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Kids Club: My first year in business

No small business owner will tell you that their first year in business was easier than they expected.

But as Kids Club CEO Corie Stone recalls, knowing your ‘why’ and planning ahead can make all the difference to success.

With a mission to raise the bar of childcare standards in the country, Stone and his wife are now operating nine centres in the ACT and NSW since first launching the business in 2016. A further five centres are about to open in Victoria and Queensland. Kids Club Elizabeth Street also took home a ‘Start-up Superstar Award’ at Business Australia’s Sydney City Regional Business Awards.

Here, Stone reflects on the factors that were crucial to not just surviving the first 365 days, but for laying a solid foundation for sustainable success.

You have a strong vision and clear goals for your business. How critical was this to getting the business off the ground?

Having a clear picture of our endgame enabled us to develop a detailed business plan and make a compelling presentation when we first applied for a business loan.  Getting the bank to start believing in us was the key to our growth and success today. In fact, we’ve just completed another successful funding round to help us expand further.

Our vision for the business also helped to clarify our point of difference. Kids Club offers a very natural, warm, aesthetic environment for children to play and learn in. And we were able to establish this from the outset with the first centre. This includes everything from our Australian-themed rooms, to the use of hardwood and the colours we’ve chosen, down to exactly what goes into each area.

Going to these lengths has really paid off and we’re now running at around 96.5% occupancy across the board, with an average of 150 families per centre.

Are you starting out?

Starting a business is incredibly exciting, but there’s also a lot to get your head wrapped around. We can help you understand what you need in the beginning you have the right tools at your disposal from the get-go.

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.

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