunities ourselves. Gippsland has great people, great infrastructure and numerous strengths to capitalise on. We need to work together to support our businesses and community. Recently the Government established the Latrobe Valley Authority. It also announced the Hazelwood Supply Chain Transition Program (HSCTP). Affected businesses need to ask for help from this program. There are other programs available too – at Federal, State and Local Government level. Aerium is one of the specialist business consultancies for the HSCTP. Our partners are In2Project Management and McMillans Accounting and Financial Advisory. We’re delighted to be the locals who have the chance to work with affected businesses. As I said at the beginning of the interview – Aerium’s “why” is simple – we want to help individuals, businesses and communities to be their best.
View more at www.andrewnorthover.com.au, or on instagram @andrew.northover