October 4, 2013, by Malvika Johal

My guide to starting your own business – Part 8

Written by: R L (Bob) Hall (BSc, PhD; University of Nottingham) Owner and MD of Top and Jeffries Limited; Co – owner & Chairman of Fuel Additive Science Technologies Limited, Shropshire, UK. 

The people factors of the business are so important. Businesses are all about people. They are run by, staffed by, supplied by and sell to….people. Being the owner, operator and the main “cog” in the money making machine puts the start-up business owner in a very difficult position. It is hard to have a “bird’s eye view” of the business when you have your nose to the grindstone actually doing the work day to day. You need to detach yourself and consider the company as a money making machine rather than your “baby”.

When you are ready to hire people, choose very carefully. Staff can be your biggest asset, but can also turn into your largest liability if you choose unwisely. In general, good staff are very hard to find. I have been very lucky over the years and managed to attract folks that are better than me at doing their job and they have a good attitude and work ethic. If someone is not better than you at their job, then why are you hiring them?  The best advice I can give is to treat your staff fairly, communicate clear rules and above all with respect – pretty much how you would like to be treated yourself.

As you are the critical person in charge of the money making machine, you need to take care of yourself. Pay yourself first as you need to be motivated to keep the machine cranking out smoothly. You will not be able to do this if you are worried about paying your personal bills. Watch the hours you work, look after your health, including exercise and watch your energy levels mentioned earlier. I cannot emphasize this enough as it is easy to burn out.

One of the pivotal situations for one of my businesses was the decision to hire our first professional sales person. Increasing sales is the only way to grow a business and I have learnt that good sales people have a unique set of skills.

When I was working for an oil company we were running a diesel cold test program over the winter in Finland in a town close to the Arctic Circle. We rented warehouse space off a local entrepreneur to house and work on the test vehicles and different diesel formulations. This same chap just happened to own a large Ford car dealership next door and I could not help noticing that he appeared to be the most successful dealership in the area by far. I asked him one day what the secret was to his success. He pointed to a silver pin on his suit lapel that was in the shape of two small silver looking shoes. “This is the key” he said. “If you can guess what this pin means then I will buy you one just like it”. It took me 12 months to guess the answer and I never forgot that lesson. “Yes” he said after I guessed correctly, “When I am uncertain what to do I look at this pin. It reminds me to put myself in the customer’s shoes. They are very small shoes, because that is how the customer feels. But every customer is precious to me, which is why the pin has to be made of silver”.

So it is with the best sales folks, they see a potential customer as a person first and a business opportunity second. They have first class interpersonal skills and put themselves in the customer’s shoes. They keep a relationship with customers even if they cannot sell to them today. They may sell to them tomorrow.

It is these same characteristics that are most valuable to growing a company that also can make sales staff very difficult to manage. They are generally the most expensive staff to have (e.g. salary, commission, car, travel expenses etc.). You need to put a lot of effort into ensuring you get the most effective return possible on your investment in them. The next installment in this twelve part series looks into the technicalities of running and owning your own business.

Posted in Entrepreneurship