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Scaling Up A Small Business, With Firecracker Event

Small Business

Growth is an essential part of life. For small business owners it can be the difference between scaling and closing up shop. But even if you know you need to grow your business, how do you actually make it happen?

For this month’s column, we spoke with Cassie Lucas, founder of Firecracker Event – a business that’s grown from a solo operator through to a company, complete with a passionate team and Northcote headquarters. Having just opened the doors to her second – bigger and bolder – headquarters (HQ2) and celebrated a fifth year in business, Cassie spoke with us about the successes, and setbacks, of scaling.

Cassie will also be back next week, kicking off a month-long menu of easy entertaining recipes!

28th September, 2018

Cassie Lucas’ Firecracker Event ‘HQ2’ in Northcote! Photo – Emily Weaving for The Design Files.

Cassie (far right) and the Firecracker team! Photo – Emily Weaving for The Design Files.

A corner of the ‘conversation pit’ (YES) in Cassie’s stunning new Northcote space. Photo – Emily Weaving for The Design Files.

Photo – Emily Weaving for The Design Files.

Cassie’s very flash new event space and kitchen! Photo – Emily Weaving for The Design Files.

Scaling a business is hard to do all by yourself, so don’t be afraid to ask for help from the start! Photo – Emily Weaving for The Design Files.

‘Ultimately we were able to do it because I could see the potential of the space, how amazing it would be for the business and was able to ask my community for help,’ says Cassie. Photo – Emily Weaving for The Design Files.

Fiona Killackey
Friday 28th September 2018

‘I knew that if I wanted this business to work I would have to feel the fear and do it anyway’ – Cassie Lucas

‘I always try to lead and work from my heart’ says Cassie Lucas, the founder of Firecracker Event – one of the most successful (and Instagrammed!) food, styling and service businesses in Melbourne. While Cassie started the business six-and-a-half years ago, it took another 18 months of juggling it alongside other work until she decided to commit to it full-time.

Within two years, Cassie was opening the doors to her first premises – HQ1 – in Thornbury. ‘I could see that renting other kitchens and running around town packing and unpacking all the time would be comparable in cost to actually having our own space’ says Cassie. ‘At that stage, Firecracker was just me, so of course I was extremely anxious and nervous about taking the leap. I also knew that if I wanted this business to work I would have to feel the fear and do it anyway. The tricky part at that stage was I wasn’t really valuing the business correctly, and not charging correctly meant it took me longer to be able to afford the help I needed and start building our team.’ In hindsight, Cassie admits she would do things differently — ‘but that’s really a huge conversation about feeling worthy and valuable and there’s not enough room in this interview for all that!’

After seeing the potential of a 1950s butcher shop in Thornbury, Cassie enlisted the help of her good friend Caitlin Perry, founder of Setsquare Studio, to design the fit-out and then, ‘called on all the tradies I knew’ stressing that her brother-in-law and his mates were ‘godsends’. ‘Ultimately we were able to do it because I could see the potential of the space, how amazing it would be for the business and was able to ask my community for help.’

As the business grew, the need for a new location was evident. Northcote’s HQ2 has ‘ample room for storage and better systems for event logistics, a huge kitchen and a dedicated office area. The best part, says Cassie, ‘is that we now have room to host. My vision for the space is to host creative workshops, photoshoots, events, build things for larger projects and of course still have our pop-ups every now and then!’

Scaling any business is hard, but perhaps particularly so in an industry known for last-minute changes and 24/7 service. Ask anyone who has ever planned an event and stress can steer the journey. How does Cassie deal with it? ‘It can certainly be stressful, mostly because we care so much! Managing that has taken some practice and is a continual work-in-progress. I try to allocate small moments that are just mine throughout the week—a pedicure on Sunday, phone-free time and regular visits to my kinesiologist! We’re also at a stage in the business where we have a team and that’s been the best because it means when one of us is losing it, chances are someone else will have it covered.’

