THROWING OUT THE OLD AND KEEPING THE NEW
#RETRAINING #MORE THAN JUST A JOB #INSTALIKE #KEEP IT GOING
Michael was ready to talk to someone. He was going through a few epiphanies in this life and had made some major changes. He was a carpenter by trade and he bought himself a business to run - well, when I say business, he really just bought himself a job - the business stuff came later. I wanted to share this story with you because it’s about a client that had to adjust to many new things, all at once, and his business was a really important part that he needed develop so he could find his new ‘normal’. For a long time Michael was thinking about finding someone to help him through his new business and he interviewed quite a few different people until we ended up meeting each other.
He told me “I need to sort out the trash in my head” so I told him “okay, that’s why I’m here.. let’s start with working out where you’re at”. He literally put me to task and said “Brett, sort out the stuff between my ears”. In our first couple of sessions we talked about his life, what he wanted to do on a personal level and where he saw his business fit into that picture.
I wasn’t surprised to learn that he was a closet academic with high degrees and honors - like something out of Cambridge University. He previously worked in corporations for years and even though had taken its toll, unforeseen circumstances (which I won’t go into here) meant he was now having to raise his three kids on his own.
For many people, as it was with Michael, change isn’t always easy and when there are too many changes it can be very stressful. My initial role as Michael’s mentor and coach was to help him adjust his business through the personal changes he was going through. In business books, they call it “change management” my version of that is “getting on with it”.
Michael’s business was a good fit for him because he was also a very skilled in carpenter - he built his own home extension, country get away and renovated many properties. So we got on with the business and building his business.
At at next session I said “Mike, there are a few things I’d like for you to do” and handed him a couple of assessments to do then we went about reviewing every part of his business operation. The number one thing for Michael at this stage was getting to know his numbers and improve his billings. The competition was clearly charging a much higher rate and he wasn’t breaking much above even. “You’re holding yourself back Mike” I told him when we found out that the competition was bringing in more per hour than he was. Michael was working 33% harder than the rest and didn’t even know it!
During the next couple of years his business really took off. Michael’s billings were now positioned at healthy marketable rates, his customer referrals picked up even further and he started to employ staff.
There were many other activities that we did together that went beyond financial improvements and competitive marketing. Michael had been adjusting to a new business slowly, and within 18 months, his business doubled in size and profitability. We both discussed strategies of how to strike a work/life balance and Michael used a few of the methods to really focus on what was important (rather than what was urgent). The more we worked on his business the more we saw the improvements.
The end of the third year rolled around and we talked about how the business was going. And after we smiled about the the 60% increases across the board and Michael was ready to go out of the office to start his 3 week holiday, he stopped to tell me “Brett, my life is finally back on track” - and that was Michael’s version of a high-five. I’ll take that.One thing that I learned from my time as a business coach working with Michael was that not every business is about breaking new ground, conquering a huge mountain and fighting through the abyss. Sometimes the definition of success is a business that becomes stable, changes slowly and surely and is predictable. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Successful takeover firms fall over backwards to find stable performing businesses. It didn’t matter that Michael wasn’t a high octane, bouncing off the walls, mover-shaker kind of guy, his business was very successful and was exactly like him - a consistent and quiet achiever.
# FAMILY FIRST # FILLING IN THE BUSINESS BLANKS # REMEDIAL MASSAGE ROCKS
When you’re busy taking care of other people its hard to look at what you need for your own self. That’s how I saw Alana and Rose. Two very capable natural therapists who were dedicated to helping their clients feel fantastic and have a new lease on life. Problem was as successful as their business was, with repeat clients, new services to offer and new products flying off the shelves, the business they were so attached to wasn’t looking after them. I see this kind of thing all the time. Amazing technicians who can give the highest levels of craft and service but they aren’t looking at what really matters in their lives, which in the case of Alana and Rose it was their incomes to support their family commitments.
They had almost had enough when they decided to find me and we met over a coffee in their local shopping haunt. Trendy, inner city spot with lots of hipsters. It was a perfect location for servicing professional, high income earners, baby boomer retirees and people who want to pamper themselves after a long work day. Their business idea was certainly not the issue.
“We work really hard Brett, and we love it. When the business can pay us after all our expenses are taken out, we get a little bit of pay, but it’s not much.” Alana and Rose wanted to have a regular income stream but it just wasn’t happening. That’s why they asked for my help. They worked for the business, paid its expenses, rent, equipment, supplies. I could see that it brought them down and they felt there wasn’t anything they could do about it.
So many business owners get stuck in this cycle so I was pretty confident when I told both Rose and Alana “if I show you some things and you learn how to look at all the different parts of your business, you can make regular payments to yourselves come out of your business”. They looked a little bit like they were beaten down by daily grind of their business and didn’t believe what I was suggested. Luckily they were willing to come on board with me and give it a try and give it 12 months to see what we could do together.
