What did you find most challenging and how did you try to overcome this?
I’d have to say lack of sleep. I think this is the case for anyone in their first year of business. It’s not a nine-to-five job. Sally and I did everything including project management, business development, finding centres, negotiating leases – we worked around the clock to make it happen.
Whether or not you’re in business together, you have to have a partner that understands your dream.
We have three children, and being a young family and trying to start a business is hard. To hold things together, my advice is to put at least one day at the weekend aside as a family day and to make sure you take a proper holiday at least once a year.
Were there any particular tools that helped you to manage your workload?
Right from the start we set up digital systems and procedures, including a childcare solution to collect parent payments, manage childcare subsidies, and log emergency contact details, etc. We also invested in accounting and payroll software.
We’re always looking at how we can improve our systems – for instance, we now have a piece of software that logs all of our centre maintenance. As well as driving efficiency, having the right systems in place is key for reporting. You need to have your finger on the pulse of your business so you can adapt and make informed decisions.
Financial mismanagement often trips businesses up in the first year. Aside from your accounting systems, how else did you keep your finances in check?
When you first start out, there’s a lot of money going out and not a lot of money coming in. I think it’s important to plan ahead and work out how long it will take you to break even. Then double it. There are always unexpected expenses, those blind moments that weren’t in your business plan, so you need cash reserves.
Cash flow is key and you need to ‘live lean’. We didn’t pay ourselves a salary, we just put money aside to live off. I know a lot of people would ask, ‘Why would you go into business if you’re not even going to pay yourself a salary?’ But when you’ve got an endgame, it’s not about what you earn in the first year.
These days, Stone and his wife Sally are continuing to stride towards their end goal, but with 280 team members and counting, it’s now far more of a collaborative effort.