SME owners on how they grew their businesses
I started my business working from my spare room with my partner’s laptop and my mobile phone. The most important thing I did was to start networking. When I started the business I hadn’t even realized that networking was for small businesses but I made an effort to attend as many groups as I could so that I could decide which ones were right for me and which weren’t. Through networking, I met a lot of people but I realized quite quickly that I wasn’t necessarily going to meet clients through the people in the room, but through the people that they knew.
I gradually began to grow my network which meant I met people who could introduce me to other groups and other people, potential suppliers, and a support network of people who were also going through the same challenges I was. I still network and have stayed in touch with a number of people I met in the early days and many have become friends. In the early stages, I was very keen to keep costs down.
I know many people who have started a business and move into offices straight away but I wanted to make sure that we had a very strong client base and money in the bank before we even considered moving into premises. Even though I had staff, we worked from my house until the end of 2007 and moved into our offices four years after I started the business.
On making mistakes
We’ve been in business for almost 17 years but it hasn’t been plain sailing. I’ve made mistakes in employing people and have employed people because I liked them rather than because they could do the job, so if you’re in a small company it’s worth getting someone external to interview with you to give another perspective. It’s worth realizing that if you have made the wrong decision, it’s better to admit it and cut your losses early otherwise you run the risk of letting clients down and upsetting the harmony in the office.
I’ve also been too trusting clients. We’ve had clients who have ended up not paying invoices for several months and I’ve told the team to continue to work with them trusting that they would pay the debt. Looking back I would be much tougher and stop work much earlier. We’ve had clients go into administration which means that you don’t recoup any of the outstanding money.
The main thing I’ve learned is to take a step back from the business. When you’re working with clients you can get absorbed in the work you’re doing which means that you run the risk of taking your eye off the most important thing which is growing the company and generating new work. As the boss, it’s your responsibility to look at the bottom line, focus on the business plan, and plan for the future. Delegate where you can and look at the big picture.