Pure SEO Interviews: Maria Johnson

As part of our interview series, we’ve been reaching out to successful entrepreneurs around New Zealand to ask them about their top tips and insights for budding entrepreneurs.

This week, we interviewed Maria Johnson, the Managing Director and Owner of Little School.

Read on to discover Maria’s top tips for budding entrepreneurs, advice for dealing with setbacks, and more!


Maria Johnson

Maria Johnson is Managing Director, Owner and Licensee for Little School – an early childhood education provider with schools in Wellington and Auckland.

The mother of four boys, Maria felt there was a huge need for quality education in Wellington. With a Bachelor of Education from Waikato University and Early Childhood qualifications from the New Zealand College of Early Childhood Education, she founded Little School with the goal of helping young children discover their abilities and turn them into lifelong learners.

In 2012, Little School won two Her Regional Wellington Business Awards – Best Small to Medium Business and Wellington Business Woman of the year.

Maria has been an executive member of the Early Childhood Council since 2008 and is currently the ECC President.


What advice would you give to a budding entrepreneur?

Enthusiasm and Passion – Don’t ever lose your enthusiasm and passion. They are contagious and they draw people close to you. They are also critical for your vision, your team and your clients. These are also two key concepts that are vital in difficult times.

Take Good Notes – Too often we miss the jewels of what people are saying because we don’t record it. Take notes from all of the learning events you attend, so you are able to reflect and process. Remember your most unhappy customer is your greatest source of learning. Personally, I find taking notes enables me to reflect and decide what I will implement. I also file them away for discussions and presentations with my team later on.

Communication – Set high communication standards and follow them. Four basic rules of communication are:

  • Ask the right questions
  • Learn to say the right thing
  • Be specific
  • Learn not to jump to conclusions too quickly

I’ve learnt in my role that communication is key. So often now with technology, we rely on email or texts – but these are quite impersonal and can often lead to misinterpretation. Often it’s easier to pick up the phone, instead of texting or emailing. From my experience, personal contact is so much more meaningful.

Appreciation – Appreciation and recognition are worth their weight in gold; your team need to hear it from you on a regular basis. How often do you write a handwritten thank you note to your individual team members? (Role modelled to me by one of my forum buddies – thanks, Nathan Donaldson).

Be happy, laugh and be grateful – Tell yourself constantly every day when you get up how lucky and happy you are. It’s a privilege to step out of bed every morning. Over the past few years, I have become mindful of being grateful. Gratitude is having the ability to be thankful – there is always a story from someone else that makes you realise how lucky you are.  Always remember that you are not fully dressed until you have your smile – it’s the universal way of communicating. And if that’s not enough – you grow old when you stop laughing!!

Hold up under pressure – Pressure is a privilege and only comes to those who have earned it. We all have pressure in our personal and work lives. It’s the way we deal with it and show our true colours under pressure that truly defines us as a person. I always believe if you can look at yourself in the mirror and feel proud of how you have handled situations/pressure then you are being true to you. (Almost sounds like a Michael Jackson song.)

Moods – Leaders cannot be moody! Anger is one letter short of Danger. As a leader, always be steady in your mood; it can affect the entire team. They all need to know that you are constant – even in a heavy storm. Great leaders need to be quick to listen and slow to anger.

Be humble – Leadership is a fine balance between self-confidence and humility. Don’t get an inflated EGO. There is absolutely no room for EGO in leadership – the best leaders are humble and serve their team and community. They recognise there is a bigger purpose and they have a why! (please look at Simon Sinek’s TED talk.)

Learn – Make sure you learn something new every day. Great leaders are lifetime students. Today a reader – tomorrow a leader. Also, remember to ask questions – you learn by asking questions. Learn from others, learn by doing, learn by researching, learn by watching others grow as you empower them. Life is one big journey – continue to live it. Learn from your mistakes and embrace the willingness to fail and then, to have the resilience to not give up. My mantra – Live, Love, Inspire!

Positive people – Ensure you employ people who are positive. Hire for attitude and train later. Culture, values, morals and ethics are part of people’s DNA. So, hire positive people and get rid of negative people in your workplace and in your life. I have no place for ‘energy vampires’. Research shows that positive people live seven and a half years longer than negative people (that’s a pretty good incentive, right!).

“The right people don’t think they have a job – they think they have responsibilities.”

Empathy – Good leaders show empathy. Being able to relate to the thoughts, emotions and experiences of others is different to sympathy. I found Simon Sinek’s book great – Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t.

Take charge of your life – Vacate and take time out for yourself. Put your vacation down first in the calendar year and then fit everything else around it. You need to take charge of your life and take time out to think. So often people are so busy making a living, that they become too busy to make a life.

Spirituality – Have a spiritual foundation in a stressful world. Emotional, spiritual and cultural intelligence are crucial in the world, now more than ever. Stay grounded and focused by meditating, doing yoga or whatever helps you to stay present (but not wine!).

Always remember:

  • No one is more important than another.
  • Live what you preach.
  • Remember to say please and thank you to everyone.
  • Walk your talk.
  • Show appreciation even for the smallest task.
  • Have people around you who will challenge your thinking.
  • Service is not a choice, it’s a privilege.
  • And remember – success is who you become not what you have!

Entrepreneurs often have to deal with setbacks or failures. How do you cope with this?

By having good people around you to support you.  I have found it incredibly beneficial having a network who you can discuss and share experiences with.  Being an entrepreneur, you need to be resilient as well.  It’s not easy!  It is tough! And there are always difficult times and setbacks along the journey.  It’s just about learning from these and continuing to move forward. A favourite quote of mine is ‘If you Fail, never give up!  F.A.I.L means “First Attempt In Learning.  End is not the END – in fact, E.N.D. means “Effort Never Dies”’.


Which entrepreneur, or entrepreneurs, do you admire the most?

Richard Branson, Jim Collins and Ken Robinson are three entrepreneurs I admire and follow.  They are truly inspirational.


What sets a good business idea apart from a bad business idea?

As entrepreneurs, we all have discussions around various business ideas and always have ideas and thoughts! The ones that have any substance around them need to have a unique selling point that clearly makes you different.  What is going to set you apart from your competitors? Make sure you have a very clear thought-out business plan and get other entrepreneurs or a mentor to critique it with you.  A good business concept should also have scalability!  And last but not least –  passion and enthusiasm for what you are doing.

Rachel Matela

Rachel is a Filipino Kiwi with a passion for the arts. Having graduated with an Arts Degree in English from UoA, she found writing work at PureSEO as a Junior Copywriter and quickly moved on to the role of Editor. In her spare time, she reads Austen and teaches dance classes in the weekend.

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