We recently caught up with Brett Gleeson from The Business Growth Centre, to discuss the latest issues surrounding small businesses in Lake Macquarie.

What is the main reason you got into your industry?

I was lucky. In my previous role I had become increasing frustrated and decided ‘on Friday evening over a glass of Irish Whisky’ that it was time to ‘move on’. So I did a search on ‘Seek’ and the only position that came up was ‘Centre Manager-Lake Macquarie Business Centre’. I had 23 years’ experience in managing businesses, including managing two Registered Training Organisations (RTOs). The Centre is a not for profit organization so that matched by personal values. So it was a good fit and I prepared an application, got offered the position and started on 31 May 2010. I have thoroughly enjoyed the past six years. I get to fulfil my passion for supporting business people and seeing people grow professionally and personally. Its very rewarding to see businesses succeed, especially when I have played a part in helping them to get started and grow.

The Business Growth Centre was established in 1997 as Lake Macquarie Small Business Centre. In 2006 it became the Lake Macquarie Business Centre and then in 2011 was rebranded as the Business Growth Centre.

The Centre received a federal government grant to construct and establish a Business Incubator to encourage and support the establishment and growth of small businesses in Lake Macquarie. Initially the Centre had 10 offices and 10 small light industrial units. In 2007, further funding was provided to build a further 5 larger light industrial units. Whilst the Government provided the funding to build the incubator complex, it has never provided funding to operate the Centre.

As a not for profit company limited by guarantee, the Centre is governed by a Board of 12 local business people and its daily operations are managed by a small team. The Centre uses sound business principles and practices to ensure that it remains self sustaining.

In addition to providing low cost rental of space, the Centre also assists tenants to establish and run their businesses through the provision of a range of services including business advice and mentoring, bookkeeping, marketing, secretarial support, referrals and networking opportunities.

The Centre’s incubator program is very successfully with 94% of tenants continuing to operate once they have ‘graduated’ from the Centre. The vast majoring continue to operate in Lake Macquarie after they leave the centre. The average time a tenant spends at the Centre is around 4 years.

In support of its role as a business incubator, BGC is also a Registered Training Organization (RTO) delivering business related qualifications plus workshops and seminars.

What current challenges are your industry facing?

With a 4 year rolling average for our occupancy exceeding 90%, the constant challenge is to have sufficient space for new tenants.

The other challenge the Centre faces is its capacity to support businesses in the south and west areas of Lake Macquarie. It is our strong desire to establish a business incubator in the Toronto – Morisset area to assist the growth of businesses in that area.

The other challenge is to meet the demands of assisting start up and growth phases businesses. Another challenge is to discourage the people who are not well equipped to be in business from starting or buying a business. People with a poor attitude or low skill set really struggle to be successful especially when they don’t seek advice, listen to advice they receive or have a negative attitude towards training and skill development. When businesses fail, someone always gets hurt.

Where do you see the industry heading?

The role of a business incubator remains strong and the need for supporting people in business, especially people new to owning and/or operating a business also remains strong. After a hiatus of several years, the role of business incubators is once again on the Federal Government agenda through the National Science and Innovation Program. This could leave to some exciting times ahead for the Incubator sector around Australia.

Its also exciting times for our RTO with the NSW Governments Smart & Skilled funding providing significant subsidies to individuals to achieve nationally recognised qualifications in business.

How has technology disrupted how you run your business?

Technology is an enabler. The challenge is to keep up with the increasing rate of change in technology and the increasing range of technology products. Its amazing how much we rely on technology to drive our business these days. Almost all businesses are very dependent on it now.

Who are the most important people to have in your business network?

Having positive and proactive people in your network is very important. Being connected to people who inspire you and who support you and provide positive energy, especially when times get challenging is essential. The Centre places a lot of importance on connecting people and we do this through the Lake Macquarie Business Network, Lake Macquarie Women in Business Network and the Lake Macquarie Business Excellence Awards. These are excellent avenues for business people to promote themselves and their businesses. These networks also provide opportunities to engage with other business people and cultivate positive and meaning connections and relationships with people who can help you move forward in your business and who you can assist in return.

Being open to other people’s perspectives and wisdom is very encouraging and empowering. The contribution of a strong network can’t be underestimated. It is important to understand that networking is not about how many people you know, its about how many people know you, respect you and value your business.

What input or assistance do you expect from your accountant/bookkeeper?

The role of an accountant and bookkeeper is absolutely critical to any business. Good business people know their financial position at least on a monthly basis; many know it weekly and some daily.

Having a trusted and proactive relationship with your accountant and bookkeeper is critical to the success of every business. Even when they are external to your business, they are an integral part of your team.

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