Top 10 tips on how to get into & stay in a business that you love

The following article was written for & published in the Verve Magazine – May 2019. In it, I talk about the things that I have learnt about running a business that is profitable, sustainable & that you love… They didn’t publish the full article, so I am sharing it below…

Running a successful business can be hugely rewarding & when you get it right, it can fulfil all of your dreams, both professionally & personally.

That said, going into business & maintaining a sustainable & profitable business can sometimes be tough. In NZ, up to half of our small businesses fail within the first 2 years.

There’s a good reason why some businesses fail, in fact I would argue that some should never have even started. However there are also some great business opportunities out there that can truly feed your passion & your brilliance, that can allow you to create a business & a life that you love.

Every Business Coach will tell you that you need a plan & I whole-heartedly agree with that, however without the following a plan is next to useless:

1.    Know your why & follow your passion

Businesses that are started because people have ‘making money’ as their prime objective, often fail. This because when times get tough, there is little that will keep you in the business.

If you are clear about your reason for starting your business & you know your ‘why’ & what you are passionate about, then you stand a much better chance of success. When the tough times come, and they will, you can reconnect to this reason for being on the plant & what you are passionate about & it will see you through the tough times.

If you’re unclear about your why, then I would recommend getting some help to work through this & what your core values are as these will drive the business throughout its entire life.

2.    Don’t listen to friends & family

I feel terrible saying this, however friends & family are too close to be taking advice from.

They want to be supportive & they want to see you succeed, so will be encouraging regardless of whether it’s a good idea or a good business model.

Or if they come from a traditional background they may be hugely critical about you going into business & might have comments such as, “When are you going to get a real job?”.

Remember that these comments come from their own fears so don’t dismiss them but do take what they say with a grain of salt & instead rely on actual market information to make your decisions.

3.    Know your market & know your audience

Again, don’t rely on those too close to you to test or validate your idea.

Define who your ideal customer is, put yourself in their shoes & think about what ‘pain’ you are relieving or what ‘solution’ you are providing for them & come up with some assumptions about what they might want or need.

Then you need to test your assumptions with people who meet the criteria & are not too close to you.

In my experience, if you do these surveys face to face you learn a lot more from the experience than you would using software like survey monkey. When you are in front of someone having a real conversation you can delve deeper & uncover all sorts of things you might not have thought of.

I have worked with clients who after doing their market validation have a whole new insight into what they can offer to their clients.

Market Validation is also not a ‘one-off’ thing.

Things change so fast in the business world & there are new competitors, both direct & indirect, coming into the market all the time, so in my experience, regularly looking for customer feedback is crucial. Continuously testing the market to ensure that you are delivering what they truly want & need, at a price that is right for the value you offer will help you to stay ahead of the game.

4.    Be prepared to Pivot or Fail Fast

Sometimes your idea might not be a great idea. I hate to say it, because I hate shattering dreams but sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind. There may not be a genuine need for it or people might not be prepared to pay what you need to charge to make it a profitable & sustainable business.

Don’t be concerned by this & please don’t hang onto the idea. If the market says or shows it’s not prepared to put their hands in their pocket & pay you what you know the value is, then be prepared to pivot or fail fast.

Pivoting is where you change the idea based on feedback, much like taking a different route to get to the same place.

Fail fast is not a negative, in fact it is quite the opposite. I have seen too many businesses, my own past businesses included, where the owner has poured their life savings & a huge amount of time & effort into an idea that was never going to work. Imagine if you could catch that early, put the idea to bed & not lose your house or your sanity over it?

Pivoting can happen at any stage in a business & generally happens following market validation. As your business grows, what you started offering may not be what customers now want, so continue with market validation throughout your business’ life & make changes as needed so that you can continue to pivot or pull out as needed.

I truly wish more businesses would pivot or fail fast rather than hanging onto an idea that they think is great but that no-one really wants or is prepared to pay for. The sooner you can let it go, the sooner you can move onto the next idea, that might be successful!

5.    Ask for help

This may seem contrary to my previous idea of not asking friends & family so I want to be clear that I think that asking for help is essential, it’s just about asking the right people for the right sort of help.

As Entrepreneurs & Business Owners, we often don’t want to ask for help as it can feel like failure.

Asking for help is not failing. It’s a smart way to not be ‘alone’ in your business venture & to get some advice that may take you to the next level.

I ask you this. How do you feel when you help someone? It feels great right? So, why would you deny this feeling to someone else who may be able to help you?

Taking on board a coach, a mentor or someone to be a sounding board can be a great idea.

All I would suggest is asking the right people & not asking too many people, because everyone has different ideas & it can be confusing. Look for experts or people who have been in your position in the past and can share with you their experiences & what they learnt from that rather than telling you what to do.

6.    Make sure you have the right commercial model

One of the biggest mistakes that I see time & time again is Business Owners in NZ not charging a fair price for a fair value. People often undervalue themselves & their product or service. 

Price is not everything. If it were we’d all be using no frills toothpaste & driving Skodas. Not that I don’t love Skodas – they’re great cars but they’re not for everyone & I personally like my Porsche 🙂

Be sure that you understand what value you offer to your customer, what it costs to provide this value & what they are prepared to pay for it. It doesn’t have to be an equation of costs of goods plus a profit margin. If you can value price then you stand a much better chance of success.

