What do you currently do?
With my business partner Chris, I currently run Clever Accounts, a specialist online small business accountancy company that provides services to customers right across the UK.
What is your inspiration in business?
To keep going! I certainly empathise with entrepreneurs who’ve said that fear of failure drives them on and I think a healthy respect for the forces out there that effect your business is important – it’s never ‘finished’ and I only feel as relaxed as my last month’s sales and customer satisfaction allows.
Stepping back though, the real inspiration for me is in identifying something of value to people or businesses and being able to deliver that service in a way that really makes their life easier or better in some way; and from that being able to grow a viable business. There’s no doubt that there’s something inspiring about seeing people choose the service you provide and seeing our business grow from that, enabling us to increase our team of quality staff and add to the services we can offer.
In a personal context, providing security and opportunities for my young family is also an inspiration, as is being in control and being able to make decisions about what’s right for the business and implement ideas, without having to convince a boss – our boss is the customer!
Who do you admire?
In a business sense? Possibly a predictable choice but with good reason… Richard Branson – because of the sheer scale and range of British-based businesses he has built, without being conventional but while maintaining a reputation for quality, customer service and transparency. He has also managed to create a brand that was hugely transferrable across so many products and services. Other than that, I admire anyone who spots an opportunity, has the guts and the skill to go for it and creates and grows a successful business. Also, I admire business owners who, after they sell up, reinvest and help other ideas to see the light of day.
Looking back would you have done things differently?
I’ve made a couple of mistakes along the way, like most people. I probably spent too long doing some of the jobs I’ve done and I wish I had taken the plunge into running my own business sooner. Having said that, experience is valuable and timing is also important – going into the right market, in the right way, with the right plan and knowledge behind you are crucial, so gaining that experience and waiting for the right time were valuable also. I’m just impatient now to see the business fulfil its potential.
I’ve also spent money on things that in hindsight I shouldn’t have – for example taking on new premises shortly before changing strategy so they became unnecessary, or an expensive ad campaign that turned out to be the wrong approach. I’ve found that when I’ve made the wrong decisions, they’ve often come from impatience and wanting to make something happen, when thinking things through, waiting until I’m more sure of a strategy and even delaying my plans could have paid dividends. You never know what’s around the corner. If you have a business model you fundamentally believe in, the right opportunities will come along and sometimes it’s better to wait for the right fit, rather than trying to force things. We all live and learn!
What defines your way of doing business?
A few things come to mind I guess:
1. Providing a service I really believe in and looking for a better way to do it
2. Being in a market with good prospects, doing something that people want to pay for – however good you are at something, it’s no good going against wider trends in society or the economy
3. Delivering a great service for customers is an essential, it’s not an added extra
4. Operating in a scalable way and not having everything dependent only on me
5. Employing, partnering and working with good people and treating them with respect – never underestimate how important people with the right experience, knowledge or skills can be to your business
6. Making time to think and to meet people and being flexible – half the battle is spotting and capitalising on opportunities you didn’t know were out there. Even a successful business may grow and evolve in a way you hadn’t originally planned
What advice would you give to someone just starting out?
Well, in addition to the points in the last question… it might be a little downbeat but I would say that you should be really honest with yourself as to how sure you are that what you are going to do has the potential to work. Make sure you’ve researched it well and done your homework. It’s easy to say “don’t waste time just get on with it” and that’s true to an extent; if you’re confident something will be a success, there’s no need to have every detail decided. But it’s rare that an idea just pops up that is capable of instant success without some careful planning – many promising businesses aren’t revolutionary but evolutionary, they depend on being better than the competition, or improving a way of doing things that is already out there. The power of the idea is not that it will grab everyone’s attention immediately as ‘must have’ but that it will improve a product or experience that is already out there – and they can fail in their execution.
Make sure you know who your potential customers are, understand what they want and how much they will pay for it, know why they will buy from you and how you will reach them – then target your messages at them and design your business model around them.
Research, planning and honest appraisal is important therefore, especially if you want or need to get funding for your venture. Funding isn’t easy to come by but for a good idea, presented well, thought through and backed up with knowledge and experience, there’s always a way – whether it be your local bank, friends and family, a grant of some sort, an ‘angel investor, or even crowd funding.
In terms of what you choose to do, the Holy Grail is to have the ‘light bulb’ moment, where you come up with something genuinely new – a completely new technology, invention or service people didn’t know they needed, that fills a particular need or solves a particular problem.
However, this is rare and the chances are a successful business will either come from:
1. Something you have a lot of experience, knowledge or skill of and a passion for, that you can therefore excel in delivering; or
2. A better way of providing a product or service that people and/or businesses currently need, in an ‘improved’ way – e.g. quicker, cheaper, easier, better quality, or with a new twist or solving a problem