The first very big leap the girls made was that, with my guidance and support, they employed other specialists. Yoga teachers, remedial massage therapists, pilates instructors. It wasn’t all done overnight and took gradual careful consideration because it was a small team and they didn’t want to be in over their heads. What amazed them the most was the more services they put on the higher the volume of customers that came into their business. The position of the business was perfect!
After a few months, the girls experienced a solid customer volume at a good regular rate. This meant that we could work on the rest of their business. When we meet up each month, I found a gradual lift in their spirit and they started to feel like they could really make a go of building a fantastic service for their local community. They were all about customer service.
At the 5 month mark I sprung a little surprise on them by saying “now let’s look at your numbers”. They both looked at me, there was a silent pause and then Rose said “OK, where do we start”. And that was it. For the next few intense meetings we did it all. P&L and balance sheet management, liability management, asset protection. You name it. They weren’t afraid of anything financial in their business. In fact they went along to intense training workshops I sent them on so they could really get on top of their numbers. Coaching business partners like Rose and Alana was so much fun, they didn’t take their business for granted, they wanted to learn and it was a case of the more I gave them the better they got at leading their business.
By the 10 month mark the girls saw a complete turnaround in their business. The coaching they received from me made a business less than a year prior, now able to give them a regular income, they had more staff on board and they were no longer breaking even anymore.
“We want to tell you two things Brett - first. We made a profit!! And it’s not even been a year!!” Alana said to me when she called me up before our meeting to review their goals and targets. “That’s fantastic!” I told her, but between you and me, I knew they had already hit their targets and I was already working on some profit maximisation strategies to share with them. This is the best part of my role I have to say - seeing “business owners” turn into Business Leaders. They didn’t know it but both Alana and Rose were well on their way to running a strong sustainable business.
“Great! Congratulations Alana! What’s the other thing you wanted to tell me?” I asked her. “Well…..Rose is taking time out of the business because….she’s pregnant! Last year she was so worried and nervous and it was all too much. We are now relaxed and know what we’re doing thanks to you, and look what happened!” That was a surprise. Mind you, I don’t profess to help people feel that they can expand their family, but I did believe I had something to do with developing their peace of mind! Did I mention they were both already working mums of small children?
Alana and Rose’s business was set up to support them in their existing family life. In the beginning there was no real take-home wage so they couldn’t rely on the business to give them the stability they were after. Now, only 10 months down the track with regular income, actual profits, and a caring team, it is more than possible.
As a business coach, finding profits was the easy part for me, the harder part for the people that I coach, is to help them find a better work life. When that happens I know I have done a great job.
I keep in contact with both Rose and Alana and had the pleasure of meeting Rose’s new arrival, baby James. As far as their professional life was concerned, I can certainly say that I helped them fill in all the blanks on how to manage their business better, they not only did that brilliantly, they managed to add an extra special ingredient of their very own. Well done!
I've worked with Eric many times before. He's what I'd call a focussed, intelligent and a high energy kind of person with depth to his talents. The last time he called me was when he needed someone to share some insights to a team. The team were interested to hear about some ways they could improve together, and after having a chat with Eric, he suggested I was the man for the job. The business I visited was a multi national corporate, lots of people in suits everywhere. When I met the group I have to say, it was a common theme - tired people working the usual corporate hours, feeling over stretched, under resourced. I could count on one hand how many had recently gone on holiday. Like many businesses of their size, they try and get a healthy margin from the same amount of output, and when times are tough it means there are less people to utilize. But that's not what I'm here to talk to you about today. The business I found myself speaking in wasn't Eric's place of business either.
Eric was in the business of helping people learn how to live healthier lives. That's why were were both there together. We complimented each other in sessions like these because he talked about physical health and I focussed on the business side. We've both held many of these sessions together and how I got to know Eric wasn't through speaking to groups, but working with him one-to-one.
Not your average health professional guru by any means, Eric is pragmatic, enthusiastic and was really interested in sharing what he learned in his own life with other people. Problem was he wasn't getting any traction in his business. He had other ventures that I helped him build and sell on, from technology all the way through the health business. But this business was different for Eric on a personal note. He told me in a couple of our one-to-one meetings that he liked making a difference in people's lives and creating a new ethos of living in different environment, including people in a corporate culture. The business started off with just him and he was keen to plan it out that's why we got down to brass tacks fairly early.
