What can you learn from 10 years in running a business?

Posted by Derek Mason

25th May 2021

Growing from a team of one in my garden summerhouse, to a team of six working from our Twickenham office, has taught me a thing or two about running a business. When Super Structures Associates celebrated 10 years in business this April, it gave me a good opportunity to reflect on what got us here – and I wanted to share some of that with you.

After all, we know that somewhere between 40% and 60% of small businesses fail in their first 5 years, so making it to 10 years means we’re doing something right! Only 4% of businesses make it to 10 years.

I believe if you have a vision for your business and you have the right people plus the right mix of determination, hard work and commitment to growth, you can build a business to be proud of. And when I say “commitment to growth” I don’t mean business growth alone. There’s personal growth that needs to happen when you own a business – for both yourself and your team.

So what can you take from my journey and apply to your own business?

For a start, I recommend studying the successful businesses around you – because there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. We can all benefit from borrowing the things that work in our colleagues’ businesses and trying them out ourselves.

These are the 5 areas that I believe have made the biggest difference to Super Structures Associates. I’m sure you will have heard me talking about some of them before, but another truth about business (and human behaviour) is that sometimes you need to hear a message several times before you take action.

  1. Hire the right people

I’ve always focused on hiring for attitude rather than skills alone. Of course, there have been mistakes along the way, and occasionally an engineer I hire hasn’t worked out, but I now have a solid team of 4 engineers who are keen to learn and develop. My mindset has always been that I can teach skills, but I can’t teach someone to be enthusiastic and to care about doing good work – so attitude is critical.

  1. Get out of your comfort zone and break the mould

When you run a business, you need to be able to promote it in multiple different ways, and some of these might feel uncomfortable. But “feel the fear and do it anyway” is an appropriate mantra.

Writing a book, sending out a regular direct mail campaign, asking for Google reviews, appearing on podcasts and entering awards are all things that have been instrumental in bringing in new customers. All of them contain a degree of discomfort or difficulty – or the potential for rejection. But they also mean that you can be found by potential customers in multiple different ways and via multiple different media.

Rising to these challenges is a key part of building a sustainable, successful business.

  1. Find the right help and support

Joining business communities – in real life or online – and getting support and encouragement from other business owners can make a massive difference to what you’re able to achieve.

Whether you join your local Chamber of Commerce, or apply for a Mastermind, the act of being surrounded by other people in the same boat as you can help spur you on and inspire you to create bigger goals and hit bigger targets. Make sure you find the right groups – the ones where people are pushing each other to succeed rather than complaining about the state of their industry.

  1. Have a plan

If you don’t know where you’re going, you can’t make a plan to get there. And yet so many businesses potter along without having a clue about their destination. You don’t HAVE to grow. But if you want to, then you need a plan to make it happen.

Start by mapping out where you’d like to be in one year, and then write down the things that need to happen to help you get there. Then you can work backwards to plan what you’ll need to do each quarter, each month and each week. If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.

  1. Create systems and be consistent

With everything we do in business, consistency is key. It’s not enough to send one letter, to ask for one Google review, or to follow-up with leads in a haphazard way. You have to keep going. And one of the easiest ways to be consistent is to put systems in place.

For example, we follow up with leads in a systematic way, and after we’ve sent out a quote, we follow up with the prospect in a systematic way too. This means that nothing gets missed, and it marks us out as professionals. It also means that we’re more likely to win new clients – because we keep making contact with people until we get a “yes” or a “no”.

And we don’t make the fatal mistake of stopping our marketing when we’re busy. There’s always a lag between marketing and winning more work, so you need to keep marketing to avoid the “feast and famine” scenario.

Even after the year we’ve had, which has been a difficult one, it feels good to look around at the business I’ve grown and celebrate our achievements. Not just my achievements, but those of my team of 4 engineers, my PA, my daughter who is learning my trade, and all of our clients and business colleagues. And, of course, everything I’ve built has been with the support of my family.

One final thing – it’s vitally important to believe in yourself, especially in times like these. With a combination of hard work and the right knowledge, you can reach your goals, whether that’s running an ultra-marathon, writing a book or building a business (or all three!).

I hope that you’ll take at least one of these pieces of knowledge from my 10 years in running a business and apply it to your own business.

In the meantime, if you need assistance with the structural elements of an upcoming project, please do get in touch.

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