In addition to these small moments, Cassie operates with the philosophy made famous by Danny Meyer of ‘Enlightened Hospitality’ — which means that ‘every person you engage feels safe, welcome and at home with you. It’s about going the extra mile and prioritising relationships over transactions’. It’s this way of working that’s helped Firecracker remain a successful operator despite a slew of competitors rising up. ‘I constantly feel surprised that we survive and thrive in such a competitive industry. I do believe that we have been successful because we have grown slow and steady and because we’ve always done what we do with heart… We take on projects that make our hearts sing and when we’re doing that, enlightened hospitality happens naturally… People can feel the love and they come back for that.‘

With her past experience as a solo operator, what advice would she gift to someone looking to scale their business? ‘Go for it. And pace yourself. You don’t have to do it all yesterday. It helps me when I break it down. Put it into a 12 month plan, then break that down into 3 months and then monthly. This makes all the things you’d like to do feel very achievable and less overwhelming. I rejig my plan all the time as things change.’ In addition to planning, Cassie also credits having a wealth of support around her. ‘…The other invaluable tool for me has been having other friends and creatives in small business to talk to—like therapy for small business owners!  Lastly, my sister works for Small Giants and recently completed her MBA, and cares deeply about Firecracker and sustainable business. She’s really been the one to give me the language around what I want this business to be. I feel like she should be on the payroll the amount of advice, conversations, hours and PR she dedicates to FC.’

For now, Cassie is basking in a newly opened HQ2. ‘What’s next? A big deep breath! For the next little bit we’ll be concentrating on finding our feet in our new neighbourhood (Hi Northcote!) and getting HQ2 and our team to a really good place. I’d like to build things, collaborate with people and get back to my roots of landscape architecture and designing spaces. Oh, I almost forgot, it’s the start of wedding season too! Eeeeek!’

Find out more about Firecracker Event online or via their delectable Instagram and Pinterest accounts.

The powder room at Firecracker HQ. Photo – Emily Weaving for The Design Files.

Cassie upgraded from HQ1 in Thornbury to HQ2 in Northcote a few months ago. Photo – Emily Weaving for The Design Files.

I always try to lead and work from my heart’ says Cassie. Photo – Emily Weaving for The Design Files.

Work hard and be nice to people – no one lives more closely to this mantra than Cassie Lucas! Photo – Emily Weaving for The Design Files.

Scaling a business is hard to do all by yourself, so don’t be afraid to ask for help from the start.

TIPS FOR Scaling up

1. Know your why

The first step when looking to scale is to ask yourself, why? Are you renting an office and hiring staff because you think you “should”? Are you expanding into international markets because of brands you follow on social media? Not every business needs to be big in order to make an impact. Some of the best brands intentionally stay small. If you do wish to scale, figure out why that is and create a short mission or vision statement that reflects this. Make this visible so it acts as a daily reminder to you (and your staff) of why scaling is necessary.

2. Get clear on goals

What does “scale” mean to you? What exactly will this look like one year from now? Will you need to seek investment or do you need to save for the next 12 months to get the cash required to scale? Spending time to really specify your goals and figure out if external help is needed may take time in the short term, but will set you up for long-term clarity. Visualise where the business is in 12 months, then ask yourself what needs to change in order to get there. Work backwards from that 12-month goal, so that you’re clear on what needs to happen in the next 1, 3, 6 and 9 months in order to hit it. It’s advisable at this point to consider seeking help from financial and/or business advisors, as they may be able to help you arrive at solutions far quicker than if you tackle it solo.

3. Cultivate Your Crew

Cassie was quick to point out the help and support she had from people like her sister, friends and brother-in-law. Once you’re clear on what you’re trying to achieve by scaling the business, cultivate a core crew of friends and family who can act as support (emotionally, physically and, depending on your needs, financially). Scaling a business is hard to do all by yourself, so don’t be afraid to ask for help from the start. Don’t have friends that could help? Consider researching government programs for business mentors, short courses and even grants and loans.

4. Declutter

In any business (to quote Elton John), ‘there’s more to see than can ever be seen, more to do than can ever be done’. When you’re looking to scale, it makes no sense to devote time to things that don’t have an impact on your end goals. Like design, good business is about what you leave out rather than trying to pack every idea in. Decluttering your business starts by asking yourself, what in the business can be automated (i.e., emails, some social media), delegated (i.e., admin / bookkeeping, content creation, hiring staff) and/or eliminated. You may think you’re saving money via the DIY method, but often you’ll waste hours doing something that takes someone else a few minutes. Scaling starts by acknowledging your skills (or lack of) to ensure time is used efficiently and effectively.

5. Just Do It

The final, and most important step is to ACT. We can all think up ways to grow our business, but dreams without action are just ideas. Scaling a business will require sacrifice. Review what’s critical to the business scaling, remove things outside of this and set yourself daily, weekly and monthly targets to stay on track. If it helps, you might like to find an accountability partner in the form of a fellow business owner or business coach/mentor.

Fiona Killackey is a business consultant and the founder of My Daily Business Coach, providing information and education for starting and growing a creative small business. 

Need help with your Marketing? Fiona is running a full-day workshop on Marketing for Your Small Business Saturday October 27th at The Cowork Collective, Melbourne. 

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