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05 October 2011
Back in her late thirties and married to her business, Margaret Butler began to notice a yawning vacuum in her life.
Now in her mid forties, she believes entrepreneurs often run the risk of being swallowed up by what they do, especially if they choose to ignore the warning signs.
When one or more of the following signs become self-evident, then you’re in strife:
• friends and family notice you’re always at work late at night and on weekends;
• you have a litany of failed relationships behind you;
• you have an inability to delegate and trust others to do their jobs.
Founded on September 4, 1992, Margaret Butler’s Anasazi Trading, a wholesale home and giftware business has blossomed to include a retail outlet located in Sydney’s Potts Point, “Blueprint”, as well as an online business, gifts.com.au.
In 2012, the business will celebrate 20 years and Margaret admits, while it might be satisfying it’s not been easy: “In my first year, I’d see an old boss of mine at the airport and he’d say to me in no uncertain terms, ‘most businesses fail in the first year’. The next year he had a similar line and the same thing happened in the third and fourth years. By the time we reached the fifth year, he’d just nod and say, hi.
“There were many times in each of those years, when I secretly believed he was right.”
Margaret has a particular affinity with the date her business began: it coincides with the day (September 4) her eldest son was born, and that achievement has been the single largest turning point in her career.
“Don’t get me wrong. I still love everything about the business from its set-up phase and growth, which in the first 10 years averaged 30 to 40 percent, to developing our long-term strategies. What I came to recognize as unsustainable was living only for work,” explains Margaret.
“I only have to look at the failed relationships,” she says. “I used to think it’s just not my time and it’s the people I’m meeting who are wrong.
“I understand now it was because I was married to my business. When I met my partner and our son was born a year later, everything changed. Children change things. You’re used to having all the control and running a business and its people, but to do that when you have a baby you quickly realize you have to delegate and to trust others because children are what it’s all about. To be apologetic about children or to elevate work above them is the wrong message.”
Credit, Not For Me
Margaret Butler grew up in Sydney’s south in a family she describes as having a surfeit of “emotional content”, an entrepreneurial spirit, a love of hard work and a deep distrust of credit.
Her parents still live in the first place they bought and built. They have never had a mortgage, a cheque book, or debt. Their attitude has left Margaret ambivalent to our cashless society: “Our addiction to credit and, more frighteningly, the concept of ‘swipe and go cards’ reduce our concept of the value of money to less than negligible.
“My father grew up on a dairy farm, which his family lost in the Depression. My grandmother had to sell her bankbook for a third of its face value.
“When he was young, Dad had a job as a Herd Recorder. One year he spent the whole time travelling NSW recording herd sizes and saving all his wages. When he got home, he and mum bought land for 180 pounds. They then built our family home, saving and buying as they went.
“When I bought the first warehouse for the business – to house stock and have a base that was my own – I remember my parents saying to me, ‘your room at home’s there, if you need it’.”
More More More
At work in Margaret are a number of competing priorities and beliefs about the business she loves that have her questioning the way we live and our attitude toward growth? Inevitably, the answers leave her feeling perplexed.
“It’s such a strange space we live in,” says Margaret, explaining the conflict for her. “We talk about sustainability and the environment and yet here we are producing and selling and buying more and more things. I try hard not to deal in landfill, but there are other businesses out there with very different attitudes.
“I ask myself: do we need all these things? How do we sustain the planet and environment when we’re conditioned by production and growth to crave more of everything, more glamour?”
Hitched to these ethical dilemmas are her entrepreneurial streak and skills, a desire to work hard and a complete disinterest in being a backyard basket weaving concern. Just how those particular ‘drives’ of hers are to find outlet in the system in which we live without undergoing multiplication and growth, is anyone’s guess? Imagine then, the further dilemma posed by the Internet, where, as Margaret points out, “you can sell when you’re sleeping”.
The position she is in – on the horns of a dilemma over growth verses actual need – become even pointier when she admits to believing the jobs we know now won’t exist in the future.
Finding our way is confronting us all with prickly problems and uncomfortable choices and in the face of those, Margaret remains questioningly philosophical. She knows, when it comes to her own boys, she wants her children to understand economics and finance, but believes those skills in the contexts in which we use them will become obsolete. She hopes by providing her children with larger creative opportunities in their education they will be able to think differently and make new paths, and cope.
Certainly, if Margaret’s experience as an Austrade facilitator and presenter is anything to go by, the abundance of lawyers she sees in her audiences wanting to “change their lives and get out” is remarkable, and would indicate that her prediction about the changing nature of jobs as we know them is already true at some level.
Losing our way
Since the 2008 crash, Margaret also believes no one’s sure in business (and certainly not when you’re talking about traditional bricks and mortar retail) what will work anymore. Instead, “everyone’s grabbing every opportunity to see what sticks because you can’t rely on what was in your basket”, she counsels.
In the Austrade seminars, she finds people are there because they have an idea and a product they want to bring to the world market but knock-back after knock-back has them asking: What can I do?
The answer, Margaret believes, is persistence. She goes on to explain: “Being in sales is never easy. Sometimes the problem is in the way you’re approaching the transaction, or the way your potential buyer is viewing the transaction – maybe they are not in the financial position to say yes at the moment? Or the knock-back can come down to personality. There can be clashes. Sometimes it’s the sales proposition that needs to be put together in another way. In the end, success comes down to persistence and watching, looking and learning. The really important thing to get in your head is: ‘No is not really No. It’s just not right now’.”