Also, be sure that you know what capital is required to set up & run your business at all times & plan for it. Get funding help early on, before you need it. For all of us who have worked with banks in our business, we know that it’s harder to get money when you desperately need it than when you didn’t need it, so apply for it early.

7.    Choose your business partners carefully

This is a lesson I have learnt a couple of times through my own experience & through working with clients.

Going into business with someone is like getting married or choosing a life partner. You will be together for a long time. There will be ups & there will be downs & there will be times when you just don’t agree on things or feel like you’re heading in different directions. You will also spend a huge amount of your time together, sometimes more than you do with your own family & we all know how families can fight!

There’s nothing wrong with this & if you have chosen the right partner, with the same fundamental values & vision as you, then you will be able to work through these & come out the other side richer for the experience.

My advice is to choose a business partner like you would a life partner. You wouldn’t rush into a marriage or life-time commitment. You’d probably date for a while, get to know each other, talk about shared visons & values & then, and only then, would you decide to enter into a longer term commitment.

Often in business, I guess a little like dating, we get excited when we meet a new person who seems to share our vision & ideas. They might also seem to bring something to the table that you might not have, such as knowledge, connections or money. And all of this can be great. However, if they don’t share the same fundamental values as you, then you could well hit a rock wall at some stage.

Take the time to get to know your potential business partner, spend time with them without the commitment of a partnership (there are many ways to do this) & talk about vision & values. Go through some difficult times together & then once you’ve ‘dated’ for a while then go through the process of writing up a ‘pre-nup’, otherwise known as a Shareholders Agreement & some guidelines for how you will run the business & what your values mean for you & then think about tying the knot. This process in itself will help you to get to really know the potential partner.

No-one likes a messy divorce, so all of this can help create a happy marriage.

8.    Be True to yourself

This is your journey & your journey alone. You can get help & advice along the way & all of this can be helpful, however if you are trying to build your business the way that others think you should then you are going to struggle.

Every one of us has great intuition. We know what is right & what is right for us.

Listen to this & make sure that you are owning the journey that you are on & are following your passion & working with your brilliance, not trying to be someone else.

9.    Let go of self-limiting beliefs

We all have them. That voice in our head that tells us we can’t do it, or asks us who do we think we are to be doing this, or just generally stops us from having big dreams.

My advice is to find out what these self-limiting beliefs are & work to just ‘Let them go’.

As humans, we are capable of doing anything that we set our mind to.

Work with someone to ensure that your self-limiting beliefs are not holding you back from creating the business & life that you deserve.

10.  Have fun!

Life is too short! Make sure you take time to have some fun along the way – whatever that might be for you. Studies show that when we take time out to play & be creative, we give our brain the space to be open to more opportunities. This can lead to more creative & focused thinking.

Plus, who doesn’t enjoy being a big kid every once in a while?

Debra Chantry is an Entrepreneurial Business & Leadership Coach & also the Founder of The Common, which is a Business Club / Community / Playground that enables Business Owners & Entrepreneurs to achieve their professional & personal goals. Ventell, her business coaching practice, has been running successfully for 8 years & has helped over 500 business owners. The Common turns two on the 1st May 2019.

Advisory Boards: Are you getting the right advice?

Below is an article that Debra Chantry, Our Principal & Business Coach, wrote the following article for The Icehouse…   Debra Chantry, Business Coach and Mentor at The Icehouse, sheds light on the importance of an Advisory Board – How an Advisory Board can impact your business, how your business can tell whether your Advisory Board is cutting the mustard, and what can happen businesses who choose to fly solo.     An Advisory Board is like having a Business Coach or Mentor, on steroids. Rather than one experienced person to help you with accountability and acting as a sounding board, you can have two or three that not only provide you with big picture thinking but the diversity that a single coach or mentor cannot offer.                                                                                                                              The whole purpose of an Advisory Board is to drive a business forward – but when should a business start a Board? A formal Board of Directors usually comes once there are multiple shareholders in a company. Those who make up the Board of Directors are more often than not appointed by the shareholders to legally manage, direct and supervise the company.   However, there is a middle step for startups & SME businesses and that’s an Advisory Board. An Advisory Board is more often than not set up by the Owner/ Manager of the business, with these Boards existing to provide defined advice and information in an informal and flexible manner. There may be a number of reasons why your business or startup may be seeking out governance in the form of an Advisory Board:  
  • Others can help your success by providing valuable business insight and oversight.
  • A specific area of interest, e.g. entry into new market requires specialist advice.
  • You are looking for early stage market validation.
  • The flexibility of engagement appeals to you.
  • You need help with succession planning and/or to become investment ready.
  • You want your business to become more professional.
  So therefore, if you meet any of the above criteria, and you are willing to share information then no matter what your size or your stage of growth, you are ready for an Advisory Board.   With the purpose of an Advisory Board being to drive growth or the business itself forward, it’s important to be very selective when choosing your members. They will often not only have experience and knowledge but also the networks and connections that can help your business to fast track. To ensure you get the right advice, you want members that encourage open and robust discussion of ideas – hence why family and friends are a strict ‘no-go’ zone.   The key question is: will my prospective board member add value to my company?   To be able to answer this question, the power of hindsight is essential. Knowing that a strong Advisory Board should have a diverse set of members that either have experience, knowledge, or networks and connections that can move the business forward is one of the first steps. Diversity means bringing the full breadth of relevant skills and experience from across all of the fronts the business has to operate in.    A strong Advisory Board will also be adding value to your business. They will be reading the reports in advance, contributing positively to the discussions within the meeting, challenging assumptions, offering knowledge and their experiences, and following up with the action points following the meetings. If they’re not doing this, then it’s time to fire them and move on. Fortunately there are few legal headaches around an Advisory Board – they’re designed to be flexible so that you can change them as the business needs change. The sooner you can exit and replace poorly performing members, the better.   An Advisory Board may be published/associated with the business i.e.: they feature on the company website or in materials such as business plans for fundraising. Therefore, it’s important that you not only background check the Advisory Board Member before they come on board but you also set the ground rules around what is expected and whether or not they can engage with the media on behalf of the company. If the Advisory Board member has anything in their past or has a tendency to be ‘loose lipped’ with the media, then what they have done or what they say can have an impact, both positive and negative on the business. Just like employees, they are essentially an extension of your company brand. Without giving specific examples, you can imagine what an Advisory Board member, associated with your company, creating bad press can do for your business reputation!   Although it is not crucial for a business to have an Advisory Board, it certainly helps to fast track your business while keeping you and your team focused. Much like having your own personal business coach, Advisory Boards can really help with acceleration, avoiding common pitfalls in your market, opening doors to influential people, and establishing the bigger picture.   When you’re trying to really grow your business, flying solo can feel very lonely as well as dangerous. You want advisors that have experience in an industry that is relevant to your business and who have operated in a larger and more complex organisation. You often can’t see the wood from the trees or you are blinkered in your thinking because you are too close to the business. Sometimes this can lead to small issues, other times they can lead to you wasting valuable time, money and resources.   Looking to someone to walk with you, inspire you, champion you and celebrate success with you can make the journey seem a lot less lonely. If an advisor is not the wings to help you fly, then its deadweight.    

