Ruby Slipper Business Ninja: Sophie Bone from Big4Bellarine

Sophie Bone
This month’s Business Ninja is Sophie Bone, who I first came into contact with on a fabulous tourism family on the Bellarine Peninsula (relive the good times here). Sophie runs BIG4 Bellarine, an award-winning family resort just outside of Queenscliff, which is where I will be once again staying as I live-report to you from the Queenscliff Music Festival (yay! and more on that later, too). Sophie is a witty lady and clever businesswoman who (like many of us) has enjoyed several careers to date – including being a copywriter, which warmed the cockles of my wee heart. Here’s more from Sophie, as she discusses her multiple career-changes, overcoming challenges in business, considered recklessness and wrangling a family along for the ride.
You run a very successful series of family accommodation businesses – is this something you envisaged would be part of your career? Tell us about your career trajectory to date.

Sophie: No, is the simple answer! I did a degree in politics at Melbourne University, followed by a post graduate degree in Education (once I realised that a career prospect in politics was slim but also relatively impractical!). I went on to Head up the English Department of a very dynamic educational institution in regional Victoria and loved it.
The skill set garnered from that environment were immeasurable and I was fortunate enough to be flanked by some very passionate mentors that assisted in my growth (beyond preparing lesson plans) in both thought and professional leadership. In between, I decided to marry my best friend which resulted in a move to Anglesea on the Great Ocean Road and the beginning of my being in a perpetual state of pregnancy!Totally gorgeous, but I felt a need to be able to simultaneously engage my mind on a professional level – hence a business in copywriting was initiated. I chose the tagline “Choosing your words carefully’ which has never been so relevant as it is now given the social media revolution and for the wrong words to be misconstrued and sent viral within minutes! I worked on some fabulous campaigns.I eventually went into business with my husband (and four little boys) when we bought a 30 acre paddock with sheep on it and developed it into a ‘little town’ that is now BIG4 Bellarine Holiday Park. The project was fully financed (all borrowed from the bank) and we went headlong into $7.2 million of debt (read: for the rest of our foreseeable lives!!).

It took 6 years before it was approved and then once we had the green light, 9 months of construction. We lived on site with our children for the last 3 months of the project and they stay by our side through meetings, negotiations, mud and rain!). The project was delivered on time and on budget and since opening in 2009, has far exceeded our initial projections. That has been a lovely surprise!

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What skills did you take from your previous roles – and what is the transferable talent that has most surprised you?
 
Sophie: The skills garnered from teaching are multitudinous – organisation, public speaking, the art of persuasion, creating and executing a clear message to varying audience capabilities, planning, negotiating, documentation, reporting, compartmentalisation of information, working to strict deadlines and visualisation of the big picture are but a few. On a project of this magnitude, all of these were invaluable.
In one sentence, explain what your BIG4 businesses offer that sets them apart from  other franchisees or family accommodation providers.
Sophie: Probably the scale of the offering and the fact that it is so new! It is enormous and because of the size of the land, we are afforded the opportunity to be able to build and provide an enviable amount of facilities that without the space, is difficult to achieve. That is not one sentence.
Where do you go for inspiration and how do you overcome ‘road blocks’ – in business and more personally?

Sophie: Inspiration for me is almost always derived from people who are driven by elevating themselves above the standard and accepted way of operating and who reach for excellence and innovation despite it often being harder. I am buoyed by personalities that seek and execute solutions rather than revert to problems as a safeguard against change.
Do you think that entrepreneurs like yourself have one particular quality in common?
Sophie: Maybe a considered fearlessness (as opposed to ill-considered recklessness!!). I think you have to have some inherent interest in risk because if you have a tendency to be risk-averse, you can lose the edge that it takes to break through prohibitive resistance.
If you were to name two would-be mentors (alive or dead) – who would you name and why?
Sophie: I actually find this question very difficult because I rely on and track for a particular way of thinking and it sometimes comes in the most unlikely places! I find that as you move through your own personal journey as well as professional, you take snapshots or small snippets of information and then apply the thinking to a framework that suits the goals you are setting out to achieve. If you rely on a single person (or two!), certain elements of their modus operandi can be misaligned with what you see as core values that underpin the big picture.
In ten years from now, how do you see your business growing or changing?
Sophie: It will continue to expand its offering – both the accommodation and facilities. We currently have 40 units and have a permit for 148 (not that I’ll be around to see that!!), but it will be an ongoing project of expansion in direct relation to the evolution of consumer demands and needs – that will change and therefore, so will our blueprint.
What has been the biggest challenge in running your own business?

Sophie: In many ways, running your own business allows you a freedom that is not afforded by being an employee. I like that! Whilst I have spent the best part of four years micro-managing the start-up that was BIG4 Bellarine, with time, the intricate systems and procedures, recruitment processes and reporting capabilities you implement, all allow the business and the staff to become more and more self-sufficient. That’s when you can take a breath and start working on the business rather than in it. I am getting there!
Click here to follow BIG4 Bellarine on FB – and follow me on Instagram @iolantherubyslipper to chart my upcoming adventures whilst staying at Sophie’s  beautiful biz.
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