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Finding the perfect balance

SUCCESS can sometimes be a double-edged sword. Deborah Pitter was the personification of youth and success. In her early 20s, she had established a successful, profitable and high-profile niche branding and marketing company assisting clients to get a range of agricultural products into the major supermarket chains. The exuberance and confidence of youth helped her company, Business Today, smash through the obstacles in an unplanned growth path fuelled by a growing reputation, a widening stable of quality clients and 11 full-time staff. In 2004, she was a WA Business News 40under40 winner. It was in her late 20s, married and wanting time out to have children, that Ms Pitter found she had created “a nightmare”. She had made a rod for her own back. “It was a job, not a business and it was all about me, and the close relationships I had built with the clients,” Ms Pitter said. Business Today’s success and even its day-to-day operations were reliant on her. “I had nothing in place to manage this, to manage the emerging needs of one and then another young child.” It was at this time of reflection and attempts to resolve the situation that Ms Pitter also realised she had outgrown the business. “I had effectively been pigeonholed into a specialist marketing role, which limited my desire to acquire broader business skills and personal growth,” she said. The business had a narrow market and no saleable good will. Having others manage the business, husband Christopher becoming a house father for a year, and rushing between home and the business were not the answers. The struggle to find a balance between business, family and lifestyle, led her to the view that the grind of the corporate world was not for her. It was earlier this year that Ms Pitter discovered Icon Business Solutions and business partner Paul Reed, with 30 years in business, many of these as a commercial banker at an international level. After ensuring all its clients were well taken care of, Business Today was closed. Icon is a worldwide franchise operation that has a suite of intellectual property and diagnostic tools to assist, develop and improve small businesses. It has been operating in the eastern states for about five years. Ms Pitter and Mr Reed bought the master franchise for WA earlier this year. Two other franchises have since been established in the state. “It’s perfect for WA, which I think is the home of the SME. We get inside the businesses and use our own knowledge and that of the business owner, along with the Icon tools and diagnostics, to make the businesses better,” Ms Pitter said. There is also the wider support that the Icon group supplies. “It is a holistic approach to assist business owners to systemise their businesses, to grow their businesses and give the owners both a business and a life,” she said. “Many of the people I come across have business backgrounds, experiences and problems very similar to my own.” Another plus for the new business is that it deals with business owners – similarly motivated and accountable people building their own businesses, goodwill and future. Ms Pitter said the important lessons she brought to the business included the need for a planned approach to growth to accommodate current and future lifestyle needs. Growth should also be disciplined and sustainable. “Not all growth is profitable or positive. I think that is a major problem today. These are boom times, great economic times to establish a business, but they won’t last forever. There will be change, good and bad, so this is also a time for consolidation, to insulate businesses against the bad times,” she said. Choosing the right business partner was also critical. For Icon, it is a blend of the youthful exuberance and knowledge from experience that remains within Ms Pitter, and the business maturity and wider experience of Mr Reed. “We have the same objectives, but different skill sets that result in a shared view,” she said. Through all of her business growth, Ms Pitter acknowledges the assistance and support of family, “without which I don’t know what I would have done”. For Ms Pitter, life is back on an even keel. The children are looked after by a nanny two days a week, by viticulturist husband Christopher one day a week and by both sides of the family on the other two days. The weekends are sacrosanct.

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