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Setting the wheels in motion
After working as a graphic designer and art director, Tina McCarthy decided to turn her lifelong passion for cycling into a career.
In late 2012 she started Wheel Women, which provides skills education programs and rides for non-elite women cyclists from beginner level to advanced.
AustCycle based skills sessions provide riders with the confidence and know-how to be safe on their bikes, as well as educating them about improving fitness through cycling.
“I am passionate about cycling,” Tina says. “I can see it makes a difference to people’s lives and I wanted others to feel the benefits I have had from cycling, both physical and mental.
Wheel Women organises teams in non-competitive events such as Around the Bay in a Day and supplies members with cycling apparel.
Tina knew she had a great model but after unsuccessfully applying for a City of Melbourne grant, she wanted help resubmitting it.
“I also felt that Wheel Women had the potential to grow, but I wasn’t exactly sure of the best path to take,” she says. “I had difficulty breaking things down into segments so I could focus on one task at a time. WW was growing very rapidly and I needed some strategies to deal with that.”
After the council offered Tina four SBMS mentoring sessions, she saw mentor Elizabeth Raut over a 10 week period.
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 financial management. 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 provided Tina with a sounding board for her very creative entrepreneurial approach to growing her business. “I helped her explore options so she could make choices and be confident about the direction she wanted to take,” Elizabeth says.
“I was able to break down the many tasks into clear, individual items, which made things more manageable. I also provided practical assistance, such as reviewing her second application to the City of Melbourne for a Small Business Grant in the Start-up Category.”
Elizabeth made a number of suggestions, including that Tina:
- Document Wheel Women model so she could replicate the program locally in other locations.
- Develop a job description for what she did.
- Identify ways of coping with rapid growth
- Have a session with another mentor who knew about franchising
- Consider the benefits of franchising compared to contracting staff leaders at various locations.
Tina went back to her original Mind-Map and reflected on her initial thoughts about starting the business. “She realised she is not selling a product, but is selling a dream, building a community of women cyclists,” Elizabeth says.
“She wants to create a story around what she is doing, to build on the Wheel Women brand with women riding bikes at the core and merchandising another special focus. She also wants to connect with a really good thing, to have a cause, to partner with a charity.”
Since seeing Elizabeth, Tina has improved her idea management and been better able to break tasks down. Elizabeth also helped pinpoint her strengths so she could focus on those rather than dwell on weaknesses.
Tina has continued to use the social media platform for advertising and to pick up leads for new customers from this. Profitability has not improved yet but Elizabeth says there is great potential for it to do so.
Tina was extremely pleased with Elizabeth’s advice. “The help I received from my mentor has been EXCELLENT as it has provided a sounding board and tips on gaining direction and focus,” she says.
“As an entrepreneur I find it difficult to stay on task at times, with my ideas just springing up all over the place, but my mentor helped me break down tasks to work in a more step-by-step fashion.”
Without Elizabeth’s help, Tina says she would not have resubmitted for the grant. “I would not have been able to have a sounding board which helped me think about the bigger picture of where the business is going and what it should be,” she says.
“It has also helped me think about the pros and cons of franchising and ultimately gave me the answer – I am not ready yet, and it may not be the best future for the business.”
Having Elizabeth helped Tina refocus. “Her ability to break things down into smaller tasks was so beneficial and I have been able to get some really great foundation skills needed to set the business up to grow,” she says. “I can clearly see it made a difference for me.”
Tina is now confident she can grow her business while providing a unique service. “I would not have understood this whole ‘circle’ of growth had it not been for Elizabeth helping to break it down into a simpler picture for me,” she says.
“Wheel Women is the only group of its kind which provides education about cycling to adult women and provides ongoing participation for riders to be involved in. The edge we have over others in the market is that we are at a non-elite level, so the everyday cyclist can find a place with us.
“We are also not focused on competition, but rather participation, and we also have a ‘no lycra necessary’ policy so riders do not feel put off by elite club riders.”
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