Core competencies & Competitive Advantage: What makes your business different?

Below is an article that Debra Chantry, Our Principal & Business Coach, wrote the following article for The Icehouse…     Debra Chantry, Business Coach at The Icehouse, shares her insights on how your business can develop its core competencies to increase your competitive advantage. Debra touches on the power of defining your competencies and the potential risks involved if these are overlooked.     To start, it’s important to fully understand what a ‘competency’ is – knowing this, we can set out to determine the different forms a competency can take and what this can mean for your business.   So what is a core competency? A core competency is a well-performed activity that is central and integral to delivering on a company’s strategy, enhancing their competiveness and increasing their profitability. To take it one step further, a distinctive competency is a competency that you have that no-one else has or can easily replicate which provides you with a competitive advantage. These can be one of two things:  
  1. Resources
  These need to be things that the company has that cannot be easily acquired by competitors, such as:
  • Brand reputation
  • Proprietary know-how
  • Patents and trademarks
  • Company reputation
  • An existing customer database
  1. Capabilities
  Capabilities are the company’s ability to make use of its resources effectively i.e. bringing a product to market quicker than your competition.   A competitive advantage is produced from your distinctive competencies and can be defined as being a business that can sustain profits that exceed the average for their industry. Essentially, this can take one of three forms – either a cost advantage, a differentiation advantage or a focus advantage.  This advantage creates value for the customer, and therefore the customer is prepared to pay more or you are able to offer the product for less.   When it comes to establishing your core competencies, first brainstorm the factors you think are important to your customers or clients. Think about the factors that influence the purchaser’s decision when they’re buying products or services similar to your own.   Following this, brainstorm all the competencies that your company has; the things that you do well. List these out and then use Hamel and Prahalads three tests (refer below) to see whether your competencies are true core competencies:  
  1. Relevance: Firstly, the competence must give your customer something that strongly influences him/her to choose your product or service. If it does not, then it has no effect on your competitive position and is not a core competence.
  1. Difficulty of Imitation: Secondly, the core competence should be difficult to imitate. This allows you to provide products that are better than those of your competition. And because you’re continually working to improve these skills, this means that you can sustain its competitive position.
  1. Breadth of Application: Thirdly, it should be something that opens up a good number of potential markets. If it only opens up a few small, niche markets, then success in these markets will not be enough to sustain significant growth.
  It’s important to understand that defining your core competencies gives you a better understanding of what makes you different from your competitors and more appealing to your customers. If you go one step further and understand your distinctive competencies, then you will know what truly sets you apart and gives you a competitive advantage.   Articulating this will help you sell more, at higher prices, and at a lower cost of customer acquisition, and will enjoy greater repeat sales and referrals.   A good example of a business who have set themselves apart from the rest of the market through their core competencies, is Apple – their competency being outstanding design. Great design gives them the ability to access lots of market that no one thought possible. The tablet computer has been around for years but it wasn’t until the iPad that the market exploded.   Design provides the essence of many Apple products. There were plenty of MP3 players before the iPod, but it was design that made it a wild success. Design is also extremely difficult to imitate well, as demonstrated by the sheer number of failed iPod, iPad, and MacBook knockoffs and imitations.   The risk of not defining your core competencies, your distinctive competencies, and your competitive advantage is that you may not be able clearly articulate to your customers the value that you can deliver – this means you’re putting yourself into the ever decreasing spiral of the price war. Without sufficient competitive advantages, your company will eventually be overtaken by companies (much like Apple) that can compete more efficiently or effectively.   The world is always changing so be sure to review these regularly and make sure you are still ahead of the competition and meeting the customer’s needs.

