Powering forward with Jane Marx
Key learnings from Jane range from taking inspiration, adapting to customer changes, and using great tech.
Entrepreneur Jane Marx runs Merchant Road, an events management company that helps create memorable, personalised occasions for clients.
At the same time, though, Marx and her business also support young women.
The company’s “Many Hands” training program provides women from refugee backgrounds with the skills and opportunities they need to find employment in the hospitality and events industry.
Marx’s journey to this area of business started with her first venture, a social enterprise café that trained and employed refugees and people seeking asylum who faced barriers to employment.
During what ended up being the final year in that business, Marx and her colleagues hosted numerous events for individual customers and businesses.
This path took off, and Marx realised how much she loved the events side of things.
She says, “I knew I wanted to focus my energy solely on this, and on providing more opportunities to young people from refugee backgrounds. Through Merchant Road, I have been able to build on those two passions.”
Key lessons for Merchant Road
Take inspiration where you can – many people have had a worse run than you and still come out on top
Economic conditions have changed and so have consumer behaviours – businesses need to get in front of these changes sooner rather than later
Good tech is the way forward – look to remote working tools and online software platforms to make sure employees can work from anywhere, at anytime
Since starting Merchant Road, Marx has enjoyed many successes.
However, one in particular stands out. It came about after the business welcomed a young woman into its training program who had never worked before, in Australia or her home country.
“She had done a lot of volunteering work, though,” says Marx, “and on that basis, been applying for jobs for over a year. We were the first people to ever provide her with the opportunity to learn, to work, and to earn an income.”
Marx says she saw a lot of herself in this young woman and could only hope that if presented with the same challenges, she’d have the same persevering spirit.
Marx explains that “despite facing pressure from her family to prioritize her responsibilities at home,” the young woman “always had an unrelenting drive to work, to forge her own path and to achieve independence.”
Marx witnessed the lady’s confidence and skills improve daily as she trained and worked with Merchant Road.
After that, Marx notes, “she went on to find a job she really loved, and she has been able to maintain financial independence as well as contribute to her family’s income.”
COVID-19 downturn calls for grit and determination
Today, Marx continues to think of this young woman often, “particularly when things are hard, and I need a reminder of my purpose.”
Before COVID-19 hit, Merchant Road was primed for its biggest 12 months to date.
Nearly every weekend was booked for the immediate period, and summer event enquiries were at an all-time high.
However, once the seriousness of the pandemic started hitting home in Australia, things changed quickly.
“In less than a week, every single event we had planned for got cancelled. It was such a huge, overwhelming loss.”
Marx was able to apply for the Government stimulus for small businesses, as well as JobKeeper, which has helped significantly.
However, not having any revenue coming in from events has obviously been a challenge.
“Working in events means that a genuine pivot at this time would have been drastic and very hard to achieve,” says Marx.
So, instead, she and her team have been putting their energy into planning for the future.
“Whilst the immediate loss has been huge,” Marx admits, “I feel like we are going to be in a good position once this is over.
“We have some pretty big goals that we have actually had time to work on. We are going to be able to hit the ground running towards those in a way we would not have done if we hadn’t had this quiet period.”
Looking to the immediate future, Marx knows that a key challenge revolves around how quickly things will return to some kind of normal.
“I am, of course, hopeful that all anybody will want to do is spend summer throwing beautiful parties that we can help make happen!
“However, I am also mindful that a lot of people have experienced huge financial losses, so it might mean reduced wedding budgets and businesses not having as much to spend on Christmas parties and the like as they once did.”
Preparing for altered economic conditions and consumer behaviours
Marx has planned as well as possible for this potential change in the events industry, though.
“We have developed a few events packages that are smaller and simpler than before,” she explains.
“We are also in the early stages of diversifying our revenue stream. No kind of major growth or expansion,” she notes, “but rather a small step towards something that will help generate good returns if per-head spending for events reduces for the next twelve to eighteen months.”
One of the ways Merchant Road has adapted to the current business environment is by offering online consultations to couples planning their weddings.
“We have had a huge uptake in this!” says Marx. She also notes that this new virtual service provides opportunities for the future, as well as the current climate.
“It’s important that whatever we work on now has real value-add in the future.
“Whilst this lockdown has brought so many challenges to running a business, our time and energy is still precious, so I’m adamant that whatever we implement now will not just provide a quick fix, but contribute to the building of the business into the future.”
Making the most of remote working tech
Marx has also utilised technology to stay in touch with her workers, through regular check-ins.
“I’ve tried to regularly remind members of our team how valued they are, and how much I am looking forward to working with them once this has passed,” she says.
Another strategy Marx has applied to stay closely connected to the company’s broader community during the pandemic is starting a “Five Minutes With” series.
“We share insights into how many of the exceptional women we work with are staying inspired in isolation.”
Marx and her team have taken advantage of MYOB’s products to help track the company’s status and handle planning tasks.
Marx acknowledges that MYOB services “made it easy to quickly determine the difference in revenue between this time last year and now.”
Plus, Marx has found MYOB’s Single Touch Payroll system to be a big help. “It has made things very efficient, and accessing JobKeeper payments really simple.”
As for planning Merchant Road activities for the next 12 months, Marx has also used numerous MYOB reports to give her the data she needs.
“The reports help us to project what position we might be in when things return to normal. Having accurate numbers and a clear path forward have been vital to our planning process and makes the future feel less daunting.”
To other events-focused businesses trying to survive and thrive during and after the pandemic, Marx suggests looking longer term.
“Put your energy into building whatever you can that will thrive and grow beyond this time…Try using this downtime to work on the things for your business that you’ve always wanted to do.”
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