Over the course of about eighteen months, we had discussed how this service-based business could be created and I helped Eric put his ideas on paper. There were financial considerations, recruitment, sales strategies and marketing he had to factor in. Basically our job together was to work out how his startup could get off the ground, grow and be viable for the long term. Eric had good instincts and was constantly thinking about untapped markets. The corporate sector had long been underserved when it came to health. Unless the organisation was a health organisation by its virtue, it was pot luck whether the HR department head would take on activities outside of fun runs once a year and the occasional gym membership.
The more Eric talked to different organisations that he felt could use his health advice and services, (even if it was a program that he put together for a short burst activity), the more he received calls to come back and present again. He knew my strengths were in building businesses and in building the people inside those businesses so because of our history with each other Eric would call me in. I would present in motivational sessions on how to better work together as a team (personality profiling, planning sessions, team building exercises) so the job of everyday business was easier for them.
I remember how many people who completed his sessions and were revved up and ready to change their routine. I noticed when I returned back to some of the same businesses that they had adopted healthier lifestyles changes across the business e.g. 10 day challenges, morning yoga session, lunchtime 1.5km runs, newly installed facilities for bikes, yoga, healthy food in the tea rooms. The more Eric built his business the busier he got, to the point where he wound up employing a whole raft of different people to assist him.
Eric's health and nutrition advice business was so popular that one large corporation offered him a tidy sum to hand the entire business over to them. That was a tough one for Eric, the years he spent learning what he knew finally translated into a start-up business he was quite attached to emotionally. He was in that dream position many entrepreneurs work solely toward - getting an amazing buyout offer.
But he couldn't decide straight away. This was a business that represented him as a person, so unlike his previous business which was more technical and easier to detached from and sell, he found himself picking up the phone to me more often.
We both reflected on the way his business went from one person to a team of health advisors over the years. And we spoke about the challenges he overcame to get to this unique position. I worked with him through the process of the pro's and con's and we reviewed the terms of his offer. After we finished I said "over to you mate".
It took Eric about 3 weeks to come to a decision about selling. In the end he decided it was a good move so he accepted and he made an amazing profit gain that validated all his hard work. I'm really happy to have been the support that he needed to build his business and an additional resource he used when he was running his seminars. He left on top of a business that did all it could to educate people on improving their health and wellness. Coaching people like Eric was rewarding for me and I had made a good friend out of that the journey too.
#TAKING CONTROL #EGGS OUT OF ONE BASKET #RENEWED ENERGY
Jack and Linda were pretty much like most tradies that I have met. They worked hard, did the best on each job they were called out to, tidied up after themselves, and had a good service relationship with their customers. They had a couple of small customers and one major customer who brought in the majority of their income. That was the problem. They had a lot of their eggs tied up in this major customer’s basket. Didn’t matter that they kept their end up and turned up 24/7 for problems to fix. What happened with Jack was his major customer didn’t treat his company with the same level of consideration.
The issue Jack’s business had was that the major customer didn’t pay Jack’s company at the time they said they would. And, to top it off, when they did pay (months late!), they would call Linda up to try to get a lower the price. Why? Because they knew they were the biggest customer to Jack and Linda’s business.
I don’t know about you, but when Jack and Linda told me about their situation, I was thinking how none of it was making any sense. Anyway, I put that thought aside for a minute, and It wasn’t long in the conversation before we talked about other plumbing businesses and trades. Jack said that most tradies quote on a job, do the service, and when there’s changes, the cost to the customer is a bit more. That’s what usually happens right? Not in this Jack’s case which is why I wanted to share his story in my blog.
There are times when small business owners get stuck in a situation or an awkward position then believe it’s happening “to them” or it’s out of their control (we’ve all been there). Plus, both Jack and Linda are reasonable people, and even with their level of patience, it didn’t change the fact that having fees negotiations months after a job was done was very frustrating. So when I started coaching them, it was up to me to come up with ways to help them believe something different could be done about their situation.
Firstly, let me say that difficult situations don’t last forever. What they do show us is that they can be looked on as opportunities for us to change. Secondly, people have choices. Jack and Linda could pick up new tactics to use, keep servicing the major customer and not lose out on income or damage their customer relationships.
What kind of tactics were used?
Apart from a change in thinking there was a truck load of learning new skills. I wanted to make sure they get paid for a job that was agreed on without Linda negotiating too hard or taking a hit when it came to debt collection time. So it was time to skill them up and get them ready.
The first thing we did was work out what was unique about their business and what “niche” they could “own” in the market. Once that was worked out, we change the business name and the marketing that went along with it. They were no longer “Jack and Linda Inc” they had a new business name, which wasn’t their family name and it reflected their new direction to attract the customers they were great at servicing. Putting a few of their eggs out of the major customer basket and chasing some new baskets was the aim of the game. Reinventing and repositioning the business went really well. They did get some great new customers out of their new marketing activity.
