Samantha Rush Of Marvellous Women Cards On How To Take Your Company From Good To Great
Embrace that curveballs always come with opportunities to learn new skills and develop new strategies that strengthen the business.
As part of my series about the “How To Take Your Company From Good To Great”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Samantha Rush.
Samantha Rush is the creator behind the beautiful and empowering deck of decision inspiration cards known as Marvellous Women Cards. It contains the wisdom of 52 women, ranging from Cleopatra to Kate Bush and Lady Gaga. Samantha created this deck because she felt there was a gap in the market to help women make decisions by drawing on the wisdom of some of the most inspiring ladies throughout history.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I grew up in PNG and moved to the Sunshine Coast as a Tween. After school, I worked hard at my tertiary studies (well, mostly). After university, I ran away to backpack for three years and, surprisingly, learned so much during this period. I realised that I can get through pretty much anything and that relying on myself is the best way to get the outcome I need.
It was only once I settled into work and, as part of my MBA, started working on real-life projects across diverse industries, sectors, and business functions, that my curiosity was sparked, along with a desire to do a lot of different things for a job. This period helped me realise what I wanted to do, and after getting some great advice from an ex-colleague, I started setting up my consulting practice. I had a series of small engagements for about a year while I was still working full time.
I then left the corporate world in June 2020, right in the middle of COVID lockdown. As I worked more with my clients, I saw the gaps and started developing products to help with prioritisation and decision making pretty much right away. My business has flourished, and I feel a great sense of pride in being able to bring real value to the market while establishing a good reputation for my services.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
It’s always challenging to start a new business; few successful people share how much they had to sacrifice in the early days to get going. The start of my journey as an entrepreneur was quite an awakening. I expected it to be a matter of turning the proverbial key and launching, but that’s not quite how it works in practice; It takes time and a great deal of problem-solving. When things didn’t kick off as quickly as I had imagined they would, I realised that there was one of two likely scenarios here: either I was doing everything correctly, and it really does take this long, or I was missing something. I spoke to seven influential people in my life who had been where I was and who could give me relevant and authoritative advice. I discovered that starting out does take this long and that you have to be clear on your goals. I needed to focus on what I wanted to do rather than giving up and jumping into doing just anything. When you really want it, you’ll do anything to make it happen. This exercise in self-reflection and patience was tough, but with the guidance of my wife, who is a straight talker, I got through this process and learned a lot. Having an extra lens to my perspective gave me the focus and motivation to power through the initial point of struggle.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
This story wasn’t funny when it happened, but in retrospect, it is pretty amusing. When completing a trademark application, I rushed the process a little bit. In those early days, you’re so focused on getting everything done as quickly as possible that attention to detail sometimes falls by the wayside. As it turned out, I only submitted half of my trademark image and didn’t realise it until I got the confirmation back, and only half of my image had been successfully trademarked. As funny as it is now, it taught me to give my full attention to the task at hand and be fully present. By rushing things, we often end up having to redo them, which means we didn’t save any time at all.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
My company has now made a name for itself and stands out because of the diverse range of services I can provide, quite outside the realm of “ordinary”. My service is kind of like a Swiss Army Knife for business. I often engage a client for one purpose and end up expanding on that to meet several needs because I am adaptable, I want to help, and finding solutions comes naturally to me. Everyone has different struggles that require a unique approach, and I bring this to the table. The most common feedback I hear from my clients is that they anticipated it would be difficult to find a solution or that they were surprised to find that the best solution was actually a simple solution that they just hadn’t thought of. People often think they need complex solutions to issues they believed were in-depth and intricate, only to find that they mainly required clarity.
