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Elsie and Betty Interior Design
Designing a great business
Not only do Val Kopilas and Kristine Slawinski balance children with work, they run a cutting edge interior architecture consultancy. Their sought after designs have updated facilities for the likes of Lend Lease, NAB, Shell, Medibank Private, RMIT, Mercy Health, Mirvac, Kathmandu and the Sebel Citigate hotel.
Established in 2004, Elsie + Betty Design is an independent professional interior architecture consultancy committed to inspiring and innovative commercial interior design solutions. Val and Kristine pride themselves on their leading edge style and high level of client service and communication.
They provide commercial design services for large commercial office fit outs and hotel design and upgrades. The service covers concepts, architectural documentation, tendering to builders and running projects during construction. They also work with the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman.
Elsie + Betty runs projects nationally and is known for its high level of customer service, fast response time, attention to detail, technical knowledge and ultra modern design style. But Kristine and Val wanted to take their business to the next level and needed some help.
Kristine and Val are both tertiary qualified commercial interior designers. They are members of the Design Institute of Australia, Registered Building Practitioners with the Building Commission of Victoria and Accredited Professionals with the Green Building Council of Australia.
They place high importance on creating highly functional and aesthetically engaging environments while keeping to a budget. Val and Kristine both believe that intelligent design can maximise the quality of any project no matter what the size or cost.
“We really wanted to take our business to the next level and get some sound advice and an outsider’s point of view to assess the way we do things and suggest which areas of our business need attention, and also how to do this,” Kristine says.
After finding SBMS on the internet via the Small Business Victoria website, Kristine and Val were matched with mentor Bruce Hall. The SBMS is a non-government, non-profit organisation of volunteer expert mentors who give their time and experience to help small business. It is supported by Small Business Victoria, which refers clients to it.
Bruce is a bank professional with many years’ experience in the business banking segment, marketing and human resources. He has been heavily involved in the SBMS Bushfire Recovery Program.
Kristine and Val purchased four mentoring sessions under the Business Acceleration Program with Bruce, who helped in a range of areas such as dealing with staff, general management and marketing their unique business qualities such as environmental credentials and innovative design.
Bruce says the business was established, sound and well run, but needed to boost its marketing and become more proactive. For example he suggested weekly sales meetings to set objectives and make commitments, which they did.
“The work was more around the marketing side and putting some structure around the marketing. They were really good at networking and getting in touch with contacts and finding what work is out there. The problem was they weren’t really doing it in a disciplined way.”
Bruce gave Kristine and Val a “to do” list he thought would take six months to implement, and was most impressed when they had it in place in several weeks. “They’re the sort of client you love working with,” he says.
Bruce is now also keen to see them do public speaking on work/life balance as they manage it so well with their own children; Kristine has three and Val two. “They were really good at managing this work/life balance stuff,” Bruce says.
Since meeting Bruce, Elsie + Betty is more focussed, has improved its sales and employed an extra staff member, taking the total to eight including Kristine and Val. It has also set up a Sydney office and is developing an improved website. “Marketing and business analysis has become much stronger,” Kristine says. “The information we have gained on how to assess our financial viability has been invaluable."
“Bruce stressed that we need to continue the weekly sales meetings even when we are very busy with work. He also encouraged us to project sales more by having a work 'funnel' so we can ensure we have sufficient work, opportunities, submissions and leads coming up, and to identify which of these will be converted to sales and when.”
Kristine says she and Val also have improved confidence that their business can remain strong and continue to grow and evolve. “(Bruce) has given us a strong focus and direction,” she says.
“We have found the whole process fantastic and extremely valuable. We found each session … to be very inspirational and found the viewpoint of our mentor to be extremely valuable. It was great to have an outsider look at our business and the way we do things and offer an expert opinion and analysis."
“In some areas of our business, we just really wanted validation that we were heading in the right direction, as some of our methods were initially based on our instinct rather than business training or expertise."
“In other areas, we really didn’t know where to start, eg financial analysis, website upgrade, business projections, and we found that our mentor was able to set us on the right track – which probably saved us a lot of time and filled the gaps in our business as these were areas we had previously avoided due to lack of knowledge.”
Bruce is most impressed by Kristine and Val, who are juggling families and a business in a traditionally male dominated area. “They’ve done exceptionally well to build this practice,” he says. “They’ve got top end clients. When they do something they focus on it and they make sure they do it and they do it properly.”
Kristine said she would love to see SBMS more widely publicised, as for them it proved to be a hidden gem. “We think this service is fantastic and … perhaps it could be more widely publicised to small businesses,” she says.
“We were … wanting to find a business mentor for about a year before we actually came across the SBMS. We were reluctant to approach a professional business mentoring firm, as we were afraid of the expense and didn’t know what we would gain from it.”