This Queensland business is keeping it in the family

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Lucy Cook with children from one of her education centres in Queensland.

No one knows the value of good staff more than Lucy Cook and Phil Mazey, founders of Queensland’s Amaze Early Education Centre. When they lost all of their staff (twice in quick succession), they realised something had to change. This small business began with one centre in 2008 and has now expanded to eight centres across Queensland. With business booming, another one is currently under construction and is due to open late 2017.

The centre is owned by four family members – sisters Alison and Lucy, along with Alison’s husband, Phil and his father, Bruce. They all know how important early education is for preparing children for school and have practical knowledge of working with children of all ages and abilities. The sisters’ both have practical teaching experience and hold a Masters in Education. While Bruce and Phil have a business background. The four family members also have six kids between them.

Of course, running an early education centre relies heavily upon having efficient staff. Unfortunately, this is something they have struggled with over the years.

Lucy recalls a time during the early years when the centre lost all its staff in quick succession. “Some were leaving due to maternity leave and others for different work opportunities,” she explains. “As new small business owners, this was an incredibly challenging time for us. It made us feel very insecure.”

Passionate team members have proved hard to come by. “If they are passionate about our vision, we will take them with us as far as they want to go,” Lucy says. “But one thing we realised was that if people want to leave, you have to let them go.”

“WE ARE Passionate ABOUT OUR VISION”

Lucy and Phil both emphasise the importance of living your vision. Phil also believes it is crucial for incoming members to be aware of “where we come from, and where we live in our small business”. He says it is also important for staff members to know they are extremely valuable to the centre’s success. “We really focused our business model based around our staff,” he explains.

Lucy also believes that if a small business doesn’t consist of a solid staff base, success isn’t sustainable. “You have to make sure that you have done everything that you can to retain good staff,” she says. “Establishing a good relationship with them is a great way to start.”

Providing staff with the appropriate training, the right opportunities for growth, showing your support for them and appraising them are what she identifies as key steps to maintaining good staff.

Phil and Lucy have since adopted a saying that they strictly abide by: Hire for attitude and train for skill. “We can’t stress enough how important attitude is in a small business,” he says. “We are dealing with people’s children. Having the right attitude is crucial for the operation of the business.”

“Hire for attitude and train for skill”

Being a family-based business, hiring people who shared their vision was challenging. “It’s important to realise you may have someone who is a great team member, but not necessarily a good leader,” Lucy reflects. “It doesn’t mean they are unqualified; it just might not be the right fit for them. That is hard to deal with at times.”

With an optimistic approach, Alison, Lucy and Phil now provide their staff with the right tools and training to succeed in their role. At the end of the day it is up to each individual staff member to deliver.

Kochie on the importance of retaining good staff

Phil & Lucy’s top tips for small business owners:

  • Be open, honest and ethical
  • Live your culture and breathe your vision
  • Always surround yourself with the best people
  • Get the basics right. Find good accountants and solicitors etc.
  • Have a solid foundation of what your vision is before you look to expand
  • Invest in your staff. You can have the best facilities, but if you have the wrong staff, you are still missing the key ingredient

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