I can see where my clients are trying to go and what they’re trying to achieve; I can simplify that process for them. I see how empowered people feel when they find that the path to overcoming their complex challenges is suddenly straightforward.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Healthy and happy work life is so important; I have a strategy that keeps me focused and prevents that dreaded burnout that plagues so many working professionals these days. I find that discipline takes up so much energy and energy that could have flowed into productivity. I design my work and day in advance, so I don’t have to rely so heavily on discipline. This approach requires me to build my tasks in parts that make me achieve smaller chunks more frequently and pause regularly. Practising the pause is incredibly powerful because it creates the opportunity for reflection and mental rest. I don’t push myself to forge ahead when I can’t do it. I listen to my body, and this actually makes me more productive when I am at my desk and focused. Also, my massage chair is one of my best buddies when it comes to looking after my energy levels!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
There are so many amazing people that have been part of my journey, some of them for longer than others, but all of them played a significant role in getting me to where I am. One of the most pivotal influences has to be one of my first bosses. He challenged me by pushing me outside of my comfort zone, and his leadership played a major role in who I am now in terms of how I prepare, how I show up, and my ability to feel fear and do the big scary thing anyway.
My job involved doing audits, investigating and communicating disciplinary actions, and compiling reports that were delivered in-person to a senior executive. This leader helped me to find my strength and develop the willingness to be okay with feeling uncomfortable by making me do the difficult work. He could have just assigned me the leg work, but he saw something in me and pushed me until I could see it too. I spent three years travelling Australia to do this job and deliver these reports. This role was the cornerstone of my career that followed.
Okay thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. The title of this series is “How to take your company from good to great”. Let’s start with defining our terms. How would you define a “good” company, what does that look like? How would you define a “great” company, what does that look like?
Taking your company from good to great isn’t about trying to be great. It’s about developing and acting from a genuine desire to improve people’s lives in one way or another. Let’s define good and great:
A good company always does what it says it is going to do. It delivers results, benchmarks itself against the competition, and develops a market-leading brand strategy. A good business wants to be better than its competitors and gauges its success by comparisons.
A great business doesn’t rest on its laurels. It doesn’t constantly look at what competitors are doing because it introspects. Great companies look for ways to improve how they show up, meet the market’s needs, and improve people’s lives. A great business takes the time to listen to its customers’ needs. It’s not enough to say you’re customer-centric — those are just words. Great businesses focus and build functions around meeting a need, simplifying a need, or identifying new ways to meet a need.
I joined a university tour to Silicon Valley a few years ago, and interestingly, the company I thought would be the most mind-numbing was the most interesting. This very large and well-known organisation develops software. What they have that makes them so engaging is a lab where they test new technology coming out. Their testing process doesn’t try to ascertain how a new release will impact the company. Instead, they test to determine how effectively this innovation will impact their clients and businesses. Their task is to identify what they can do to help clients harness the power of innovations.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to lead a company from Good to Great? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Know your strengths and weaknesses. We all have strengths and weaknesses; mapping out what yours are can help you build a support structure around your weaknesses so that they don’t become stumbling blocks. A support structure might involve outsourcing specific tasks, getting the software to automate certain aspects, or perhaps upskilling yourself. You also want to ascertain the strengths and weaknesses of your team and those around you. It is helpful to work on this with a third party that specialises in this type of service. It’s also important not to neglect your strengths while you try to work on your weaknesses.
- Listen — take the time to survey your customers. As hard as it may be, take even more time to listen to those who are unhappy. This feedback is an opportunity for growth, so genuinely listen to what they have to say. People talk about being customer-centric, but to be customer-centric, you must be willing to see all feedback as a gift rather than something you have to do to be perceived as customer-centric. If you aren’t actively committed to improvement, it’s better to avoid wasting everyone’s time. But you’ll be missing an excellent opportunity to make your business better. Recently, I was engaged to collect customer feedback on behalf of a company. This exercise yielded ten innovative recommendations on improving my client’s value proposition, including some that the business had not thought of, all from talking to people and listening without being defensive.
