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The award-winning businesswoman connecting regional SMBs

Robyn Lewis - VisitVineyards CEO

As the 2012 Telstra Businesswomen’s Awards open for nominations, Dynamic Business is chatting to 12 former winners about the impact the program has had on their business.

Robyn Lewis, VisitVineyards CEO and founder, was a Tasmanian finalist in the 2010 Telstra Businesswomen’s Awards, and credits her success in the program as a big part of the reason her business made it through the GFC.

Lewis established her culinary travel guide VisitVineyards.com in 2002, and now connects over 30,000 businesses in regional areas from the wine, food and tourism industries. The sites 40,000 subscribers mean it outranks the popularity a number of State tourism websites, and Lewis credits her engaged customer base as the greatest source of new and innovative business ideas.

In this Q&A, she reveals how innovation has kept her business alive and talks about how the Telstra Businesswomen’s Awards win provided her team with a much-needed morale boost.

1. How important do you think it is for a business owner to have an innovative spirit, and why?

It’s absolutely essential. The business owner/CEO/MD/general manager provides leadership for the business, not just in strategic planning and operations, but also in setting the culture of the business. If they aren’t open to innovation, opportunities be missed and innovation will be stifled, and the business won’t be able to attract or retain innovators.

Innovation is also critical for the nation. New businesses and entire industries are being built on innovation, and Australia’s future depends on it.

2. What’s the most significant way innovation has impacted your business in past year?

We are constantly innovating. One of the best sources of ideas for new and improved services is our customer base, so we ask them and the feedback we get is amazing. Then there are what I would call ‘internal innovations’ – small but significant changes in all areas, which not only increase productivity and staff happiness, but also reduce costs.

3. What one piece of advice would you offer other aspiring businesswomen and female entrepreneurs?

I have three pieces of advice to offer, all of which are equally important.

First, get yourself the best mentor you can find, especially if you don’t have a board that can provide you with a broad outlook on your industry and potential markets. I struggled for years with mediocre mentors, when I could have saved a lot of time and money, and reduced risk, with top-class mentoring. I now go to Sydney for professional mentoring and it’s worth ten times every dollar spent.

Secondly, make sure you have 100 percent backing and commitment from your family, and that they’re in it for the long haul. It’s hard enough to run a business, without mutiny in the home ranks, which makes it nearly impossible. I’m very fortunate in that regard, but I also work hard at home to ensure that my family ship remains afloat and heads in the right direction.

Third, when starting your business, plan to exit it right from the beginning. This is where most businesses make their money, not generally in day-to-day operations. Write down your business and your family’s goals for a minimum of the next ten years, then work backwards. Also, don’t aim low.

4. How has being nominated and winning a Telstra Business Women’s Award impacted your business or organisation?

The award gave all our team a much-needed morale boost when things were looking pretty tough during the GFC. It also adds credibility and opens doors.

With over 40,000 subscribers, VisitVineyards.com is now the niche market leader in online wine and food travel, and no doubt the Telstra Business Women’s Award has assisted us reaching that goal, and whatever tomorrow brings!