Business Made Easy – Busting through the bullshit that keeps us stuck

Last week I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Fiona Hall from We talked about breaking through the bullshit that keeps you stuck. I shared my top 3 tips on: 1. Earn what you’re worth 2. Get the sales that you need with the right activity 3. Overcome the Overwhelm We chatted about all of the Tolerations that Business Owners & Leaders have & how you can change your life & uncover your brilliance. As a Business Coach & Leadership Coach, I have worked with hundreds of business owners & leaders who have lost all their passion because they have started to tolerate all sorts of things. It doesn’t take much to start addressing these, rediscovering your passion and uncovering your Brilliance. Feel free to call me for a free one hour session so that we can talk about where you are at and how I can help you – 0800 332 007.

Digital Strategy for Kiwi Businesses

6 dimensions of digital maturity - Business Coach | Digital Strategy

Today the NZ Herald published an article, based on an interview with our Business Coach & Principal, Debra Chantry, about Digital Strategy:


It talks about one of the clients, Baby Sleep Consultant that Debra works with as a Business Coach. Debra has worked with Baby Sleep Consultant to develop their Business Strategy as well as their Digital Strategy.


A Digital Strategy has 6 components:


6 dimensions of digital maturity - Business Coach | Digital Strategy


The article explores the Social Business Strategy that Baby Sleep Consultants have undertaken & the results that they have got from that.

Spark: Social media wakes up a sleeping business

NZ Herald – 28/06/16

When Emma Purdue started her business, Baby Sleep Consultant, just over three years ago she found Facebook a natural place to connect with potential customers.

“In years past, mums were mostly talking to each other on the phone but these days we’re socialising on social media – and with mums that’s particularly on Facebook,” says Purdue. “It’s important for us we’re engaging with them there so, when they are ready, they’ll end up coming to our website for more information or booking a consultation.”

In the early days, the business – which focuses on baby (and parent) sleep problems – found it easy to reach and grow its community on Facebook for free. However, when changes on the social media platform meant it was no longer getting the same organic reach from its posts (and they were increasingly being pointed towards paid advertising to increase reach) they needed a new strategy.

The business began developing VIP customer Facebook groups in some of the different geographic locations where its consultants operate.

Clients are invited to join the groups, members gain immediate online access to their local consultant (who manages the group), other sleep-related information and special discounts on baby and child products in their area.

Purdue reports the groups have grown organically as members – who feel they have an ‘exclusive’ relationship with the business – invite their friends, bringing more business the company’s way.

“In those VIP groups, our customers actively promote us; they’ll advocate we’re really good at what we do and they recommend us – which ends up in bookings.”

The company now has VIP Facebook groups operating for communities in Adelaide, Brisbane, Tauranga and Dunedin and has plans to roll them out across New Zealand.

Demand for Baby Sleep Consultant’s services in Adelaide, where the first VIP group was launched, has increased so much, Purdue says the company’s consultant there has given up her part-time job to focus on sleep consulting full time.

Purdue says her business coach Debra Chantry – a coach with The Icehouse business growth centre, who also runs her own business Ventell – pointed out Purdue needed to stop working so much in the business and start working more on strategies for growth.

“At the time I thought, ‘I can’t stop working with clients’, but actually about six months ago I did; from that point on, there’s been a massive change in the business – sales figures have tripled.”

Chantry describes what Purdue has achieved with the social side of her digital business strategy as ‘nirvana’ – hitting a sweet spot where customers are so engaged, they’re creating their own community to help each other as they’re helping the business.

More broadly, digital strategy is described as the activities, vision, goals and opportunities spanning everything in a business covering the IT, online and mobile spaces.

Given the increasingly digital nature of all our interactions, Chantry says it’s a broad remit: “If you really look at it, the list of things that come under that digital strategy banner can seem endless.

“In a small business context I think people can forget just how many of these digital tools we use these days – your accounting software, all the apps on your phone, marketing communications tools, social media and even internal tools for things like chat and messaging.”

However, to sharpen the focus, Chantry outlines six key areas that digital strategy generally encompasses.

The first, she says, is human resources – who’s responsible for digital, who’s leading it and who could benefit from it; then there are tech resources – the technology that’s actually being used; and data strategy – where and how data is stored and used.

The remainder include content strategy – what content is produced, where it’s kept and how it’s kept up to date; channel strategy – how digital drives relationships in the channel; and social business strategy – encompassing how social media is used within a business, as well as to grow external communities.

Chantry admits most small businesses have yet to find the bandwidth to come up with strategies spanning all six aspects. Many, she says, will instead tend to carve off a specific project within one of those areas.

“As a starting point though, the best approach is to get the key players in the organisation together and literally map out every single piece of software, data, and hardware they have – because that highlights how much ‘stuff’ a business already has, who’s responsible for it, whether it’s up to date and whether it integrates with other tools the business is using.

“Then it’s important to look at the customer journey, what the digital touchpoints are from start to finish, and how any of those could be enhanced.”


