IT’S PAYBACK TIME for Mark Bouris. Ever since selling his company, Wizard Home Loans, for $500 million back in 2004, the Sydney business guru has established himself as Australia’s face of entrepreneurial success. Yet for all his big wins in the property and finance sectors, Bouris admits he couldn’t have done it alone.
“When I was starting my businesses, people taught me and showed me things and they helped me along,” he says. “What I’m doing now is returning the favour back to Australian small businesses.”
That’s the motivation behind The Mentor. In the new Channel 7 series, Bouris is parachuted into struggling businesses to offer strategic guidance on how to transform their fortunes. “We’re not talking about fancy businesses, we’re talking about hairdressers, pizza shops, lawnmower fixers, florists,” he explains. “They’ve all got a different problem and they’re all seeking help.”
Filming the show highlighted key principles that can help any business to get ahead. Use the mentor’s strategies to set yourself up for success.
WRITE YOUR OWN RULE BOOK
Lack of structure. Bouris reckons that’s the single most common problem holding back businesses on The Mentor. “A lot of these people weren’t tracking themselves to a forecast so they didn’t know if they were making any money,” he says.
It doesn’t matter how good your product or service is – any business will splutter without sound structural scaffolding to support it. Basic non-negotiables include a solid accounts system, a firm business plan and detailed forecasts to chart your progress.
But for a small business, Bouris also advocates building systems on a smaller scale too. After your next sales attempt, for example, critically assess the experience. Did your introductory salvo strike the right tone? What type of language elicited a positive response? Could you have closed the deal more effectively?
Write all that down, both good and bad, Bouris suggests. By doing so, you’ll form the bones of an operations manual for your business. Not only can you learn from this, eventually it can form a best- practice guide to train your staff on anything from customer service to social media. “Manualising things allows you to build structure into your business as opposed to just working on instinct all the time and flip-flopping all over the place.”
CREATE MORE TIME
There are no shortcuts to running your own business. Long hours and hard work are part of the deal. On The Mentor, Bouris regularly witnessed the toll this took on the personal lives of the owners.
“The secret to work/life balance is to make more time for yourself,” he says. “But how do you do that when there are limited hours in a day?” Bouris’ strategy is to simplify your life by paring back superfluous decisions. Every day for the last 28 years, he’s started each day by going to the same café and ordering the same breakfast. For work, Bouris has a uniform on rotation: 10 identical white shirts, suits in two colours - navy and charcoal - and block-coloured ties to match each. He goes to bed and rises at the same time every day and hits the gym four times a week.
This process of regulation, he explains, pares his life down to essentials to create extra time and free up his mental bandwidth.
“If you’re going to get frazzled, get frazzled in the office when working on your business, not when you’re trying to work out what you’re going to wear in the morning,” he says. "Regularity gives me structure and discipline, eliminating the need to carry all these unnecessary things on my shoulders.”
PREPARE TO PIVOT
Change is often confronting and scary. But many of the problems that Bouris witnessed on The Mentor stemmed from a misguided insistence on sticking to an outdated formula.
“Some of the businesses I’ve seen are in trouble because they don’t want to change,” he says. “They’ve run their business the same way for 40 years. But that’s irrelevant when it comes to how you should run your business in the future.”
Right now, when so many industries are undergoing seismic change, that’s more true than ever before. Whatever your line of work, look ahead and plot accordingly. Bouris insists that it’s vital to stay informed of what the cutting-edge practitioners in your industry are doing both locally and overseas. Similarly, stay abreast of emerging trends and how the expectations of the marketplace are changing.
“You’ve got to be prepared,” Bouris says. “Don’t let changes take advantage of you. You’ve got to take advantage of the changes.”
TIME YOUR RUN
You’ve had your light-bulb moment. You’re now armed with a game-changing idea that’ll enable you to tell your boss to stick it and then make you ludicrously rich. Yet before you launch yourself into your new business to become an all-conquering tycoon, Bouris offers a cautionary word of advice.
“Don’t leave your job. Start your business after work,” he says. “You’ve got to be aware of the statistics. The Elon Musks and the Mark Zuckerbergs - they’re one in 10 million. So the odds are against you from the start. That’s fine - still back yourself. But what those odds tell you is that in your risk-management process, try to avoid giving away your day job because you’ll need that cash flow.”
Start off by developing your business at nights and weekends, he urges. Tiring? Sure. But this could be life-changing. Or work out a part-time arrangement with your employer that’ll give you a couple of free days to concentrate on your side project.
Your job doesn’t just provide a regular income stream either, says Bouris. Keep your eyes open and it’ll give you the chance to upskill yourself with vital knowhow that you can later apply to your own business while getting paid.
Immerse yourself in the internal mechanics of how your business runs on a daily basis. Familiarise yourself with everything from the management processes to distribution. Stay alert, ask questions and extract the lessons you can apply to your own operation. “Observe, observe, observe and draw as much out of that place as you can.”