We recently celebrated our 10th year in business. Apparently the whole team went out and had a great time – unfortunately I couldn’t make it due to a schedule conflict – I was away in Italy getting married at the time!
Sometimes it’s hard to imagine that we’ve been going for a whole 10 years – that’s a third of my life!
Over that time, the business has changed massively. We’ve seen phenomenal growth and our team has expanded to 6 full time staff. I’ve also spent over half of that time living away from Edinburgh, in Asia and latterly in London.
With our recent property purchase, my new wife and I are heading back up to Edinburgh to settle down for the long term so we’re entering a new decade with a new phase in our history.
What Have I Learned
Summing up 10 years in 1 blog post isn’t easy. However, I think the most important things I’ve learned are fairly simple.
Ultimately – it all boils down to happiness. You want a promotion, so that you can earn more money, so that you can buy a bigger house, so that you can go on better holidays, so that you can wear more expensive clothes, so that you can be happier. We spend most of our lives working towards goals that we subconsciously think will make us happy, but very little time working on what actually makes us happy.
We’re making happiness a core value of the business and we’re working hard to make our company better, bring a little happiness to our customers and lead happier lives.
Stressing and toiling over hitting sales targets, or getting that report finished for the boss that doesn’t like you in a job you don’t like sounds like a nightmare that’s all too common. By realising what actually makes you happy, you can spend more time working on those aspects of your life, and forgetting about all the other nonsense.
What does this mean in practice? That supplier we work with who is constantly dishonest, ships late, has low quality products – well, we’re not going to work with them any more. That cheap product that we can sell at a great price, but will probably break – we’re not going to sell that any more. We’re going to make sure we understand what genuinely makes us a better business, a better member of society and create some positivity and goodness in the world. (I like to think we’ve done this for the last 10 years already, but now it’s written in stone in our company values, we can try harder).
In line with the above, keep an eye on the big picture and be the company you want to be, not the company you are. It’s easy to see another year slip by without achieving those goals you set out at the start of the year, or even the ones that rolled over from last year. Keep an eye on those – they don’t go away and if you don’t achieve them, you can easily find your business or your life leading you down a path you didn’t necessarily want to go down.
Write down some short, medium and long term goals, and spend some time every week working out how to achieve them now. Start achieving the long term ones today, and they will materialise.
I love a system, and a process. I love to automate things. But ultimately, our business is still run by people. The better the people, the better the business. Never compromise on that.
Never hire someone who you think could learn to fit in. Hire people on their talents not their skills*, and hire them on their values of who they are. If they’re dishonest, you can’t teach them not to steal. If they’re compassionate, they’ll be kind to your customers.
Firing someone can be painful, but your job as a business owner is to make the best business for everyone, and sometimes you need to root out a bad egg to make the salad taste better.
*Talents are qualities that people have developed their whole lives, skills are things which can be easily taught. I have a talent for technology. I’ve never used an iPhone, but give me one and I’ll work it out pretty quickly. I don’t have a talent for design. I know what I like and what I don’t like, but I’m not great at putting pen to paper and coming up with new designs. I can learn to be good, great even, but I’ll never be as good as someone who’s thought about design for their whole life.
Make sure the numbers are good. I tend not to spend money I can’t lose – I don’t like debt, I don’t like credit. You need to be comfortable that you understand your accounts, that you know your break-even point and that you don’t forget to pay yourself.
Last, but definitely not least. Your job as a business owner is to serve your customers. Delight them and they’ll tell their friends and they’ll come back. When you’re not sure how to make a decision, make it based on what is better for customers.
We recently put all our stock information onto our website, effectively showing our competitors how many of each item we have in stock. Scary. Why? Because it’s much better for customers to know that we have their product, in our warehouse and are ready to ship it. If it’s better for customers – do it.