Articles, Growth, Rob Drage
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Soul Searching Sole Trader


Those of us who have launched into the life of a sole trader know why we did it—the lifestyle, the personal reward, the independence, the lack of office politics and fickle employers. But how do you make sure you have a truly viable business that will consistently deliver the income you want? Rob Drage, business mentor at Thexton Armstrong Drage in Faulconbridge, says that every sole trader needs to do some soul searching—and he recommends two regular review processes.

Taking a good, hard look at your business might not be every sole trader’s idea of fun—it might even be terrifying—but it is essential. “The life of a sole trader can be rewarding, frustrating, exhilarating and stressful all at once,” says Rob. “Part of balancing these emotions is having a thorough understanding of the business, the customers and the competition.”

Rob’s two review processes, the SWOT analysis and Business Definition, take time, thought and discussion to get the most benefit, and to most people they are far less exciting than just running the business. However without them, you might not be running a business at all.

“Take the time to explore each of these and be brutal with your answers,” Rob says. Done well, “they should give you a clearer picture of your business, your market, your customers and your opportunities.”

The Business Definition

The Business Definition comes first. It’s the who, what, when, where and why of everything you do.

Below are the five attributes of any business. Answer these with a simple yes or no, but beware: Rob warns that “if any one of these five attributes is missing, then—by strict definition—you are not running a business.”

The Five Attributes

  1. Do I offer a repetitive product/service of value?
  2. Do customers need or want my product/service?
  3. Are customers willing to pay for my product/service?
  4. Does my product/service meet and satisfy their needs?
  5. Is there enough profit in each transaction to make it
    worthwhile to do again?

If you answered ‘yes’ to all of these—congratulations, you have a business!

If you came up with a ‘don’t know’ anywhere, remember that two heads are better than one. Who can you ask to find out? How can you test the market?

The Five Ws

Next, you will need to drill down into the five Ws—the who, what, when, where and why—associated with each of the five attributes. Let’s take attribute 3, for example, which is often a real sticking point.

Who would pay for my product/service? Be as specific as you can about your ideal customers.

What would they be willing to pay? Will your customers feel that the value of your service exceeds the price? And what should that price be?

When would they pay? Do they pay over-the-counter for an item, or do you have services for which you will charge instalments or repeat fees?

Where will they pay? Should you consider a retail outlet or an online e-commerce website? What about mobile EFTPOS for on-site delivery or market stalls?

Why will they pay? The answer to this one will also be the answer to attribute 4 above!

Here are some examples of what you might ask for each of the five attributes.



Do I offer a repetitive product or service of value?

What is my product or service?
What makes it unique or valuable?
Do I have a geographic aspect to the business?

Do customers need or want my product or services?

How do customers use/own my product?

When would they require my product/service for the first time, and again?
Do I modify the product to suit individual needs?
Are my customers’ needs changing over time?
Do they have to be nearby?
Is it a must-have or a nice-to-have?

Are they willing to pay?

Do customers perceive the value exceeds the price?
What is my value proposition?

Does my product/service satisfy/meet their needs?

Does my product meet/exceed their requirements/expectations?
Do they tell their friends/network?

Is there enough profit in each transaction to make it worthwhile to do again?

Have I priced my product to generate a desired income for me and my family?
Is my price viable for the customers I am seeking?

If you find yourself struggling with the answers or just don’t know where to begin, then enlist the help of someone you trust—an objective friend, a business colleague, or a mentor—to help generate ideas. We can never see ourselves the way other people can, and the same goes for our business ideas.

Swatting your SWOT

The SWOT analysis has quite a pedigree—it is usually traced back to the 1950s and two of America’s finest business schools, Stanford and Harvard.

Originally the SWOT analysis was an organisational strategy process, which was, in the 1960s by Harvard Business School, developed into the tool so familiar today. Chances are, you have come across it already, and you might even consider it one of those things you know you ‘should’ do, but you are not entirely sure why.

“If undertaken correctly this analysis can be very beneficial, but a waste of time if not,” says Rob. That could be the reason it is not used as often as you would expect. It is surprising how many businesses, even established ones, have never really ‘swatted the SWOT’—that is, really pinned down their Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats so that they can act strategically to build on the S and the O and mitigate the W and the T.

Being honest is, of course, as essential as it was for the Business Definition—and so is being precise. “Commonly the phrases ‘great to deal with’ or ‘great customer service’ are placed as strengths,” Rob says. “Can I suggest that these are base-line attributes?” In other words, don’t just write down the kind of easy platitudes that you, as a customer, would frown at in another company. The other secret to a good SWOT analysis is to put yourself in the shoes of your customer—and your competition.




Is my product/service unique?
Do I get lots of customer referrals?
Is my product/service aligned with my key customers’ wants/needs?
Do I hold industry certifications?
Am I an expert in my field?
Do I have a diverse range of clients?


Can my products be copied (have I patented my idea)?
Is my technology, or knowledge of the latest technologies falling behind?
Do I require licences to expand my business offering that I don’t have?


Can I respond to changing consumer/market demands?
Are there new/emerging markets I have not tapped into yet?
Can I up/down scale easily?


Is there growing competition in my market?
Are my customers’ needs changing faster than I can keep up?
Is the regulatory framework in my industry changing?
Do I have an exit plan in place?

There are plenty of templates available online that can help you work through and record your own SWOT analysis, but don’t just go it alone. “In reality,” says Rob, “if you have an experienced and objective set of eyes and ears working with you, the process has a far better chance of being meaningful and beneficial.”

The Business Definition and the SWOT analysis are, of course, only the beginning—the foundation on which you can build a solid business. The next step from here, Rob says, “is to craft activities and goals into a workable plan that ensures your customers gladly tell their friends and colleagues about your business and your value proposition. That puts profitability and sustainability at the core of your business.”

We might not phrase it as smartly as that, but—in the end—that is what every sole trader and small business wants. Will you choose to spend quality, soul-searching time working on your business, rather than just in it?

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