Hills Business Case Study: TFA Solar

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Peter Harwood, the proprietor of TFA Solar, has been powering his own home with a stand-alone solar system (not connected to the grid) since 1996. From this interest in thinking about his family's efficient use of energy sprang a business and over 18 years ago, Peter installed his first stand-alone solar power.

Now TFA Solar installs high quality solar power systems for on-grid (grid connected), off-grid (stand-alone systems) and hybrid (on-grid with battery backup) set ups here in South Australia.  The company specialises in individual design to cater for individual requirements as well as servicing all systems and performs repairs.

Operating from a large workshop in the Adelaide Hills TFA Solar practices what it preaches and has invested in its own Grid Connect System. This system is designed to power the entire workshop facilities, the day to day running of the offices and amenities and to adjust to the increasing power consumption as the workshop grows over the next 10 years.

We sat down with Peter to learn a little more.

What is your greatest business learning?
Cashflow is really important as well as planning forward.  Being aware of industry changes, in our case even back from several years ago, and being flexible enough to adjust to any changes.  This meant we had to recruit and employ staff that understands and complies with our high standards as well as keeping abreast with those changes and rules which have a direct impact on the installations. 

What is your greatest business success?
When we reached 1000 installations and being able and happy to go back to each and every installation without any hesitation, knowing the systems are installed correctly and comply to all the rules and regulations at that time.

Is there anything you would have done differently?
More advertising in specific areas, such as local events and attend meetings with other business owners to share information on owning and running a small business.

How do you stay up-to-date with the latest business information and trends?
We receive mail outs from the relevant authorities within the industry, suppliers and manufacturers as well as attend various seminars and conferences in SA and interstate. 

Where have you sought business advice?
We had a business advisor several years ago and got some benefit from it.  However, we also learnt that having a business coach is so much more beneficial.  Our business advisor was a friend.

What financial factors should be considered when wanting to grow a business?
Planning forward and having very good systems in place at the current level.  There is a big leap that needs to be taken to move to the next level, financial backup where needed is highly beneficial and planning for it.

What value do you place in business plans?
Plans are great for growing and moving forward.  By working out a business plan all factors of the business are taken into consideration and a strategic plan can be established to work towards that goal.  At this point it is also highly beneficial to engage a business coach as this coach can keep the business owner on track with the plans.  If any deviations are required, clear thinking is facilitated during the coaching sessions to nut out the move forward.

What three things should someone consider before starting a business?

  1. Have a passion for what you do
  2. Check out the market for your product/service and get a clear picture of where your product/service sits within that market
  3. Do a business plan covering all aspect within the plan – sales, marketing, finance, cashflow, productions, manufacturing, legal and tax implications, licencing, legislations, staffing, location etc.