If you would like to talk to Debra Chantry or one of our Business Coaches about your businesses Digital Strategy, then please contact us –

What competing in a half marathon reminded me about achieving success

How to achieve success in business coaching and half marathons

How to achieve success in business coaching and half marathons

I have just completed a half marathon – yay! I never thought I’d be able to do it and to be fair there was a lot more ‘fast walking’ than running, so I’ve still got a way to go to achieve my original goal, but today has been one big step towards it.

Throughout the 21.097km, you have a lot of time to think and I started thinking about how I got there and what it had taken to get me there…. And it struck me that there were a lot of synergies between this and achieving business success.

It started with a vision, I set some goals and then I’ve been executing some strategies and tactics to get there. There’s also been some other things along the way that ensured that I could achieve my goals and I thought it was worthwhile sharing, hoping to inspire others to think big and go for it.

So, what have I done so far and how can this be applied to achieving business success?

There appears to be 8 key steps:

  1. Have a clear vision
  2. Set a BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal)
  3. Break this down into smaller, more manageable goals
  4. Set strategies and tactics to achieve these goals
  5. Find yourself a coach or mentor
  6. Surround yourself with people who support you
  7. Execute on the plan
  8. Celebrate Success!

 1. Be clear about your vision

It all started at the beginning of the year. After a relationship breakup last year, I started to think about my life and what I wanted from it. I realised that from a fitness point of view, I wanted to get back to being truly fit & healthy. There were many other things I wanted, and maybe in another article I’ll share them, but for today I want to take you on my fitness journey thus far.

My vision was to get back to a level of fitness where I felt truly good about myself. For me that means regularly playing sport and being able to undertake any sporting challenge that I want to, knowing that I’ll have no fear and I’ll be able to do it. For those of you that know me personally, you will know that I am currently not really ‘built’ for sport but in my younger days I used to be an avid tennis player, runner & skier, who could turn her hand to any sport… And that’s what I aspire to again.

With that clear vision in mind, I started thinking about what I needed to do and what success looked like.

Without a clear vision, how do you know where you are going and what success looks like? The same can be applied to any business and yet so many businesses don’t take the time to articulate their vision.

2. Set a BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal)

The 7 habits of highly effective people states that you should start with the end in mind.

On this basis, there’s no point in setting a goal that is easily achieved…. Look further ahead and decide what your ultimate goal is.

Then don’t be afraid to write this down and commit to it. It’s very rare that goals that are written down don’t get achieved… no matter how big or small. However you get a lot bigger sense of satisfaction when that achieved goal is a big, hairy audacious one 🙂

In my case, it was to be able to run a half marathon by the end of the year, or sooner. I’m not there yet, but I’ve signed up for another one in August and by the end of the year I expect to be able to do it.

3. Break this down into smaller, more manageable goals

That said, BHAGs can be completely overwhelming, so make sure that you break these down in to smaller, more achievable goals.

I decided that being able to just complete a half marathon by April 2015 would be my first goal.

The next goal after that is to be able to complete a 5km run by the end of May 2015 and then it’s a 10km run by end of July.

In business, things may not happen quite as quickly, so it’s important to be realistic about what can be achieved in the time frames you pick. In general when I plan myself, or when I work as a business coach, we look at quarterly goals that lead to the annual goals that lead to the 5 year goals.

What is important is that you are clear about what success looks like, you write it down and you commit to it. Then you need to measure yourself against these goals, adjusting whatever is needed to achieve them.

4. Set strategies and tactics to achieve these goals

The next step is to set strategies to achieve these goals.

In simple terms, a strategy is the “what “ you need to do and the tactics and the “How”.

The “What?” is “What are we trying to accomplish?”

The “How?” is “How are we going to accomplish our goal?” and then who is going to do it and when.

So, if we use my running example, I wanted to be able to run a half marathon by the end of the year.

How I would do that were the tactics… And in the beginning it was to go for a walk / run at least 3-4 times a week until I was easily able to do 5-6km, four days in a row.

By the time Easter weekend came around, I had managed to do 5 days in a row of 5kms and I knew I was ready to take on the half marathon.

My next tactic is to run 4-5 mornings a week, increasing the amount of time that I run until I can easily run 5km…. And then I’ll increase to 10km and finally the half marathon.

With a business, the strategies and tactics are crucial to achieving your goals, so make sure you have thought these through and again have them written down.

5. Find yourself a coach or mentor

I don’t know about you, but I achieve more when I have a coach or a mentor.

I find that I need someone to keep me on track. Someone who can hold me accountable and also someone who really understands what is going on – the good and the bad.

That someone needs to be someone I can pick up the phone and talk to when I’m having a bad day, when I need some inspiration or when I have crazy ideas and need a sounding board.

A coach or a mentor provide you with a sanity check or sounding board, they help you realise the real opportunities and then they hold you accountable for executing your plan and achieving success.

In my case, I have a special friend that I can call on to give me inspiration and get me back on track. She also stepped in when my original half marathon partner pulled out…. That’s the sort or person you need for your personal life and for your business!

6. Surround yourself with people who support you

This sounds really obvious, but sometimes we don’t notice that some people are not the right people to have around you if you want to achieve success.

Not everyone will be supportive of what you are trying to achieve. They might appear to be so, but over time you realise that they are not fully supportive, in fact subconsciously they might even be sabotaging your efforts.

