On the side of NSW’s “heartbeat and backbone”

NSW Small Business Commissioner, Robyn Hobbs outlines the main role and initiatives of her office and shares her top tips for small business success.

Since taking on the role of NSW Small Business Commissioner in early 2014, Robyn Hobbs has introduced many interesting initiatives and programs for small business –what she terms the “heartbeat and backbone” of NSW’s economy.

As well as overseeing Small Biz Connect – the advisory service that includes BEC Southern Sydney – the Office of the NSW Small Business Commissioner (OSBC) provides a large range of services for the 690 thousand small businesses scattered across NSW.

Now halfway through her five year contract with the OSBC, Robyn has had a diverse career which has included running her own project and event management businesses and being the General Manager of the State Chamber of Commerce.

The width and variety of OSBC’s responsibilities and areas are impressive and range from assisting small businesses affected by natural emergencies to working with disrupted industries including Point to Point (taxis, Uber cars and hire cars).

Some of the initiatives she has introduced include the Small Business Friendly Councils Program whereby 76 NSW councils have agreed to work proactively to support small business; and working closely with regional areas to deliver practical workshops that make a real difference to their operations.

One of OSBC’s main areas of assistance is in solving retail lease disputes, offering a 3-step mediation process to advise and assist with any issues between landlords and tenants.

According to Robyn, this process has a 96% success rate in solving disputes saving small business owners money and most importantly helping them avoid the lengthy and disruptive court system.

To further improve this service, the OSBC will launch a new digital portal next year, allowing mediation online and a streamlined online lease application system.

For the next few years, Robyn is looking forward to continuing to support an industry that will hopefully achieve the recognition that it deserves.

She is also passionate about becoming a “regulation revolutionary” cutting as much red tape as possible, including reducing the amount of time it takes for a café, restaurant or small bar to open from 18 months down to 3 months (and eventually one month).

Robyn’s 5 top tips for success

1. Focus on providing “brilliant” customer service

According to Robyn, customer service is surprisingly a major area of neglect with the most memorable businesses being those who do a good job but who also follow up thanking customers and asking if they can be of further service.

“I think providing good customer service is absolutely underrated…Sending a personal text to a customer you haven’t seen for a while is easy and doesn’t cost you anything but it makes such a difference,” she says.

2. If you are a start-up, ensure you do the correct planning

Because start-ups have a very limited time to develop their idea, fund it and get it out into the marketplace, they tend to overlook some of the key fundamentals like where and who they are going to sell to, says Robyn.

“You need to have a marketing plan and I also advise that you have another piece of paper with 13 columns – one for every month of the year and a totals column. You need to actually understand where you money is going in and out for your business. If you don’t do that you will fail. It won’t matter how clever you are or how many contacts you have; it is all about making sure your small business is sustainable.

3. Take advice from experts, such as the Small Business Advisors  

“People feel embarrassed about asking for advice but I wish that there was a way they could feel differently about it. People who have been successful with what they’ve done, tend to be happy to share their advice.”

4. Take care of your mental health

Small business is a “tough gig” and regular breaks are crucial.

“When it is time to shut the shop, really shut the shop and refresh yourself.”

5. Value your employees and look after them

“Because they will be the best testament for your business.”

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