Marie Jones understands small business. As soon as she learnt to cut hair as a teen, she knew she wanted to open her own salon. By age 20 (!), she had a staff of eight and a loyal clientele who followed her from one venture to another until she finally bought Perth’s biggest salon in 2009. Donna Karan, Tara Moss, Ruby Rose and Western Australia’s finest have all had their hair done at the esteemed House of Ernest, whose doors were first flung open half a century ago.
After 30 years in the business, and successfully building up a flourishing franchise model, Marie heralds straight talk as her secret sauce. She has a ‘no gossip’ policy in the salon, where she employs staff from around the world, and is always ready to meet problems head-on. “I think honesty keeps it simple for me – delivering a straight message,” she says. “If something is bothering me or a staff member has done something inappropriate, it needs to be addressed straight away. I think people do appreciate you being direct so they know where they stand. This leaves space to deal with the issue then move on.”
Marie also believes measured decision making when hiring has been key to the success of her business. “The toughest lesson I have learnt is ‘be slow to hire and quick to fire’. I don’t help anybody by keeping them on if their work isn’t up to standard or they are not the right cultural fit,” she explains. “If left unaddressed, the wrong person can contaminate your team. In every occasion I have had to do this, the person has known they are not the right fit, so you’re not telling them something they haven’t already felt.”
However, Marie admits she was also a little slow in passing on her bookkeeping baton. “I used to do the bookkeeping myself but I wasn’t great at it and hence disliked it. It was so time-consuming and took me away from what I’m good at and that’s running my business,” says Marie, whose accountant recently helped her transition to Xero accounting software. “I procrastinated for six months because I was fearful of the change-over, but it was the simplest thing ever… I feel I have my finger on the pulse. It’s like a burden has lifted.”
When it comes to the money side of things, Marie advises newbies starting their own businesses to find a mentor who can help you get your head around it.“You can make mistakes once and usually get away with it,” she laughs. “I made a lot! The very first mistake was at 19, making an offer on a small business and not having it subject to finance. This was an issue as I had no money. At the time I didn’t have the sense to find a mentor and learn from them. I then proceeded to knock on the door of four banks before I got the money. ”