I still haven’t quite worked out why people do this, but I think it possibly comes down to their own insecurities? It’s probably not something I’m going to be able to solve though nor do you need to.

The reality is that you don’t need these people around you. You need to be surrounded by truly supportive people to achieve your full potential and this might mean getting rid of people in your life who don’t meet the criteria.

How do you know you have the right people around you?

Listen to the language they use. Watch how they react to you sharing your dreams and goals. See how they respond when you tell them of your successes and achievements, even the small ones. Those that are truly supportive will always use positive language, they’ll encourage you to strive for your dreams and goals and they’ll be truly thrilled when you achieve your successes.

Without the support of my amazing friends, I wouldn’t have got to where I am right now and they continue to inspire me to go further….That’s how I know I have surrounded myself with the right people.

7. Execute on the plan

The most important part of all of this is the ‘doing’. A great idea, a great plan and great strategies are nothing without execution.

For me, and the half marathon effort, I had to make sure that I had time put aside to train. Without training, there was no way I could ever have compete … And training takes time.

In a busy world it’s easy to prioritise other things but you have to think about everything you do and decide if it is taking you towards your end goal. If it’s not then get rid of it. Make time for the things that do take you forwards, both in the short term and the long term, block out your diary and commit to them.

The key is to make sure you have the time and the resources to commit to executing on the plan. Do this by freeing up your time through getting help and outsourcing non-key things. Think of the opportunity cost of doing things yourself that don’t take you closer towards your end goal.

Do everything you can to give yourself the best chance of success.

And always remember this…

When you feel like quitting, think about why you started…

It always gets you re-motivated!

8. Celebrate Success

It’s important to celebrate success…. Even the small successes are steps towards your greater goal…. So celebrate each and every one of them.

Share them with your support network and your friends and family.

Give yourself rewards for having achieved what you set out to do… Appropriate to the size of the goal.

For me, having completed the half marathon, I decided to treat myself to a couple of new running tops. They will remind me of what I achieved but also help me towards my next goal. I also went out with a friend to celebrate.

When I complete a half marathon running the entire way then I am going to take my support network out for dinner and I shall be treating myself to a week at a luxury retreat… Can’t wait!

PS: I don’t think I’ll be able to walk tomorrow, but it’s a small price to pay for the massive grin on my face right now… And that will keep getting me up and getting back into it 🙂

Debra Chantry | Business Coach


Written by Debra Chantry – Business Coach | Principal

Where did all the real Christmas Cards go?

New Zealand Herald - December 2014 - Where did all the real Christmas Cards go? Debra Chantry - Business Coach

New Zealand Herald - December 2014  - Where did all the real Christmas Cards go? Debra Chantry - Business Coach

As published in the New Zealand Herald December 25th 2014 –

Those who make an effort to send handwritten Christmas cards will always stand out from the deluge of e-cards, writes Debra Chantry.

“Where did all the real Christmas Cards go?”

I’m not talking about the mass printed, generic Christmas message cards where each staff member signs their name, but the ones with hand written, personal and meaningful messages.

With digital having such a huge emphasis these days, are we losing the human touch?

This year I got close to a couple of hundred electronic Christmas Cards – from everyone from my dentist to a lawyer I have never used, to a supplier that I stopped using years ago. Some even got my name spelled right.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not a Scrooge… I love Christmas! And I preach avidly about Digital Marketing and what it can do for a business, so it’s not that I don’t like email.

In reality, I liked that they took the time to wish me Season’s Greetings, however, I can honestly say that I can’t remember any of those cards or what they said, nor who the person or company was that sent them. They were gone with a swipe of the ‘delete’ button.

On the other hand, I have received three handwritten business Christmas cards and I can tell you exactly who they were from and how they made me feel.

That’s because they took the time to mention something that had happened this year, something we had done together or they were thanking me for something that I had done for them. I can still feel that grin when I think about them and they take pride of place on my desk and will do until the New Year.

People do business with people… We sometimes forget that.

A company can’t really wish you Season’s Greetings – it has to come from a person.

So how do we combine the power of Digital and the human nature and intense power of the offline world to get the best results?

One of My Icehouse clients has done this perfectly.

Wendyl Nissen and Daniel Ellison run an online store selling all natural cleaning products, beauty products, recipes and ingredients.

Just recently we ran a report to see who the top 20 customers were in the online store and Wendyl and Daniel took the time to write a handwritten note inside their latest recipe book and sent it out to them, along with a voucher and a discount code for them to buy more of the books from the online store for their friends and family.

The purpose was to thank the customers for being their top customers and to surprise and delight them. We don’t really mind if they use that coupon or not.

Put yourself in those customers shoes… How would you feel if a gift turned up unexpectedly in your mail with a hand written note from the owner of the store. I’m guessing you’d be over the moon and would want to tell other people about it?

That was the response that Wendyl and Daniel got. People were thrilled to pieces. They took the time to write and thank Wendyl and Daniel and even better, the sales of the book increased too, thanks to the online voucher.

It’s good old fashioned ‘surprise and delight’, which creates word of mouth in the offline and online environments and everyone is happy.

Now imagine if you could delve deeper into your customer relationship and find out something unique about that customer, and make that message even more personal (without pushing privacy boundaries) – maybe even choosing a personal gift based on something you know about them … I’m thinking that you could create an advocate for life. Someone who will happily talk about you and your business to people they know.

