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The Information Access Group
Lyndall has the “write” stuff
Lyndall Thomas has used her way with words to create a unique business with enormous potential. Thanks partly to the Small Business Mentoring Service, she is well on her way to taking it to the next level.
An experienced journalist and communications specialist, Lyndall started the Information Access Group in 2009. It helps clients create accessible materials, including documents that are easy to read and websites that are easy to use.
The Group already has an impressive number of clients and publications ranging from Down Syndrome Today for Down Syndrome Victoria to the National Disability Strategy - Easy English Version for the Australian Government Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs.
Other clients include not-for-profit organisations, disability service providers, businesses and New South Wales and Victorian government departments. The service is unique, and one of Australia’s few communications businesses specialising in accessibility.
“We believe that information should be accessible to the widest possible audience,” Lyndall says. “This includes people with disability, culturally and linguistically diverse communities, Aboriginal people, elderly people and those with low levels of literacy.”
Lyndall had an innovative product and the skills required to meet the diverse literacy needs of these audiences. She has worked on books, magazines, website content and corporate newsletters, but felt she would benefit from the advice of a business mentor.
“I wanted to draw on the experience of someone who had knowledge in business management and, in particular, working with government,” she said.
Lyndall also needed to establish a work/life balance after having daughters Finn and Imogen, who are now five and eight. “Finn was only two-and-a-half when I started the Information Access Group,” she says.
“While we now work in an office, the business was first started in my lounge room while I was juggling day care, kinder and all of the responsibilities that go with being a parent of two young children.”
After finding the SBMS on the Small Business Victoria website, Lyndall elected to work with Elizabeth Raut. Elizabeth spent 10 years as the Victorian manager of the Australian Institute of Architects, where she worked on all aspects of running an organisation including finances. Before this she worked in the health sector in a range of business-related roles.
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. Elizabeth said while Lyndall was aware of the challenges in finding time to grow the business, market it, drive the creative aspect, be innovative and manage the staff and financial aspects, she initially felt she was being “responsive rather than strategic”.
They discussed the importance of delegating tasks to free Lyndall’s time to develop and make presentations, write tenders, engage with government and clients and focus on growing the business. They also addressed financial management, including a budget for the following financial year, project management and allocating staff resources.
Elizabeth and Lyndall then updated the business’s SWOT analysis, marketing plan and financial plan. They identified a need for more marketing material, which led to a program of meetings and presentations to clients and potential clients in Canberra and Sydney.
Since the mentoring began, profitability has improved, sales are set to nearly double over the previous year and customer numbers are up by 40 per cent. The business is making a small profit but still working to ensure its viability. As it has grown, it has been able to offer more hours to casual staff and contractors, and hopes to have a full-time staff member soon.
Elizabeth says Lyndall has gained considerable confidence in her ability to be clear on how to grow the business and about what the business might look like in the future.
Lyndall says the biggest challenge was moving from a hands-on, independent freelance role to managing a business with a small team while also raising a family. She says Elizabeth’s help has been invaluable, and while she still has some late nights, running the business is flexible enough to cope with the demands of parenthood - just. “I feel a lot more confident about what I am doing and the decisions I make,” she says. “Elizabeth is very patient with me as I work through issues and she encourages and reassures me.
“This has been the best part of mentoring for me – that someone else is there to listen, especially someone who completely ‘gets’ me and understands exactly what I am trying to achieve.” The sessions have also been therapeutic. “I often joke about the mentoring sessions being ‘business therapy’,” Lyndall says.
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