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.
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.