Friday, December 27, 2013

A small business advisor shares his story - with tips on starting & running your own business

small business profitI had the pleasure recently of chatting with Adam Gordon - who is a highly experienced business advisor that runs a business called the Profits Leak Detective, based in northern NSW.

He has been helping small business owners for more than 25 years.  His clients are typically people who started their business based upon possessing good technical skills, quite often having worked for someone else while they built on their technical training.  Their experience however, rarely extended into learning about marketing, financial management or business management.
Very often, these entrepreneurial spirits would find that running their own business had turned into “hard grinding work”, seven days a week – with far smaller returns than what they had envisaged.  Adam explains that he “…. helps them find and plug the leakage from their profits” so they need only work four and a half days a week, instead of seven.
I asked Adam to share some of his own story in starting a new business - and also for some words of advice for new business owners. His experience of surviving the trials and challenges of the start-up stage may perhaps offer some hope and inspiration to those of you who may be currently struggling with establishing your own business.

1.     Adam, why did you initially decide to start your own business?
I’d long wanted to run my own business, to have the so-called independence of owning one’s own business and being my own boss.  The problem was being trapped in the security of a comfortable income and, while the hours at times could be a bit daunting, they weren’t always like that.  It was quite ccomfortable work - but not ultimately fulfilling.  

For me, the change was an unsettling experience because of the risk in removing the security blanket. However, the desire to work for myself became an increasingly dominant desire.  The moment of discomfort did come – somewhat unexpectedly.  The security blanket was removed from me through an organisational restructure and my job was made redundant.  I took a deep breath, ignored the siren calls and lure of another security blanket that was offered, and instead followed my heart and started-up my business.

2.     What were the biggest “start-up” challenges and difficulties you had to overcome in your first 1 - 2 years?
The first was that terrible “Catch 22” – being able to demonstrate to potential clients that I could do their job and meet their requirements - before I had clients or any “track record” that would reassure them and give me credibility.

Luckily I had a redundancy payout from the bureaucracy for whom I had worked, which helped fund me while I gradually built up a client base and eventually some steady cash flow.
The second challenge was “selling myself” as a business advisor.  This was ironic, because I had never experienced any difficulty in marketing the products and services of my previous employers ...... But when it came to marketing “me”, well that was something different! ... It was necessary to overcome some early conditioning, having been raised in an era where we were taught to avoid being "boastful" and to downplay one's achievements.

3.     What do you find most satisfying now in running your own small business?
Making a difference - seeing small business owners grow in their business so that they become managers and entrepreneurs, and not just technicians.  I don’t mean that necessarily in the E Myth sense.  I want to see them take control of their business, so that they control their business rather than it controlling them. I want to see them succeed, to be highly profitable, to not have to continually worry about money, to have the lifestyle they desire, to not feel they have to spend every waking hour in their business. I can’t really describe the feeling of satisfaction that I get when that happens.

4.     Adam, you’ve worked with hundreds of business owners over the years - what do you think are the key personal qualities that a person must possess if they are to succeed in their own business?
Three necessary qualities that come immediately to mind would be :
i)             determination and persistence, to get through the times of disappointment and frustration
ii)           a diligent attention to detail, with a consistent focus upon a quality service or product
iii)           equally, the ability to step back and periodically take a strategic look at the bigger picture – including the market place and where they want to position themselves within it

However above all, I think the most critical quality is the ability to recognise that they are not “operating” a small business i.e. doing whatever their particular skill is - but instead, they are “running” a small business.  There is a big difference.  They need to make the transition from thinking “I’m a stainless steel fabricator” or “I’m a plumber”  .... to  “I run a stainless steel fabrication business” or “I run a plumbing business”
Without making that fundamental change to their thinking, they will never grow nor become more profitable - they will remain forever a technician doing a technicians job. And the business will always remain dependent upon them and their skills and their availability.

5.     What have been some of the marketing strategies that you’ve found most effective in growing and developing your own business?
There have been two strands to my marketing.  Firstly it has been all about building relationships with both organisations and people.  Both require networking, being involved with both community and business organisations.  And ‘involved’ requires contributing, not just turning up to functions.

Secondly I have endeavoured to become known as a “go to” person in my field.  And that has meant developing skills in terms of techniques and the ability to deliver to clients.  In turn that leads to ‘word of mouth’ promotion and referrals, always the most effective promotional tool.  I’ve also used articles in local newspapers and Chamber of Commerce publications as a tool to demonstrate expertise.
In more recent times I’ve used my newsletter, blog and LinkedIn to do the same thing.

6. Any final words of advice you would offer to small business owners?
Don’t be the same as the others; dare to be different.  So many small businesses don’t want to be seen as different from other players in their industry.  But how do you stand out from the crowd unless you are different in some way? Your product may essentially be the same - so how you package it or promote it or price it will need to be different.

Also, keep trying new things, whether it be products or services, or ways of delivering your products or services. Times change, the market changes – and you must change with it!  But to do this effectively – you must keep on learning; constantly updating your knowledge and acquiring new skills.

Thanks to Adam, for sharing with us some of his 25 years experience in small business consulting. Let me add that when you're running and trying to grow a business, you'll make some mistakes - but don't beat yourself up. After all, if you're not making a few mistakes along the way, then you're probably not trying anything new!

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 About the author
Brian Carroll is the founder of a management training company Performance Development, based in Melbourne, Australia.  He is a qualified psychologist, experienced leadership coach and an engaging presenter, with a passion for helping people develop their full capabilities.