Wow – that was a quick 8 years! I was young(er) and thought I knew it all, it turns I knew very little and I still have a lot to learn.
That said, It’s been a great journey with plenty of ups and down’s! I have met and worked with some amazing people as customers, colleagues and suppliers and almost all of them have been able to teach me things I didn’t already know.
I wanted to mark the occasion of 8 years in business by taking some time to reflect on some of the key things I know now, that I wish I knew when I was sitting at my kitchen table in 2009 deciding to make the leap.
1) Open your eyes to support
From day one.. engage with support bodies or anybody(ies) who are willing to help you on your journey. I am talking about your Local Enterprise Office, InterTrade Ireland, Enterprise Ireland etc. I know sometimes it's seen as a whole lot of red tape – and there is a lot – but from my experience, it's well worth it.
I have gained invaluable support from our Local Enterprise Office and InterTrade Ireland in the form of training, mentorship, financial grants/loans and other supports. Why did we get those... because we made a commitment to grow our company and deliver jobs, which we have done. When this happens, Government agencies are winning and so are you.
2. Enter Awards. They’re Win/Win…. even if you lose.
The old adage if you're not in you can't win comes to mind, well yeah, it's fairly true. We have won a few awards in our time and lost out on a few too but each one has been well worthwhile. It really allows you to take stock of where you are as a business and compare yourself against the best performers in your field.
It is a very useful experience to look at yourself through the prism of an external audit and see what other people think.
3. Systems, Systems, & More systems.
From day one we have always relied on clever software to make us as efficient as possible. But good systems do so much more than that.
At last count we have 10 pieces of software we use every day to run our business – from work flow management, procurement, marketing, proofing, sharing information, accounts and operations. We also have a ‘bible’ we use to give clarity on how each process interacts with the other. The great thing is they are all inexpensive cloud based platforms’ delivering multiples of their cost in added value to the business. Such is our belief in efficient software driving the future of business, we have built our own, called OnBrand. Its launching soon – watch this space!
4. Transparency + Incentive = Success
Open your business up to your team and let them know how they are performing (see point 3). If people know what you expect of them and what it’s worth to them to achieve those expectations – then they have a chance and a reason to get there. If you are disappointed with your team for not achieving some goal or milestone you have in your head, then they cannot be really held accountable, can they?
5. Innovate or Die
A cliché, I appreciate that, but in our industry it is certainly very true. The reality is the companies that we all want to work with are ones with a growth strategy. You will find and see that these are all innovative companies who need the support of innovative suppliers. It doesn’t mean you need to invest in an R&D department but you do need to be aware of where their market is headed and how you can support them on that journey.
Most companies want what is best to make them stand out, not what you have ‘in stock’. Give them they want and they’ll keep coming back. Give them what you have and they will go somewhere else.
6. Show me the Money!
I know this is easier said than done, so let me put it another way – stay away from where the money isn’t! Every business has services, products and even I’m afraid to say clients who on the balance of things – are costing them money. My advice is to develop your business to raise the red flags to point out these dead ends as quickly as possible. Sometimes it can be daunting and risky to cut services/products/clients from your business but if you can continue to prune your offering into shape, it will serve you will on the bottom line.
7. It’s all about people.
A lot of the best analogies in business can relate to sports teams. If you have a football team with a loads of lazy, unmotivated players who can’t stand the manager – where do you think they will end up in the league table? Yeah, not too high. The same holds through with your own team…they don’t have to be overpaid diva’s but if they have the right attitude and work ethic, you can achieve a lot. If they have a proven track record of doing well, they are not going to be cheap.
You don't have all the answers. You don’t even have all the questions. What you can have is a clear vision for your business, but you will need the best of people around you to make meaningful moves forward. I am delighted that we have assembled an outstanding group of individuals who work together as a team.
8. Work hard
All this 4-hour work week, How to be a millionaire from the beach on your laptop type of books are a load of nonsense. I should know, I’ve read most of them. There is absolutely no substitute for hard work, certainly in the early days.
The one thing that sets you apart from everyone else will always be a willingness to go the extra mile to get the job done for your customer. If you are not willing to do that, that's fine, but from experience that is absolutely the key to getting you and your business ahead. Hard work builds a reputation for achieving great things. With a good reputation you can go anywhere!