Whether small business, or big—scaling your team is hard, and growing pains are certain. So how to do you burn without churn?
We put the question to Brooke Hudson, owner of Byron Bay favourites, Harvest Newrybar and Sparrow Coffee. Having grown these business’ from 8 to 100 staff, she has learnt a few tips along the way about how to grow for passion, not pride.
Tell us a little bit about Harvest Newrybar and Sparrow Coffee. How did they come to life?
In 2006, over a few bottles of wine, myself and my business partners, Tristan and Kass, decided to do something as crazy as buying a café that was, at the time a quaint little Queenslander that was open 4 days a week for breakfast and lunch. We were 26 years old at the time that we took over what is now Harvest Newrybar, a restaurant that now trades 7 days across breakfast, lunch and dinner—and also encompasses’ a restored 111 year old bakery (which is used as an wedding and events space), alongside a deli and café next door.
Sparrow Coffee was born of a personal need and frustration on our behalf. We love our coffee, and found so much frustration at the quality that was being served in Byron. We thought, ‘let’s create a space WE actually need. A place solely focused on premium take-away coffee. Where the focus is speed, friendliness, quality & consistency—with every cup.’ We now have Sparrow’s in Byron Bay, Banaglow, Port Douglas and Brisbane CBD – with a vision for more in the near future.
What’s been your biggest challenge or learning curve?
Our biggest challenge in the business was managing the growth. Having gone from 8 staff to 100, we played catch up financially for a long time. We envisioned growth – but never really planned for it other than the service, product and experience we wanted to deliver – that was probably our hardest lesson to learn. How to run a business, not just manage one.
Personally, the challenge for me was work/life balance and my health throughout periods of rapid growth. I actually worked myself into the ground so much that I ended up with glandular fever, chronic fatigue, and fibromyalgia as a result. I was at the very last point on the burn out scale, was hospitalised several times and was really unwell for a long period. Hiring more people to cover me was daunting at the time as the business always teters on brilliance and bankruptcy—but the investment in our people, as well as giving myself time to heal, has all worked out for the best. As the businesses continue to grow, each of the positions we recruited for to cover us as owners are now needed fulltime and their team are flourishing. It took a lot to “let go” so to speak , but now, as Managing Director of both of the companies I am able to keep my health, work and home life schedules nicely balanced.
“Obsess over your people and customers, and not your competitors. Put your team and people first and focus on the team’s dreams and goals.”
How many people do you employ and what do you love about your people?
We currently employ 70 people at Harvest and 30 at Sparrow Coffee. We love our people because of their passion and commitment, not only to the jobs they do daily, but to each other. They are such a supportive, respectful crew, even having family dinners at the restaurant to connect after working with each other all week. We love seeing their friendships with each other grow and how connected the businesses make them feel.
What’s the most important thing for business’ to consider when hiring?
Passion, Personality, Presentation and what drives them Personally. Finding out about your team’s passions and interests outside of work, as well as outside of their current professional skill set is an excellent way to keep your team engaged and motivated. We like to see if they know a little bit about us and who we are too, that always helps to see if the energy fits on both sides.
We like to think of our businesses as a breeding ground for inspiration, innovation and brilliance – by accepting that they will move on eventually, you make change in your industry for the better. We consider one of our best recruitment tools to be succession planning with every new person who comes into the business. Who are they, what do they excel at and what are their special gifts. We then find a place in our businesses to have in mind for them to grow into in time. It makes for easy promotion and training when there is a end goal in mind for them from the early part of their employment.
How do you stay balanced? Between running two business, a team of 100, and maintaining relationships with all your suppliers and community?
As I mentioned earlier I was a total workaholic for many years—somehow like superwoman, I just copped for a long time. Until one day I didn’t. For me now that balance is not only essential for my wellbeing but I'm much better at my role as Managing director for both of the companies because of my commitment to it..
I’d say the key change I made to manage it all has been setting boundaries and committing to my daily rituals. I make sure that work is a part of my day and not all of it.
I’ve moved to a wholefood and mainly plant based diet, minimised alcohol and never drink during the week. I meditate every morning, do yoga every other day, and I make sure I walk on the beach with the dog most afternoons barefoot with no phone or music, making sure I have time out to be present. I set my week up around these things—I make my meeting and work availability around me time first. ie: work fits in with my self-care and not the other way around.
A big tip is technology and disconnecting from it when you aren't at work. I turn my phone onto Do Not Disturb every night at 6pm until 8am each morning, and only allow my close friends and family in the call list. By doing this and reducing my work hours so-to-speak, I get more done in my full week that I used to get done in 80 hours! I make better decisions and can pick up on things that might not be right much quicker than when I was overwhelmed. I plan the next day each afternoon before I go home for the day so I can switch off when I leave and I also do not have emails on my phone and am really disciplined at not working on my time off now.
I feel like I could write book on it, it's been life changing for me and the businesses as a result. My previous excessive stress as owners has been a big part of how we manage our whole team now—it is a priority for us to ensure the team maintain this life balance.
A primary part of my HR focus now in the business is checking in with the team and watching for the signs. Mental health issues from overworking and fatigue is a huge issue in today's society and we don’t want to be businesses that generate this kind of lifestyle.
The key to doing this is making sure your workforce is big enough to to enable it to happen. By less weekly hours for each salaried person, we get double the productivity, commitment and happiness in the team. It also enables them to pursue personal passion and relationships outside of work, which from a mental health perspective, is key to a well balanced team.
If we could sum one piece of advice to live by in business, what would it be?
Obsess over your people and customers, and not your competitors. Put your team and people first and focus on the team’s dreams and goals. Never look outside of what you do and who you are as a business. Even in the tough times, you have to have faith and believe in these goals and dreams, that collective belief is what gets you through the difficult moments and disappointments as a team. It's also what makes the wins and achievements so much sweeter, as when they happen (and they will!) - they belong to everyone.