Now I know that you can’t do that with every one of your customers but that’s not what Wendyl and Daniel did. They picked the top 20 customers and went with that.

In an ideal world you’d pick the top 20% of your customers, who likely bring in 80% of your revenue and you would take all of your online knowledge about them and use it to communicate with them and choose a gift, as a person to another person, in the offline environment.

The other 80% you can send an electronic email to but do think about what’s in it for them and do at least try to get their name right 🙂

I hand wrote 36 cards this year to my top customers and suppliers. In every one I put a personal message, based on what I knew about them from our CRM (Customer Relationship Management Database), my relationship with them and the work that we had done together.

It took me four hours and I came out with blue fingers as I discovered my fountain pen was playing up. However, as I watched each person open them, the look on their face was worth every minute. And those that I didn’t see in person have taken the time to thank me. I’m thrilled and I hope they are too.

Merry Christmas everyone!


Debra Chantry is a business coach and Executive in Residence at The Icehouse, helping owner-manager and start-up businesses to take their business to the next level. She also runs her own business growth agency, Ventell, which helps people take their passion and turn it into excellence in business.

UPDATED – Pricing for start-ups

Pricing for start up businesses | Debra Chantry | Business Coach

I was recently contacted, through The Icehouse where I work as an Executive in Residence & Business Coach, to answer some questions for on pricing for start-ups.

Here are the questions that I was asked and my full answers.

1. Is there a temptation to price too low? What are the risks of just trying to undercut competition?

There is always a temptation to price too low, particularly when you’re a start-up and you think that the only way you can grab market share is to make it cheaper for people.

This is particularly evident in the service sector, where people look at ‘big company’ prices and realise that they can charge a lot less than big companies because they don’t have the overheads.

Pricing is always a short-term strategy & one of 2 things will happen over time. You will become a larger company and will start to encompass some of these overheads, which means that you can no longer sustain the lower prices, or someone with bigger pockets will drop their prices to match or beat yours… and no-one wins in this situation.

The reality is that if you have established a real ‘pain point’ and / or a ‘unique value proposition’ then customers will not choose you on price alone. They will come to you because you offer them something that they need or want and they will be prepared to pay for value.

The same applies for products & services.

2. Is there a temptation to price to overvalue services in the hope of making big returns?

Not generally.

What I do find is that people underestimate the costs of running a company in general. Often people miss out on the basic costs or don’t think to the future when the company grows and what additional costs that is likely to bring. As a consequence they tend to undervalue their products & services and price too low.

I also find that Kiwis, and particularly female entrepreneurs tend to undervalue their own time & experience. We work with many companies where we take them through an exercise to understand what value they truly offer and it almost always results in increasing prices.

That said, there are cases where people have over-valued their product or service and often a change in price will create significant increase in demand, that substantially affects the profitability of a company. This can work both with a price increase and a price decrease if the pricing is wrong. It’s about getting the right balance and understanding what value you offer, what margin it can support and the competitive nature of the industry that you are working within.

3. How do you accurately value your skills and services to meet the market when you’re starting out, so you don’t have to make big adjustments later.

We encourage every start-up to do an analysis of the competitive environment. This would include things such as pricing, features & benefits, positioning, quality, selection, service, reliability etc.

From here we work with frameworks that help you map out the environment and see where your niche is and what value is to the customer, and therefore what margins it can support.

Once a company has established their niche and their value, then pricing becomes an easier task.

4. How common a problem is it for start-ups to get the pricing wrong – and what are the implications of getting it wrong

It is very common for start-ups to get pricing wrong. The implications of this is that they may get stuck in a business where they are working long hours, are not reaping the rewards and can not afford to bring anyone else in to help them.

Additionally they risk losing customers when they put their prices up.

It does sometimes happen in reverse when the price has been too high and a small adjustment can significantly increase demand but in general I would say that it is easier to start higher and lower your prices than it is to put them up.

NEW – What’s the biggest product pricing mistake?

The biggest product or manufacturing pricing mistake that I see, particularly with artisan / handmade products, is not costing the product properly – either through missing out components of the product or not taking into account the labour time to make the product.

Artisan producers often neglect to consider the costs of using a commercial kitchen and their own labour costs. At the end of the say, when you scale, you will have to employ labour to undertake this task, so it needs to be built into the cost of the product.

Add this to trying to compete in the same pricing space as mass manufactured goods or goods from China and it’s a recipe for disaster.

COLD HARD FACT – Hand made / artisan adds value to the product and you need to recognise that value and charge accordingly. If you can’t find buyers who are prepared to pay that price, then you don’t have a product that is worthwhile making for sale.

I’m always happy to have a chat to start-ups about their pricing – just contact me.

Written by Debra Chantry (Principal | Business Coach) for


Making business planning fun – is it possible?

Business Planning | Business Strategy | Business Plan

It can be overwhelming to put pen to paper and come up with a workable, detailed and water-tight business plan. You know it’s important because without a plan you have no direction, and of course you’ve been told by every business guru around, without a plan you are doomed to fail.

No pressure, right?!

You know something? Business plans really are just guesses. I’m not the only one who thinks so. Check out this snippet of wisdom from the book “Rework”.

