In this exclusive Q&A, we chat to Brenda Thomson, Founder of Smart Small Business Forums, the 2013 My Business Award winner in the hotly contested Best Star-Up category, sponsored by Regus.
My Business: Why did you start your own business?
Brenda Thomson: The motivation for SMART Small Business Forums came from seeing (and experiencing) a genuine need in the market. We wanted to find a way to make a genuine difference to the lives and struggles of small business owners. We’re far more motivated by being able to make a difference than by money or achievements.
MB: How has your business evolved since its inception?
BT: We started SMART Small Business Forums in response to a survey about what small business owners were and weren’t looking for in a networking group. Then we kept asking, reviewing and refining. That’s been one of the main reasons for the success of SMART Forums – a combination of our passion for making a difference, together with my training background has given me an obsession with testing and measuring, evaluation and aiming to achieve measurable results for the business. We came to realise that networking was a very small piece of the puzzle in making a real difference for small business owners, so we rebranded to remove the word networking from the name and refined our systems and processes to focus on being a mastermind/board of directors/business strategy group rather than a networking group.
MB: What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?
BT: Getting really clear on exactly who makes the ideal Forum facilitator (leader). When we started it was pretty much, “Wanna lead a Forum? Great – welcome to the team”. Now we’re far more selective, for their sake as well as ours. We put potential facilitators through an extensive selection process that helps us make sure they are a good fit.
MB: What does it mean for you to be recognised as a My Business Award winner in 2013?
BT: It’s always nice to be recognised for what you have achieved, but for me the most significant thing is the opportunity to expand the brand, attract more quality forum facilitators and be able to make a difference to more small business owners. We have a kind of odd business model – people look at it and ask, “where’s the money?”. And if we structured it differently, targeted a different demographic and charged a lot more we would make a lot more money more easily, but that’s not why we’re in business. Being a winner of a credible high profile award such as the My Business Award will help to increase our credibility and help us achieve our goals faster.
MB: Share with us some of your bigger successes.
BT: I get a real buzz when I hear forum members talking about the business successes they’ve achieved as a result of their forum membership and also from hearing visitors say how much they enjoyed the process and how much they got out of attending even one meeting. And the results keep on getting better and better as we attract more of the kind of business owners who share our values and ethics and who are a good fit with the way we do things.
MB: Moving forward, how’s the outlook for your business?
BT: It’s exciting! We’ve identified a very specific niche with a very clearly identified set of problems and challenges and we’ve come up with a unique set of solutions. There isn’t anything else quite like us. I’ve never been the kind of person who sets big, hairy audacious goals, but I believe we’re on track to make a genuine difference to thousands of small business owners.
MY BUSINESS CONGRATULATES SMART SMALL BUSINESS FORUMS ON BEING A DESERVING MY BUSINESS AWARD WINNER IN 2013.