Now is exactly the right time for me to write this article, one week short of 33 years since I set up in business on 4 September 1987. The journey actually started at the back end of 1981 – the year I got married to my beautiful wife Denise and we are still happily married today. I was introduced to a PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT PROGRAMME of motivational, inspiration books, tapes and CD’s from motivational speakers and personal training from highly successful people. This was 6 years before I set up in business but already it was getting me prepared for that day. I would encourage anyone – no matter where you are on your business journey – to feed your mind with positive material and associate with successful or success minded people. We have to feed our brains with the right stuff.
So fast track to 4 September 1987. During the six previous years I had met some very successful people who had just set up an Advertising business and were looking for “Agents” to help them grow the business through local networks. We seized this OPPORTUNITY. I bought a distributorship and a colleague of mine bought the adjoining area, so we merged the business from day 1, and set out on the track to build a successful Advertising business. Both of us were new to advertising but not new to sales so knocking on doors to sell space didn’t worry us. We have to seize opportunities when they arise.
First real challenge came at the end of 1988, when we were £24000 in debt – about £75,000 in today’s money – and we had to really think about how we progressed from that point forth. So we were faced with massive CHANGE. Only because we knew the PA to our Bank Manager were we able to get through those 12 months as every month we used to ring Kath up and ask her to extend our overdraft by another £2000. So this shows the importance of RELATIONSHIPS. Kath knew she could TRUST us and that we would not shirk our RESPONSIBILTY of paying back the debt, and we didn’t.
Both myself and my business partner had very STRONG WORK ETHICS, STRONG CORE VALUES AND HIGH MORALS. We had a situation with a client whereby – through situations outside our control – we could not offer him the advertising he had paid for. We made a decision to call him and arrange to go and see him to offer a couple of options. We explained the situation to him and offered him an alternative or we could write him out a cheque there and then for a full refund. He went for the full refund and mentioned that he had been in business for over 30 years and no one had ever offered to refund him in the way we did. It was the right thing for us to do and those values stuck right through my entire business and personal life.
At the back end of 1989, the company that backed our activities at that time went out of business for £2million leaving us in the lurch as everything we had done up to that moment in time relied on them, so we were faced with the choice of going back to work for someone else or finding something else to do. We had already had 2 years of FREEDOM so going back into a job role was never going to happen. Due to the way we had conducted ourselves and OPPORTUNITY appeared from one of our clients. We have to take opportunities when they are offered, as they may not appear again. This kept us in the Advertising industry but led us in a different direction.
So from 1990 onwards we became involved in the Outdoor Advertising industry and that is where the business still is today. This where we really started to understand how to run a business. We had just over 2 years experience, had learned loads, FAILED a bit, but also succeeded and had grown personally and as business owners.
This was about the time I started NETWORKING, and I really started to understand the help and support that was available in the networking circles. This is where I personally learned how to build a BETTER BUSINESS, and not try and be all things to all people. It was me who did all the networking and I met Accountants, Book-keepers, HR professionals, Health and Safety experts and loads of other contacts including my BUSINESS MENTOR – Brian Smith – who helped and mentored me for the next 25 years. I learned the importance of OUTSOURCING to experts in their field, and this allowed me to concentrate on building the business properly. I also built relationships with a number of people who became long term clients and friends. PEOPLE BUY FROM PEOPLE and by building long term relationships, this builds trust and respect
Because Opportunity regularly knocked and we always answered the door, we were given more opportunities over the following years. We moved into our first office in 1990, moved again 2 years later and bought our first office in 1995. That was the year we started PLANNING for a long journey and also planning our futures and our retirement and at that time we were about 38. Nothing beats a bit of forward planning. In 1998, we then started DIVERSIFYING by building a property portfolio, as 2 units opposite our office came up for sale so we bought them and rented them out, so we were now Landlords and property owners as well. This was the start of a property journey where we accumulated 23 properties at the same time as building an Advertising Agency. This portfolio became my pension fund.
The Outdoor Advertising industry had grown so much between 1990 and 2000 and when we started there were about 5 services and by the year 2000 there were over 50. I remember coming back from a number of appointments in London one day, thinking, “How are we going to let our clients know that we now offer all these services and not just 5”, and on that journey home, I had pretty much designed a simple one page flyer to help get that message across. I remember saying to my business partner the following day that we need to let our client know we offer all these services and not just the 5 we started with. He refused to ADAPT, and that was the start of the end of our business relationship. We have to learn to adapt and change or we are dead.
Someone I had met during my networking up until that time was instrumental in me being several years ahead of the game and the market. He told me that a lot of people were registering web sites in how people search for those websites, so we registered 10 websites – 10 of the most profitable services we offered – and over the next few years, they were optimised and this is what got me through the RECESSION of 2008/9. My business partner resigned in 2007, so I went through the recession as the sole owner of my business but the support of a great TEAM – this was other members of my business team but also my external support team. Going through this recession was a really tough few years but it taught me a lot. I learned why it is important NOT TO OVERSPEND, to make sure you have a strong support team, and how to DELEGATE and not try to do everything myself.
So, the journey continued. We got through the recession due to plans I had put in place 5 years earlier, and as this was the third recession I had been through, I said to my wife – who was working in the business at the time – that I am never going to go through another recession, so we planned to SELL THE BUSINESS by the time I was 60. When the recession hit I was 51. We got the business back on an even keel, and then put it on the market in 2012. It was earlier than I wanted to sell, but I knew it was not going to be an overnight thing and I did not want to get stressed about it. I had it on with an Agent for 3 years and I decided at the end of year 3 that I was going to mention it myself to certain people when I was out and about. Around April 2015, I found an interested party. They were local which meant the journey to the office would work. More importantly it meant I could keep the staff. This whole process took 12 months before we all signed on the dotted line. I was nearly 59. There was a 3 year earn out which finished on 31 March 2019. I stayed on as a consultant till end August 2020 and that chapter of my life – 33 years came to an end.
All the words in bold and underlined are what I learned in that 33 years and what now qualifies me to be a Business Coach, Mentor and Troubleshooter. The next chapter is LIONHEART MANAGEMENT where I can pass on my experience of what I went through and how I handled it, and offer help and support to other small business owners who are facing the challenges that I faced. They have the opportunity of having me on their team to help and guide them through their journey. This gives me an enormous amount of satisfaction to be able to pass on my experience.
If you or anyone you know would like a FREE one hour no obligation Zoom or face to face meeting, email me on firstname.lastname@example.org or feel free to call me on 07798 632173
This article was first published on LinkedIn by Richard Knight on 30/09/2020