‘Do it afraid’ – fighting franchisee nightmares


This article appeared in Issue 3#5 (July/August 2009) of Business Franchise Australia & New Zealand

The idea of going into business for yourself can be daunting. In franchising the great thing is you go into business for yourself, not by yourself. 

Franchising has in-built support mechanisms – from the franchisor and suppliers – to cushion the impact and help fledgling franchisees launch off into the business world with greater confidence.

Franchising or not, running your own business is still a big deal and fear of failure can be a big blocker, but it doesn’t have to be.

Prolific Christian writer Joyce Meyer gets the credit for penning the phrase ‘Do It Afraid’, but when Franchise Woman of the Year Deb Shugg says it you have no doubt this is a person who has really embraced it and lived it.

Deb is the founder of Award Bookkeeping, a Melbourne-based national system of 54 franchisees.  She has been twice listed in the BRW Fast Franchising list for growth companies and has also been listed in the top-50 female entrepreneurs list.  And her system started from scratch, with borrowed capital of $36 and Deb’s idea the only intellectual property.

Deb told her story in a recent nationwide lecture series in the Westpac Women in Franchising Initiative.  To put it into Franchise Council context, WIF is an FCA board initiative, sponsored this year by Westpac bank.  Fernwood Women’s Gyms Founder Di Williams is the WIF representative on the FCA board and Kate Johnston is the current chair of the Westpac WIF committee.

Deb Shugg’s story is a great life and business lesson. Like so many inventions and innovations, Deb’s idea was born out of necessity.

A year before she started Award Bookkeeping, a home-based accounting business, Deb was in the grip of depression.

The support of her children and husband Harold helped her through.  But the real clincher in learning to cope was understanding her situation:  recognising and acknowledging she was a sufferer of post-traumatic stress disorder – that she had suppressed memories of a very difficult childhood.  Coming to terms with that fearful past was essential for her to adapt and learn to live with it.

In simple terms, she accepted her situation and realised that if she was ever to step outside her front door again, she had to learn to ‘do if afraid’.

“For me it was a life-changing realisation.  The really good thing is I was able to turn a personal coping strategy into a successful business,” Deb says.

“It just made sense.  I had an accounting qualification.  I had used that skill in a PAYE situation, but I just couldn’t face going back to that.  So I decided to try to do it at home, where I felt safe.  Unfortunately, no employer seemed to like that idea.

“So I had to start my own business.  I was scared as hell, but there seemed no other choice.  I had what people thought was a lovely life – loving husband and kids, house, car, no particular financial pressure… but I was a wreck inside.  I had to act to get a grip on my life.

“I borrowed $36 from my Mum to put an ad in the local paper.  Nobody responded.  I was ready to give up, but Mum, Harold and some good friends encouraged me and set me up with a couple of potential clients…”

But it wasn’t smooth sailing.

Deb’s first client experience was a nightmare. “The fear and anxiety were overpowering.” Deb realised the fear was not going to go away – she just had to get used to it.

“In retrospect I realise what a good metaphor this is for starting up a business – and in keeping it going and growing,” she says.

“Fear gets in the way of a lot of things.  The thing that stops most potential franchisees from coming into the sector is fear.  The thing that stops most franchisees from taking on more franchises is fear. The thing that most often stops people franchising their own idea is fear.

“It just gets in the way and there is nothing you can do to stop that.  You just have to learn it is natural and develop a way to cope with it so you can get on and make a decision.”

The fear factor gets a strong airing at a conference of 300 business leaders at Melbourne’s Sofitel Hotel, on at the same time as Deb Shugg’s speaking tour.  The Sofitel event is a gathering of women CEOs, also sponsored by Westpac.

Business leaders Ann Sherry and Wendy McCarthy and former Victoria Police Commissioner Christine Nixon agree that fear is a major factor holding back people in business – especially women.

“We all have to deal with this,” Ms Nixon says.  “Sometimes I think we just have to say, ‘sorry, we just can’t wait.   We’re doing it.  In my case I was lucky enough to be able to order people to do things,” she says, raising a wry smile.

McCarthy, the chair of prominent NSW real estate firm McGrath and a former deputy chair of the ABC, now devotes a lot of her time to a mentoring business she has created. Her view is that in the modern workplace ‘where change is a given and diversity an ideal’, there is a need for people to have more one-on-one support.  Perhaps this is another useful technique for overcoming the fear factor.

In the course of her talks, I ask Deb Shugg if she is still battling fear in her business decisions and if she has developed any special technique to overcome it.

“Every day,” she replies.  “I still live with it on a daily basis.  Frankly, I reckon if you are not feeling it in some way, you are probably not really testing yourself.  You are probably not really testing your true capability or tapping your true potential.”

And the coping technique?

“Understand your purpose,” she responds.  “What are you really on about?  Why are you really doing whatever it is you are doing.  If you do not identify this, you are always open to being derailed – by the things in your own head or something outside.

“If you understand what is really driving you, you can put any situation or decision into that context.  The more often you do it, the more familiar and easier it becomes.”

This last comment takes me back to the FCA national conference in Sydney in October last year, where the audience heard another emotionally challenging and compelling presentation, this time by Federal Police disaster aftermath body identification expert Peter Bain.

After the Boxing Day tsunami of 2005, Detective Inspector Bain faced the horrible task of having to identify thousands of bodies in the tropical humidity of southern Thailand, without hospital facilities, refrigeration or cold storage.  Families were distraught and hundreds of children were orphaned.  Most of the bodies had nothing to identify them and were in a state of advanced decay.  There were cultural difficulties for the local Thais in dealing with the dead bodies and with a lack of facilities to care for orphaned children.  The process took almost six months.

What kept him going?  “Knowing my purpose.  What I was there for,” was the admirable detective’s reply.  “Not because I had to.  Not because it was my job.  I did it for the children.  Those orphaned children, who in one afternoon lost their parents, their home and many of their friends and their friends’ families.  I know if that happened to my children, I would hope that there would be someone willing to do the work I did with my team.  It was my purpose to do that for those distraught families in Khao Lak and for the children.  Staying focussed on that purpose enabled me to get through it.”