It is quite easy to dig yourself into a hole without realising that you have a problem. A big clue is in your accounts. If your turnover or profit is stagnant, even slowly falling; if money is tight and cash flow management is taking over your waking moments, then maybe it’s time for a fresh look at where you are and what you are doing.
Having experienced previous recessions during the 80s and 90s when my two previous business went bust I feel I am well equipped to spot the signs of a business that’s cruising, or worse, on the way downhill. Everybody is working hard, but instead of seeing the sort of growth that you have been used to, all you are doing is standing still. You don’t look forward to coming through the doors each and every morning and life is a grind.
This certainly summed it up for me until recently. Fortunately I was able to give myself the proverbial Kick Up The A***. My drifting happened because I’d been distracted from my core objectives and was spreading myself too thinly. It was time to refocus, take a look at the market and my competitors and reinvigorate myself and my team.
Lesson 1 - Keep focused
Every time I take on a new employee I tell them that “we sell ink”, so remember that: just keep it simple!
In any business when the going gets tough it is very easy to be distracted and try other avenues to generate revenue. My experience is that you diversify, spend money that you don’t need to and end up writing it off to experience and in the meantime your core business has been neglected. Keep focused on what you are good at and put all of your energy and creativity into it.
Lesson 2 - Get help
If you are finding it hard to be objective about the state of the business, then try investing in a mentor. The informed opinion from an outsider is always illuminating and research by the Small Firms Enterprise Development Initiative suggests that 70% of small businesses that receive mentoring survive for five years or more (that’s double the rate compared to non-mentored entrepreneurs), and are 20% more likely to grow.
Choose someone with plenty of experience in different types of roles, but who understands your sector; someone, above all, who you can respect and work with. You’ll be bearing your soul to this person so it’s important to trust them too.
• Mentorsme.co.uk - over 10,000 business mentors offering face-to-face and online support.
• Horsesmouth - a social network for informal mentoring
• Management & Leadership Network - a free social network / hub / best practice group for proactive managers and leaders in Northern Ireland.
• The Rockstar Group has over 60 mentors in 25 industry sectors.
• Your local Chamber of Commerce can probably suggest people too.
Lesson 3 - Free your mind
What worked for me once I realised that I was flat-lining, was to open my mind. By being receptive to new stimuli I was able to get my own creative juices flowing. The breakthrough ideas may take a while to come to you, but they are more likely to hit you if you make yourself do things/activities that are outside your comfort zone.
My inspiration came when I read research that said there were 30 million printers in the world and I realised that there is an enormous market to aim for because Stinkyink.com sells ink for every make and model out there. As a result, we have taken a fresh look at our marketing and broadened our horizons. Instead of just relying on the internet for leads we are getting out and about and exploring new routes to market. I’m excited about going to work again and we’re starting to see positive results.
Do you remember the Katie Melua song “There are 9 million bicycles in Beijing”? Well my version is “There are 30 million printers in the UK” and I’m going to sell printer supplies to every single one of them! It’s our signature tune for the next twelve months.
About John Sollars
A serial entrepreneur, John Sollars has used the lessons learnt in the last recession of the 90s and in running his two previous businesses to become a successful pure-play web retailer. Based near Bridgnorth in Shropshire, Stinkyink.com was set up in 2002 and sells a huge range of printer ink cartridges online. Despite a tough start when a series of credit card frauds and a burglary nearly bankrupted him, John now employs 14 staff and has grown Stinkyink.com to a turnover of over £3m. In April 2012 he celebrated 10 years in business.