The smiling assassin
DON'T engage small business consultant Rod Richards if you don't want to hear the hard stuff.
With a history of 14 years mentoring under his belt, Mr Richards has developed a reputation for giving clinical, frank assessments of small and micro businesses.
He asks the tough questions of business owners, gives them homework, makes them accountable, gets them thinking about matters that haven't previously crossed their minds and challenges them constantly to do things better.
The approach works. Mr Richards recently reached the milestone of mentoring 1000 businesses.
"There have been others in various business development workshops that I deliver, so the number is probably more like 1100 or 1200," he said.
"But I am really rapt about that. From my point of view, getting the results for the clients has been the best thing for me."
Mr Richards is a former state manager for menswear brand Roger Davis and had been redeveloping shopping centres in central and south-east Queensland when he was asked to run New Enterprise Incentive Scheme courses.
He spent eight years doing that before starting his own business, Richards Consulting, in 2006.
"I meet business owners at all different stages of the business cycle," he said. "At the introduction, at the growth phase, on that maturity phase where I can grab them when they start to flatline.
"There have been a few businesses where I've advised that it was time to develop a succession plan and exit the business. I tell them not to waste more money trying to salvage this thing.
"I'm a bit of a wet blanket. I'll ask them what's life going to look like after the business and when they say they don't know, I tell them to prepare."
Mr Richards counts as among his most memorable cases two businesses who were exporting within 12 months of establishing following his advice and another man who won a legal challenge from a competitor and went on to turn over $2.5m gross in the first two years.
"The level of business confidence on the Sunshine Coast is pretty poor," he said.
"What we are doing (with my clients) is crossing the Ts and dotting the Is before we invest into any initiatives.
"I think it's terrible to see a lot of great businesses close, but there is opportunity there.
"This is no time for the blame game and you've got two choices: either fold up or look at ways of improving your business."
Mr Richards also derives income from partnerships with state government as a mentor in the Small Business Solutions scheme and as a workshop presenter for the upcoming DEEDI business planning seminars (the first one is on September 28).
"It is vital that business owners have business knowledge and skills to be proactive in decision-making.
"They must also take a really thorough look at their marketing, costing and financial planning.
"Ninety per cent of small businesses don't hold a working business - and that hasn't changed in 20 years."