I think as business owners we tend to spend a lot of time caught up, either in the ‘now’ – the day-to-day minutiae running of our businesses, or the future – the ‘where do we go from here/what’s next?’ scenario. But I don’t think too many of us ever take the time to reflect on where we’ve come through and pat ourselves on the back for the things we’ve done well. So, given yesterday was our 8th birthday (huzzah!) I thought it an appropriate time to look back and reflect on eight things we’ve done well over the years. (Yes, there’s lots we got wrong, but that’s a story for another day right?)
The initial incarnation of Swish Design was just me in a little 3×3 office space rented from my former employers. The very best thing I did when I first hung up my shingle outside that little office was to tell everyone I knew that I was striking out on my own. I even had a launch party and to this day I believe that was the greatest thing I ever did from a marketing point of view. It meant all my friends and family knew exactly what I was doing – and it meant I had this very large, unofficial sales force acting on my behalf. My friends and family were very keen to see my business succeed and they did everything in their power to help me.
When you’re running a service based business, you’re always going to be asked to do something a little beyond your current skillset. In the early days for example, I was doing my own coding for websites, and was often asked to do things beyond my coding capabilities. And unless it was something completely off the planet, I always said ‘yes’ because I knew my friend Google and I would be able to figure it out. There is no faster way to learn a new skill than having to figure it out yourself … and then you have that skill forever!
Ah, the vexing question of when to bring on a new staff member – I’ve read so many articles on this topic! One that I partly agreed with was that generally, paying your existing staff for overtime is preferable to bringing on a new staff member in the short term. But in the long term, you run the risk of burning out, not just your staff, but yourself. So I’ve always brought new staff on before our numbers really justified it. Each time it was a definite risk and each time that risk paid off.
When it came to finding new staff, personality and how they would fit within the office dynamic was always the number one factor for us. Everyone laughs at us because our office is made up almost entirely of family members, but those family members haven’t been hired because they’re family. It’s because we know what they bring to the table from a work-ethic, initiative and personality point of view – and we know they’re a great fit. Anyone who’s ever interviewed for staff will know that it’s really hard to get an accurate gauge on these things from a resume and interview.
The one big thing I’ve always been big on is work/life balance. So many workplaces have a culture of overtime and having experienced such a workplace myself, I’ve always been very determined that my staff would not experience that. I’m a big believer that the work we do should be fulfilling, but work is not life, it provides a means to have a life. So I’m constantly monitoring our staff’s ‘mojo’ levels. I feel if our staff are taking home stress from the office and aren’t able to enjoy their families as a result, then something is wrong at our end.
It always shocks me when one of us replies to an email in a timely fashion (particularly new enquiries) and the person on the other end is effusive in their thanks that we replied to them. Other people don’t reply to new enquiries? What the? This is such an easy thing for us to do and generally speaking, it’s the thing that gets the most comments from clients.
As a rule, the owner of a business tends to be a huge bottleneck in the business. And that’s usually because they’re fulfilling so many roles – sales, marketing, bookkeeping, human resources, client liaison, management etc etc For a business our size, it’s not feasible to hire someone to do each and every one of these roles – but they sure can be outsourced to a contractor. The day I handed over all my bookkeeping to someone else was close to the best day of my life. Today, with five permanent staff and several part-time staff and contractors, the management of our human resources requires skills far beyond those Ant and I possess. So we have someone that helps us with that. We have specialists we consult with when it comes to sales, marketing and finance. Finding these people and drawing on them when needed has been a big factor in the growth of our business.
I’d love to say this was a calculated and strategic move, but no, I simply burned out. And the result was Anthony stepping in and taking over the running of Swish Design. In doing so, he removed a lot of the over-servicing I was doing, created many necessary systems and processes, and in short, ran the business as a business. He also took the business from a constant break even situation to a profitable scenario. Ironically, four years on, we are now looking at ‘how do we take Anthony out of the day-to-day running of the business?!’