Three mentors share tips that most surprise their small business clients

When you’re running a small business, getting the right advice is invaluable. That’s where business mentors can provide real value.

Business mentors have the experience and knowledge to provide practical advice for your business, whether you’re starting out, growing or winding back.

If you’re not sure where to find a business mentor, the Small Business Bus connects business owners with business mentors in locations across the state.

We spoke to three mentors who work on the Bus to pick up some valuable (and surprising) business tips and learn more about them. 


You don’t need to be on TikTok

If your target market isn’t on TikTok, you don’t need to be on TikTok.” 

That’s business mentor Karen Oliver’s favourite piece of advice to give business owners who are looking at their digital marketing strategy.

Karen is a regional Tourism Consultant specialising in industry and product development. She has extensive experience supporting tourism businesses for more than ten years working on projects to support the Victorian tourism industry. Karen has extensive domestic and international travel experience and has held roles in the regional marketing and research teams at Tourism Victoria.

Karen believes that small business owners often overlook opportunities to define their target market beyond specific demographics, such as age or gender.

Profile photograph of Small Business Bus mentor Karen Oliver.

In failing to look at other options, such as interest-based targeting, they potentially waste time and money with activities that won’t grow their business… such as investing in a social media platform that your target audience doesn’t use.

“Once business owners start to really consider who their target market is, it helps focus their attention on their customers and simplifies decision making.”

Plan for the unexpected. That’s another core piece of advice from Karen. 

“Conducting a risk assessment can help businesses identify a wide range of risks, make a realistic assessment of their likelihood and impact on the business, then plan for how they will respond. They will also sleep better because they have made plans for how they will respond if the ‘what ifs’ occur.”

Be it risk management or other forms of planning, Karen says getting support with the process can be a great help.

“Many business owners present with symptoms of analysis paralysis. They have lots of ideas but they’re unsure which to take forward or how to take the next steps.”

And for immediate support, Karen recommends the information and resources provided through Business Victoria.

“If you are looking for information to help you run your business, check out the Business Victoria website. They have amazing resources and templates; the site is easy to navigate, and the website search function actually works!” 


Having a great product or service is not enough 

“Having a great product or service is not enough,” says Brian Oldland. “’If you build it, they will come’ doesn’t happen in real life. You need to be able to effectively communicate and support your value proposition.”

A value proposition is a simple statement that summarises why a customer would choose your product or service. Developing one is an important part of the work that goes into planning and starting a small business. This practical advice comes from Brian’s background in a range of business areas.

Brian has provided consulting and mentoring advice to start-ups and established companies for over 25 years. He is an executive director of the smart city firm the Active Reactor Company and regularly conducts commercialisation workshops for the Victorian Government. 

“My mentoring experience extends across a wide range of industries including manufacturing, engineering, health care and retail. My background is in manufacturing, R&D and business consulting specifically commercialisation and business start-ups.”

Brian says the first steps in a small business journey can throw up a lot of challenges. It’s the time when most people will seek support.

“Not knowing how to set up a business, understanding the difference between a sole trader and a company, and obtaining insurance.”

These are common problems for people who have an existing skillset and experience in their industry, but now want to branch out – such as a physiotherapist who wants to establish their practice.

Brian’s a strong advocate for finding and using the support available as you work through the early days of your business – and has great suggestions for getting started.

“Take the time to start a business plan that includes a clear articulation of the product or service value proposition, cash flow forecast and action plan.

“Significant further help is available from Business Victoria and Monarch in terms of workshops and business planning guides.

“The Economic Development Unit in your local council or shire is there to help your business and can even guide you through complex council requirements, such as approval for a commercial kitchen.”

He says federal, state or local government grants, local council/shire economic development units, and common interest networking groups can be greatly useful resources that business owners may overlook.

And when it comes to advice, Brian has a favourite line that might come as a surprise – raise your prices.

“Consider raising the prices of your products or services – even by cents,” he says. “A small increase can significantly improve the bottom line.” 

Ask if you’re worth it 

“Customer value (as discovered by the business owner) is central to everything. Invest in this fundamental element before planning or enacting any marketing.”  This is core advice from mentor Adrian Jobson. 

Customer value is a measure of the worth of a product or service – it’s comprised of things like cost, the purchasing experience, after-sales support and all the other factors that go into the purchasing decision.

If your customer feels like the product or service is worth it – they’re more likely to recommend you to friends and keep coming back.

Adrian is a highly experienced and qualified business consultant, coach, and mentor for small and medium business owners. He has a strong passion for building brands, influential marketing and developing business plans that make a difference for owners whether they’re starting, scaling, or regenerating. 

“I’ve been fortunate to have been involved in many facets of business, with owners from around the globe. It’s energising to be around the rich diversity and a unanimous sense of energy and ambition.”

Adrian encourages people to ask questions about every part of their business. “Putting curiosity to work”, as he says.

This includes asking questions about your customers, both real and potential, to help drive your business planning.

In his previous Hub article 5 tips to build your business with great clients, Adrian suggests questions and exercises to help you think about your business – including customer value.

When asked about his work with small business clients, Adrian says that people, “often arrive a little uncertain and perhaps unclear about the takeaways they need.”

“Many want to simply start effectively. Others are grappling with an issue that may seem unsolvable.” 

It’s okay if you’re not clear about what support you need, or how to make your next move – mentors on the Small Business Bus will work through it with you, Adrian says.

The common denominator is that they can confidentially, safely, and constructively have a dialogue about the possibility of their business. It’s a setting and a context that’s hard to find elsewhere.” 

Get personalised support on the Small Business Bus

Business Victoria’s Small Business Bus brings mentors, including Karen, Brian and Adrian, to small business owners across regional Victoria and Melbourne.

The bus allows small business owners to book appointments with advisers and connect with information from various government organisations.

Business owners are welcomed warmly, and as Adrian says, there is a “sheer sense of possibility that presents in everyone who shows up”.

The Small Business Bus makes regular visits to communities across Victoria. You can also request that the bus visits your area.

Sessions are 45 minutes long and held between 10am and 4pm Monday to Friday. Bookings are essential.

Check the Small Business Bus schedule and book your appointment today. 

Business Victoria

Business Victoria

Business Victoria