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Leaders need to have a clear vision to ensure their business can branch into bigger markets. And where better to learn leadership skills than a regional business, where lessons passed down may mean the difference between life and death?

People are dangerous, not chainsaws. This is the maxim of Steve Smith, owner of Steve Smith Chainsaw Training Services on the Sunshine Coast. Having been in the industry for more than 30 years, Smith has seen the danger of equipment in the wrong hands and now works to ensure those hands operate tree-felling machinery efficiently and, more importantly, safely.

Entering into the arboricultural industry in 1978, Smith wasn’t always into the teaching side of tree felling.

“I got into the training side of it in 1995,” says Smith. “That was brought about by a change of legislation – we had to have certification for chainsaw operation anywhere on Crown land. Most of our work at that time was for government departments.”

The business gradually evolved to focus solely on education and training, when in 2001, Smith cut the equipment hire arm of the business.

“I’d had a lot of good experiences but also bad ones and I wanted to make sure people didn’t have those bad experiences.”

Regional success takes a good feller

Although the market is now heavily saturated with other training organisations, Smith’s experience – and his name – is to the business’ advantage.

“I’ve done a lot of work in New Guinea, Singapore and pretty much all over the state.”

And as a leader, Smith ensures he never stops learning.

“I attend national conferences on a frequent basis.”

As a result, Smith’s name is now synonymous with the calibre of his services.

“I’ve been around a long time,” he says. “It’s pretty hard to find somebody that’s had the same relevant experience as I have.”

Smith he maintains high-quality service to his clients, something they’ve come to expect from the business.

“I’m the one that does it – if they book me, they know they’re getting me,” he says. “It’s more of a personal thing, building relationships with clients. If I were to send out somebody else to do the training, it creates a whole new quagmire of quality control.”

Having built the training business to a successful level, Smith has now opened up a separate business with his three sons called Steve Smith & Sons Vegetation Management. As owner of the business – and father of the group – Smith knows his role as leader well.

“They’re the more proactive ones,” he says. “It’s more of an advisory role and maintaining them and steering them in the right direction so they can benefit from where I came from too.”

Digging up roots to reach beyond your region

Headquartered in Palmwoods, Smith knows the challenges of being regionally-located, and is leading the way in overcoming these challenges. With someone employed in the business to handle all administration aspects, Smith is free to engage with the clients and travel wherever the demand for his services takes him. This, he says, affords him unparalleled flexibility in tapping into new markets.

“We’re a mobile travelling organisation,” he says.

The mobile structure of the business means that there is “a lot more flexibility as far as clients go”.

“Put it this way – with the environmental protection requirements on the Sunshine Coast and the present council bylaws for preservation of trees, I couldn’t do a lot of what I do here. You’d clear the coast in two weeks!”

As well as travelling all around Queensland (in one week, he drove 6000 kilometres!), Smith’s work has him training international organisations. In 2006, for example, Smith was contracted to work with the Singaporean government to train staff in tree-climbing and chainsaw operations.

“They were in the process of changing their workplace health and safety legislation at that time, which is what we had here in 1995, so it was a good baseline to share with them.”

Despite the challenges in being constantly mobile, Smith says leading a business flexible to clients’ needs is essential.

“I’m in the service industry so you meet your clients’ demands,” he says. “What it comes down to is, it doesn’t matter what business you’re in, you have to be able to maintain the servicing of the client, making sure that the client is satisfied with the product that you’re delivering.”

At a glance – five steps for leadership success in regional business

  1. Have a clear vision – this will ensure your business can branch out into bigger markets.
  2. Share your experiences – your team (or trainees) need not make the same mistakes you did. 
  3. Build and maintain your brand – ensure you live up to your name.
  4. Never stop learning – keep up with industry standards.
  5. Overcome regional challenges – ensure you have the right support system.

So, if you’re looking to work on your business rather than being stuck in it, book in for a complimentary business assessment today with Switzer Business Coaching

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Important information: This content has been prepared without taking account of the objectives, financial situation or needs of any particular individual. It does not constitute formal advice. For this reason, any individual should, before acting, consider the appropriateness of the information, having regard to the individual’s objectives, financial situation and needs and, if necessary, seek appropriate professional advice.

Published on: Wednesday, November 17, 2010

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