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Grow your business in tough times

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Diversification teamed with careful planning proves to be a winning strategy.

In a time when most entrepreneurs are scaling down their business or simply concentrating on treading water, Adelaide-based serial entrepreneur Nick Llewellyn has not only started new ventures, but is looking to grow them.

“As an entrepreneur, you are constantly taking massive risks based on your instinctive belief,” says Llewellyn. “As such there is plenty that can go wrong.”

But from the bar to bungies and everywhere in between, Llewellyn is testament to the fact that diversification is a winning strategy.

Business in the making

Llewellyn got his first taste of working in his mother’s catering business, aged 12. “I was desperate to work in the business before that, however the rule was set. That was the earliest I was allowed to participate,” recalls Llewellyn.

His first engagement was far from his last: among the many other jobs to see him through his combined law/arts degree (from which he graduated with honours) included stints as a barman, petrol station attendant and bouncer, before he went out on his own.

“During my five years at uni, I organised charity events and events on a commercial basis. That was a great little business.”

Upon graduating, Llewellyn secured a Judicial Associateship in the Supreme Court of South Australia under the Honourable Justice Bruce Debelle, a highly sought-after position and an essential step to life at the bar.

“I left the Courts with a rosy view of the legal profession, started at a commercial litigation firm and hated it. I took the dramatic decision to leave law and I started my events business again six months after leaving the Judge.”

No matter what you do, says Llewellyn, you have to enjoy doing it. If not, he advises you do as the Monty Python crew suggests and opt for something “completely different”.

Llewellyn soon sold the events company and, from the proceeds, bought Adelaide’s Botanic Hotel, renovated it and sold it a little under two years later.

Since then, Llewellyn established, then ran the manufacture and operation of Aero Jump Bungy Trampolines, exporting the product internationally. “Aero Jump received some awards for innovation and I had a great time travelling the world meeting customers and installing machines.”

As demand softened, operations soon became the key focal point of the bungy business, and Llewellyn’s focus shifted once again, but not without tying up loose ends. “I scaled Aero Jump down through various sales and partnerships so I could concentrate on Wicked Pizza.”

Wicked Pizza, a fast-cook gourmet pizza concept for major events and franchised stores, signals a return to his catering roots.

The secret recipe

The secret to growing your business in tough times is, according to Llewellyn, careful capital planning and tight cash flow management.

“I have not only had many businesses, but I invest money in stable and ‘normal’ investments so that they are isolated if a particular plan doesn’t hit the mark properly,” says Llewellyn.

He blames the stagnancy of those around them on one of two things: either they are not being true to their ideas or they have limited access to capital. “Access to capital is vital in all business, but critical in a start up. If my new business is going to be a success what better time to test it properly than in a period of tight demand. There's no genius in making money in a bull market, so if I can prove my system now, then it really is a great system.”

This is not to say Llewellyn has always had such foresight. When asked what the one piece of advice he wishes he’d been given earlier, he replies without hesitation. “Have a very, very long view of time,” says Llewellyn. “When I was younger I wanted everything to happen now. Right now, I am planning 18 months ahead and it feels good to have that kind of forward strategy and planning.”

Llewellyn puts his accomplishments to date down to honesty about his own abilities. “Recognising my weaknesses and finding people who are better in those areas than I am has also been a key part of my success,” he says.

Vision is also important, and this includes a business plan. “A business strategy to give a clear path forward with defined goals is vital so that in good and bad times you can refer to your original plan and measure where you're at,” says Llewellyn.

So that he can work on the business, rather then being tied up in it, Llewellyn ensures he has great staff in key positions, no matter what kind of operation he’s running. This also helps him maintain a healthy work-life balance.

While he has no aspirations to return to the bar, he continues to turn to it for inspiration, naming Justice Debelle among those who inspire him to persevere. “Justice Debelle is a spectacular individual,” says Llewellyn. “Wildly intelligent, compassionate, funny and a hard worker. If I can be half the man he is in my ‘profession’ I'll be very happy.”

Published on: Sunday, June 28, 2009

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