Next, Jack continued to be on site and manage his team while Linda got stuck into the workshops that I had designed for them. Linda learned all about pushing her marketing dollar further, mastering her finances to find hidden profits, how to hire good talent into her team. She found out that she liked learning new things and was a good student too (I took some of the workshops she went to and she either had her hand up, asked questions or was furiously writing away in her notebook).
Linda called me up to book herself into the next workshop (Team building I think it was) and told me she started night school to learn more about estimating. I even received an email from her shortly after to ask me a question about what she read in her other class on tender writing course!! Not bad for a mum of three school age kids.
Did we manage to get their major customer under control? Yes we did.
I helped them implement the most efficient job estimating system into the business for all their customers. For their major client, they had one (last) set of negotiations that got them a signed service pricing schedule on all the works they do for them. All estimates to their customers are itemised and signed off before the work commences and have strict payment terms. Any late payers are are chased up by an external group if they appear on their red-light debtors report.
The changes in their business were simple and easy to do. It sounded like Linda had to learn everything but that’s Linda. Reading loads of things might not be something that you like to do personally, but someone in your business might be good at it. Jack was happy that Linda took that on and helped the business while he was out managing the team. Everyone’s dynamics are different and I worked with business owners who have completely different learning styles and get the same results. It all comes down to attitude. Jack’s attitude was consistent. He enjoyed his job and loved his business. Linda liked numbers and calling in the jobs for the team. They both liked helping with other people and worked hard to support themselves and the families of the tradies that worked for them.
I caught up with them the other day to see how they were getting on it was on a Friday afternoon. They put on a barbeque at their head office for the all staff - it was great! For people who looking after others every single day, with my coaching I managed to look after them for a change.
#GOOD TIMES #STEPPED OUT OF THE COMFORT ZONE
If you don’t know me, my name is Brett Burden, I’m a business coach working in Melbourne and I wanted to share some of my client stories with you through this blog. This blog is about a small business which was a marketing company, and its owner, James, who wanted to grow his business and knew he needed some help to do it.
Even though they had the marketing and promotion side of the business running smoothly growing their business involved being all over other areas like P&L statements, margins, staff turnover, building maintenance, equipment hire, recruitment, succession planning….there’s a lot to think about. Plus, it’s hard to grow when it’s only you at the head of the helm and there’s not a great big network of other people to call up for advice. It’s just you, your team, and maybe a few other business owners that you know of, or have bumped into.
I was really excited to work with him as well, for two reasons. One. He was determined to get his business moving. Two. He was stuck in a rut with only a few tricks up his sleeve. Not that I’m tooting my own horn here - I’ve helped loads of people like James - that’s what I do best.
In my travels I have found many people who find it hard to be asked “have you done this” and “how did you go with that”. When I’m coaching I’m working with the boss and it’s hard for them to be asked questions they are used to asking. It wasn’t like that with James. He wanted me to ask him about his progress, keep him on track and discuss different ideas. I became like an external arm to his business. James’s approach made it easier for us to really get things moving quickly too, because he treated me more like a partner rather than a person he caught up with regularly.
To tell you the truth it wasn’t all smooth sailing, he did have his reservations at first but he was willing to go through the process and jump in anyway. James kept an open mind. I do believe the reason why he got the results he was after was because he was open-minded.
What did we do together?
What didn’t we do. To begin with, James is termed a “Creative” in his industry. Always coming up with ideas. The other side to James is that he is quite detailed, logical and methodical. A rare combination for creative people. I find in his industry people are either one (creative) or the other (logical). To have both traits meant James could easily run a business and at the same time come up with good ideas for his clients.
What we did together was sort out the vision he had for his business. He had a-million-and-one ideas floating around inside his head but he didn’t have time or enough money to do them all. So we tackled the do-able ideas as well as look at his entire business operation.
We defined what was important in his business, what was profitable, what didn’t work, what needed to change. Sounds reasonable enough but have you ever gone through all your project timesheets for a month? Labourious stuff. But it has to be done. We worked out where the leaks where (and put a plug in them!). The main thing to remember with James was that we kept a clear eye on what we were trying to achieve. Growth.
Want to know how well his business did?
Ok, before I tell you, I want to say that James sent me a letter. I get them from time to time. James didn’t need to write me one, I already knew he was going great guns. We were still working together, and looked at everything. And I mean everything. Staff, processes, measurement criteria, business strategies, timing. In his letter, he wrote that, over the short period of time we had together - that was 9 months - his business had achieved 200% growth!!
There you have it. He got the results he was after. I wasn’t that surprised at the growth percentage because he put in a lot of hard graft. What I can say that I felt, when I read his letter, I was wrapped!
When we met up again, when we reflected on the whole process he just told me that “the results speak for themselves”.
They certainly did.