- Be a good leader — Self-leadership is difficult; it requires self-awareness, emotional intelligence, and maturity. A good leader needs to work with their team to take the company from good to great, keeping them inspired and enthusiastic. Without people, an organisation is nothing. It is people who make things happen. I recently worked with an organisation whose leaders were not very “present”; they preferred to work remotely. We quickly ascertained that one of the most significant problems in the company was that the people felt disengaged and that they weren’t cared about. These workers were disconnected from the bigger purpose within the company, their work didn’t feel significant, and therefore, they didn’t have the motivation to go above and beyond. They needed a present, engaged, and strong leadership presence.
- Get comfortable with finances and interrogate your accountant about what you see in your margins. I do, quite literally, mean interrogate. Make your finances your business, every single aspect of them. Look at every line. Ask questions about each expenditure, including what value it adds, and weigh that against the cost. Understand your margins — know what you are charging, what profit margin looks like for each unit of product or service, and how many units you need to sell to spend money on certain things. This type of knowledge is critical for everyone who runs a business. To have a great company, you need to understand your finances. Get comfortable with money talk — it’s empowering!
- A business plan. Your business plan should answer one crucial question: how do I get from where I am to where I want to be? Your plan needs to act as a guide and a compass for decisions you need to make every day, not something you come back to when you feel strong enough for it or when things are quiet. Everyone has a plan until things go wrong, but a good plan has your back and makes it easier to pivot effectively when you really have to, helping you to stay focused and on track with achieving your goals.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose-driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. Can you help articulate for our readers a few reasons why a business should consider becoming a purpose-driven business, or consider having a social impact angle?
As humans, no matter how evolved we are, we simply can’t get away from our evolutionary roots. Emotion impacts us more than facts and numbers, which is why storytelling is so crucial in business. A purpose-driven organisation that can tell its story and make deeper emotional connections will be more attractive to work with. This attraction is true for an employee, a customer, and other stakeholders. A good portion of the work I do involves teaching people how to build a pitch deck that gets attention and creates emotional connections. Purpose-driven businesses touch that part that we all have inside us that wants to be good and do good. People are drawn to it because most of us want to be better than we are. Working with a business that gives 10% of profits to a good cause adds value to the transaction and makes it easier for that person also to feel like they are contributing to society. It is all about the feels! No matter how evolved we think we are — emotion wins.
What would you advise to a business leader who initially went through years of successive growth but has now reached a standstill? From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth and “restart their engines”?
Stop and reflect on where you are. Don’t give in to knee-jerk reactions/plans/pivots — just start by hitting PAUSE. Next, listen. Observe the society around you. Read. Getaway so you can see the forest for the trees. Now consider what tools you have at your disposal and think of how you can use those tools to help you benchmark where you’re at. You might need to seek help from a professional, like a strategist, advisor, or coach, to facilitate a process enabling you to explore what’s happening.
Sometimes, the best answer is to make sure you make time to work on the business and not just in it. Take some time out and look at your company. People always talk about the detail, or what they see ‘on the dance floor’, but usually looking down at the dancefloor from the balcony above gives you greater insight. Listen and talk to people, especially your customers. You may need to look at external factors influencing your business, note how the world has changed, and how your customers’ needs might also change. Each of these things may mean you might need to make a change too. Spend time each day looking for a way to improve how you help other people or businesses.
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
Have a robust business plan so you can keep focused and not get distracted. A business plan is a map that points you to your destination when you go off-course. Curveballs and surviving unexpected challenges can lead us off our paths, like side quests. Your business plan reminds you that when you’re past a side quest, you still have the main program to get back to. Embrace that curveballs always come with opportunities to learn new skills and develop new strategies that strengthen the business.
Have contingency plans, so you don’t lose too much time. A contingency plan keeps you adjusting what you’re doing to still get you to where you’re going as quickly as possible.
Have diversified revenue streams, so all your eggs aren’t in one basket. If you drop a basket (or if the economy makes a basket irrelevant), you have others to carry you while you change your direction and make the pivot that will keep your sinking basket relevant and in demand.
In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?