You don’t know what the market is really going to do and how it will impact your business. If you sat there and went through every worst-case scenario you’d be working on your plans for months and be thoroughly depressed in the process. Then throw in Murphy’s Law – that one scenario you didn’t plan for, will be the one that actually happens – and then where are you at?

So now that you even more daunted about the prospect of writing a business plan, let me change your focus a little and make it less daunting and more… fun!

Is a business plan important?

Yes a plan (or guess) is important, you need to write one for your financial backers, your business partners and you need one for yourself too. It is a place to start from and a place where you can refer to when you need to make big decisions. “Should we invest in the R&D department or marketing?” Referring back to your business plan will help you come to the right decision.

Planning is vital, it will save you time in the long run. Think of it this of it this way, just imagine that instead of giving your web team a clear brief, you said: “Oh just make me something, but I don’t know what I want until I see it.” You know what? You’ve just created the perfect storm for massive delays, budget blowouts and a creative team who will despise you.

A business plan works like that too. If you don’t know what you want the end result to be, how will anyone else?

Don’t get hung up on it.

But don’t worry that the plan has to be perfect. Just because you’ve written it once, doesn’t mean you’re ‘one and done’. This is a starting a place, a plan which you will revisit and tweak, that’s normal and expected. One of the first things we learn in marketing is “Adapt or Die”, if you don’t adjust to market conditions your business will go under. Your original plan may have only mentioned Widget A, but you always knew that there was a possibility that you may need to change to Widget B.

How to stop procrastinating

So you know it’s important and you know you need to start. You also know that the business plan will adjust over time, but by golly you seem to be more interested in washing the dishes and cleaning the house than writing that business plan.

So rather than having a goal of “I will write my business plan this week”, think more along the lines of a ‘system’. James Clear has some great advice on how to change your thinking and achieve more in the long run.

The idea is rather than making it a big scary goal, break it down to a process.

Something like: “Every Monday and Friday I will complete a section of my business plan.” So rather than thinking of it as a goal, think of carving out time every Monday and Friday. Then, before you know it … thy will be done. It may not be as fast as you had initially hoped, but it will get done. If you ditch the need to have it done by a certain date, and commit to writing on certain days, you will feel more satisfied and successful.

Just start.

So let’s have a little fun with it. By coming up with ways to make it less overwhelming, you may be inclined to get the plan written today – rather than sometime in the future. You could try one of these ideas:

  1. Write from the first person. Throw in a lot of ‘I will sell…’ ‘It is my belief’ etc.
  2. Don’t call it planning. Call it something else, mind-mapping, soul-searching, brain storming. .. whatever makes it more palatable.
  3. Not a writer? Use your smartphone and voice to record your plan – and get someone else to type it up if needs be.
  4. Incentive (or call it what it is – bribery). Every section complete means you reward yourself with something.
  5. ‘Not specified or TBC’. Don’t be afraid to use these phrases. As we know it’s all just guesses anyway. You really don’t know how many units you’re going to sell. So put TBC in there for now and come back to it later.
  6. Just write it. Don’t worry about the structure and making sure you fill in all the blanks, just go for it.
  7. Done is good enough. Just get it done, don’t go for perfect … it is a work in progress doc.
  8. Use a variety of media. A business plan doesn’t have to be a 20 page block of text. Use video, audio, graphs, notes, diagrams to lay out your content.
  9. Use a variety of APPS. We are spoilt for choice when it comes to online business tools. Consider an app such as Evernote, Pinterest or iMindMap to keep your plan visual, mobile, easy to access and add to.

A really fun way of getting a pretty complete business is plan is:

Your business plan in 10 tweets” method.

Since we live in the social media age you probably think and write in 140 characters anyway. Use this to your advantage. This will help speed things up and make it fun!

Think of these categories as a tweet which you can come back to and flesh out where needed. So here are 10 categories that you can fill in – a total of 1400 words.

  1. Describe your business. (Value Proposition)
  2. What ‘problem’ are you solving in the market? (Market Need)
  3. Describe your product and since visuals sell, include an image. (Your Solution)
  4. Who is your competition and why is your product better than your competitors? (Competition)
  5. Who is going to buy your product? (Target Market)
  6. What’s it going to cost? i.e. How much to produce the items, and how much are you going to charge your customer? Go for gold and decide how many you are going to sell and what profit you are going to make. (Financials: Budgeting & Forecasting)
  7. How are you going to market your product? (Sales Channels & Marketing Activities)
  8. What have you already achieved and what do you want to achieve? (Milestones)
  9. Time to introduce yourself – why are you the right person to lead the team? (Management Team)
  10. How much money do you need to launch the business and how are you going to spend the money?(Funding Needs & Use of Funds)

You could even do this in your lunch hour during the work week. All you’ll need is some ‘extreme focus’ and you could have it done in no time.

Of course you may need to flesh out the above sections if you are after financing. But what I’ve found is that the hardest part is getting through this first ‘draft’. Once things are clear in your mind and on paper, it’s much easier to take each of these sections and dig deeper to make it more palatable for your potential investors.

If you look at writing your business plan from a different perspective, it can be a fun and rewarding process.

And if you can’t get started yourself then get someone to facilitate the process (my specialty is arse kicking!).

My question to you today is then, should writing a business plan BE FUN?