Writing a business book might not be an obvious choice for a former swimming champion, but Hayley Lewis – who has run a swim school and a gift shop – has just released a new book to help inspire would-be female business owners.
Lewis, 37, first achieved fame in 1990 when she won five gold medals at the Auckland Commonwealth Games. In 1992, she won silver and bronze medals at the Barcelona Olympics and later competed in the Sydney Olympics. More recently, she has found fame again as host of TV show The Biggest Loser.
Dream Believe Create: a Woman’s Guide to Small Business is a warts-and-all exploration of Lewis’ experiences as a small business owner. She candidly discusses her first two failed attempts at running small businesses – a dog walking service and a market stall selling, by her own admission, dodgy patchwork cushions.
It wasn’t until she pursued her third business venture, the Hayley Lewis Swim School, after retiring from competitive swimming in 2001, that Lewis hit on business success.
“I didn’t have a university education to draw on when I set up my businesses, so the book is written based on my experiences,” she says.
“I decided to write it because there are lots of people out there who have a dream of running a business but who don’t have any formal training.”
Lewis’ top tip for anyone thinking about setting up a business is to do as much research as possible.
“When I started the swim school I visited lots of other schools to find out what worked and what didn’t so I could incorporate the best ideas into my own business,” she says.
For instance, Lewis makes sure there are not too many children in her pool at any one time.
“Even though the more kids you have in the pool, the more money you’re making, I saw a lot of overcrowding and kids and parents weren’t getting quality teaching”.
Her second tip is the importance of proper merchandising in retailing. “I’ve had the gift shop (Coming Up Roses) for 10 months now and I’ve come to realise the importance of knowing what sells and what doesn’t”.
Tip number three is an old chestnut: the customer is always right. “Even when you don’t think they are right it’s easier to give them what they want. It’s also essential to have a cheery face and leave your personal issues at the door”.
Lewis’s fourth tip is proper cash flow management, which means ensuring cash comes into the business as fast as possible and leaves the business as slowly as possible.
“With the swim school because I had overheads like staff costs and rent, cash flow was crucial. With the gift shop, it’s all about turning over stock as fast as I can”.
She says doing a business plan is a good way of getting a feeling for how much cash the business needs. “You need to work out how much you need to pay in wages and rent and have back up plans if things don’t go the way you think they will”.
Tip five is to have a firm focus on getting the right staff. “When I started the swim school I was so desperate to get teachers I’d take almost anyone. Invariably staff would leave after a few weeks. You can’t let just anyone work in the business – staff need to have the right attitude”.
Lewis’ final tip is to have a positive attitude.
“It’s easy to put things in the too hard basket – but you can’t put things off in small business. You need to be motivated and have goals and keep striving to make things better,” she says.
Lewis closed the Brisbane swim last year to concentrate on her gift shop, which is in the Brisbane suburb of Balmoral.
She says it’s also important to have personal goals aside from the business.
“I started running a few years ago and I’ve had goals to compete fun runs and marathons and in a couple of years I want to start doing marathons overseas,” she says.
“Having other things to focus on outside of the business is a great way to help you stay motivated.”