Making and having the time to think about how you’re going to work on the business rather than in the business. Many talented professionals (and creatives) go into business on their own because they know they can make more money by selling their products or services directly to a client base. They forget that at that point, they’re no longer just creating their products or delivering their services; they have to steer a business at the same time too. Running a business isn’t just about doing what you love all the time, and stepping away from the details of the business operations is necessary. Quite a few of my small business clients are so busy with the day-to-day operations of moving widgets that they don’t take the time to take a step back and think about who and what their business is, what they want it to be, and where it’s headed. I teach them to look down from the balcony — they are usually amazed at what they learn and the clarity they gain. From there, carving a path forward is easier.
As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies a business should use to increase conversion rates?
Reminders. Reminders are one of the most powerful and under-valued tools you have in your artillery. Remind your customers that you are there and that they want something. Life is busy; people get side-tracked and distracted. So remind them that they have a problem and that you can fix it for them. It’s the promise of an easier life (even if it’s only in a small way) that keeps people interested.
Make the process of using your services or acquiring your products easy and attractive. The fewer steps involved in completing the sale, it’s more likely that your visitors will complete their purchase. Don’t make it hard for people to buy from you.
Offer extra value, not in comparison to your competitors but in relation to the results your clients REALLY want. Find ways to get more results within their preferred price bracket. When you go above and beyond, you don’t need to charge less. Instead, offer more value.
Demonstrate your value. Ask your customers for testimonials and make them public. The power of third-party credibility shouldn’t be undervalued.
Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that a business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?
I’m in the service industry, so for me, it’s all about doing what you say you’re going to do and delivering more value than you promised. Never compromise on quality. Always underpromise and overdeliver. When you are in service, the only thing you can do to build trust is to be trustworthy, so look at how often you deliver on time, with quality, and all with a smile on your face.
Great customer service and great customer experience are essential to building a beloved brand and essential to be successful in general. In your experience what are a few of the most important things a business leader should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience?
Keep your eyes open and know what’s happening so you can meet their needs even if they don’t know it. Keep your finger on the pulse of what is happening in the market and talk to people. Conduct market research or subscribe to groups on Facebook where your customers are so that you can be responsive.
Add little extras that don’t mean that much to you but will make all the difference to your customer. Here is an example: Back in the days when I was travelling a lot for work, I stayed at a hotel in Sydney. I arrived at 7 pm, late and wet from getting caught in the rain. Arriving at the hotel, I looked like a drowned rat. The concierge sent up a bottle of sparkling wine to my room, which may not seem like such a big deal, but it brightened my evening and made me a customer for life. I felt noticed and genuinely cared for.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
Starting out can be a tense process; new entrepreneurs worry that something might slip through the cracks, and they’re often desperate to fast-track success. My own story is similar to this. They want to do everything now, forgetting that slow progress is often more sustainable and you’re less likely to burn out, which keeps your progress consistent.
Entrepreneurs, founders, and CEOs also often get distracted by new and ‘shiny’ things. They want to move mountains but forget how crucial the foundational aspects are. Building the structure that will support your every move, later on, must come first.
It is also essential to avoid continually trying to do everything. You must learn to delegate or outsource. Cost-saving is a big part of starting a new business, but often, not outsourcing appropriate tasks at the right time can hinder your growth, which will cost you money rather than save you money. Notice when you are burning the candle at both ends and remember that this is not productive for your business. It is essential to understand what drives value, identifying what you are good at and what you should outsource or delegate to others. You need to develop a tolerance for expenditure. Remember that you must spend money to make money and move forward.
Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I would love to start a movement that promotes and curates confidence, something that helps people with faster decision making and enables them to dial down self-doubt and over-analysis. Design beats discipline; this is the basis around which I “design” my day. Suppose I were to start a movement that would attract other people into this way of thinking. In that case, I’d say there needs to be a target number of decisions you need to make each day or week in a short timeframe, practicing your decision-making skills and learning to set a deadline for decisions. When you consciously realize you have a decision to make, not waiting too long is essential.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!