Gareth Robertson, founder of bespoke custom furniture and joinery workshop Blackwood Collective, grew his small business little by little. Starting out of his garage following a carpentry apprenticeship, he focused on building a network of contacts within the building and architecture industries. It paid dividends, with his work including furniture and bar fit-outs for commercial businesses such as The Grifter Brewing Company in Sydney’s Marrickville and Stone & Wood Brewing Company in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley. He’s also worked on bespoke pieces for high-end residential renovations and special commissions, like an upcoming table for the Queensland Children’s Hospital in collaboration with an Casey Coolwell-Fisher, curated through Blaklash design agency. He shares his advice for balancing creativity with necessary admin, and for keeping things running smoothly for the end of financial year (EOFY) and year-round.

Tips for Running a Successful Small Business

Blackwood Collective founder Gareth Robertson working with wood in his joinery workshop. In the background are power tools, toolboxes and many different-sized pieces of wood. ‍

Focus on Building Relationships and Networking

When Gareth, a Lardil man, first started Blackwood Collective in his garage 10 years ago, he was also working as a carpenter on residential renovations. “I was just dabbling away with furniture downstairs until I really just started making some good contacts,” he says. Referral by referral, he kept picking up bigger and bigger jobs until the time was right to branch out into his own space, first alongside an architecture firm he was working with regularly before settling on the business’s current workshop on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast.

Take Small Steps

Itching to turn your side hustle into a fully fledged business? Be patient, advises Gareth. “Take your time with it. There's going to be ups and downs, but you've got to just kind of see through it and not stress about it. You need to be patient with it and just let it grow naturally.”

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Build the Right Team

For the first few years, Gareth managed all parts of the business alone, and with the help of his wife, Casey, who has a background in financial management. But as the business grew, he realised that teamwork would be key to managing the business and creative sides of Blackwood Collective. “In terms of finding the balance, you need to obviously build a team that can work together,” he says. “If you want it to grow, you kind of just realise you can't do everything yourself. You need to get help and find good people that can see what you want to achieve.” These days, Blackwood Collective has two employees and engages subcontractors as needed.

Find Your Niche

A GIF series of furniture pieces from the Blackwood Collective. Products include things like a table with Indigenous art, a record and vinyl cabinet and a console.

Gareth says the early days of his working life were as much about finding out what he didn’t enjoy working on as what he did, and applying that knowledge to his specialty. “When people come to us, it’s often for pieces they’ve wanted to create for a long time and are finally getting a chance to do,” he says. “We’re creating pieces that get passed down, almost like an heirloom.” 

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Gareth’s Top EOFY Tips for Small Businesses

Gareth sitting at a table in his joinery workshop using a laptop. Around him are headphones, green manila folders, a cup filled with markers and pencils, and a printer.

1. Find a System That Works for You

Blackwood Collective tracks its expenses through accounting software Xero, and tracks stock through a simple Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. “We can easily see what stock’s in there, what needs to come in and what we need to order by looking at the spreadsheet,” says Gareth.

2. Stay on Top of the Admin

Once your systems are in place, make sure you’re using them regularly. “By the end of financial year, we’ve clearly kept track of everything,” says Gareth. “You don’t want to fall behind, because then you get swamped in catch up.”

3. Use It as a Chance to Forward-Plan

As EOFY approaches, Gareth and the team assess what projects in the upcoming financial year might need similar equipment or materials. “If I know I’ve got something else coming up out of the same timber, I’ll buy a big lot to save costs,” he says.

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Top Products for Small Business

Gareth sitting in his workshop looking at a woodworking design sketch on an A4 piece of paper while listening to music through a pair of white headphones.

For Creative Work

“I always listen to music with headphones [when I design]. They’ve got to have Bluetooth and noise cancellation [and a microphone that allows you to take phone calls]. When a client comes to me with a brief, we sit down with them and work out the mood board, the timber type, the colours they’re thinking of, any references. Then I take it from there, and sketch something out with pencil and paper. Then we sit down and get it into the computer using a program like [3D modelling software] SketchUp.”

For Keeping Clear Records for EOFY

“We print and keep all the information for each job in one of these green folders; it just seems to be the easiest way. I keep it all on my phone as well, in Dropbox files for each job we do in a month. But referring back to the folders is a lot easier to do.”

What to Try:

A GIF series of products to help with running a small business, shown on various brightly coloured backgrounds. Products include things like a whiteboard, a filing cabinet, manila folders and a printer.  

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This is general information only. Seek professional financial and/or legal advice to determine the right outcomes for your business or individual needs.