At the end of last year, on New Year’s Eve, I turned 50. It wasn’t the best birthday – I had the worst bout of influenza I’ve ever had, it was raining cats and dogs and our kitchen roof began to leak, bringing the ceiling down! I had a lot of reasons to be miserable, but I wasn’t. I had my Mum, my two grown up sons and my wonderful husband with me for the whole day. Although 3 out of 5 of us had the flu, we were together and I was surrounded by love. I know that not everyone is that lucky, and I felt very blessed. Since my husband and I started our business, Cedar Rose, 21 years ago, we have had a roller-coaster ride.
Life has taught me to count my blessings and truly appreciate them. We can never take anything or anyone for granted.
We’ve learned so many lessons on the way and we’ve always tried to remind ourselves that success is a journey.
There will be treacherous roads but there is absolutely no need to sink in the mud.
Here are my top tips for a fulfilling and enjoyable business life:
- Control your cash flow. This is the fuel your business needs to run. You must continually ensure your income exceeds your outgoings and that payments arrive when expected. Sounds simple, but it’s the reason most businesses fail. This means tight credit control – don’t ever be embarrassed to ask for what is owed to you, and don’t leave it too late. We had a 100+ year old Italian business fold on us in our second year of trading owing us £800. Two month’s rent at the time! We didn’t recognize the warning signs early enough when they kept asking for longer and longer payment terms. Now we prompt our clients before the due date and we don’t give up politely chasing. It was one of only two bad debts in 21 years of business. Fortunately we run a business intelligence agency so we have access to the right data to screen clients before we extend credit to them at all. No-one has a magic crystal ball though and in those days (the late nineties) we didn’t have the forecasting technology, algorithms and artificial intelligence that we have today. Or, frankly, the bravado to demand what was rightfully ours before it was too late.
- Be prepared to sacrifice. As well as debt collection, keep a tight rein on spending. An up to date cash flow forecast is your best friend so you can see if and when you need to make cut-backs, go without or postpone planned expenditure. This essential business tool helps, too, to see when you might need a loan or extended credit facilities so you have time to apply. There have been many times we needed to delay or reduce our own salaries instead of borrowing so that we could pay our employees. Sacrifice and self-discipline are an essential part of the journey.
- Build loyalty and trust. Your employees and your customers are equally important. Richard Branson has been quoted as saying, “If you take care of employees, they will take care of the clients.” We haven’t always found this to be true though. Some people are programmed into a “them and us” mentality when it comes to management and will simply take advantage of your kindness towards them. Experience has shown us that even those you planned to trust with the steering wheel can drive you down some very dark roads. You need to keep in touch with employees and clients to know whether they are happy and satisfied and keep that dialogue going. Regular meetings, appraisals and surveys are a useful way to do this. It’s important to fix any issues as quickly as possible, be prepared to make tough choices and again, don’t take anyone for granted. Genuinely loyal employees will take care of your customers, so do encourage that loyalty in those who deserve it and reward them accordingly. It costs so much less to sell to existing clients than to engage new ones. Especially in this era of strict compliance and the extensive due diligence often required for on-boarding large clients. Maintaining a loyal clientele and workforce makes work more fun too, because long term bonds, friendships and mutual trust are formed.
- Set yourself boundaries. Balance your work and leisure time. This has become harder as our business has grown, but is now more important than ever. If you’re not physically healthy, strong and mentally calm, you won’t function at your optimum performance. Taking care of “number one” will mean that you can cope better with meeting your everyday demands. Fail to do this and you risk missing out on opportunities, losing control of your cash flow or not seeing the holes in your business ship before it’s sunk. It’s okay to have fun, enjoy hobbies, go for a run, to a gym class or out for a few drinks after work. You earned it, enjoy it! But at the same time, you have a responsibility to keep your eyes on the road ahead.
- Always have a Plan B. You never know what is around the corner. It was impossible for us to predict the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 2006 when we had to flee from the country with our children and leave our business behind. Because of the contingency plans we had put into place and the resilient team of Lebanese staff we had, we were able to keep the services to our clients going out on time. Prior to that, we had been burgled in our UK offices and since then we have been targeted by ransomware in Cyprus. But still, we had strict security measures in place, policies and back-up plans to ensure that our clients and the service we provide to them were not affected in any way and our voyage was only mildly disrupted.
- Work with passion. Make sure you enjoy what you do, and keep innovating to be the best in your field. A business journey is a never-ending race. Even if you sell up and retire, someone else will take the lead and try to keep your business ahead. Competitors may overtake you at times – you must always keep an eye on them. Introducing new products, new ways of working and continuously striving for excellence will keep you, your employees and your clients engaged. Always listen to your customers and your staff. They will be your greatest source of inspiration and help make yours an exciting and enjoyable journey. With the right inspiration you can lead the field in your own way.
- Have a song in your head. Music can be a great motivator and powerful lyrics can be the difference between throwing in the towel and battling your way through every challenge. I’ve had a few favourites over the years. Please don’t laugh, but Tubthumping by Chumbawumba is one (Hey! I said don’t laugh!). The line, “I get knocked down, but I get up again” is a great reminder to fly in the face of adversity. Bob Marley’s classic, “Three Little Birds” and Bobby Ferrin’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” have definitely kept me positive and focused through stressful times.
So, how has your business journey been so far? Do you have any additional tips of your own or motivational songs to recommend to those embarking on their own adventure?
If you are just starting out on your business journey, I hope you enjoy and heed the advice of oldies like me. Bear in mind that I’m still 28 in my own head.
In summary – Always count your blessings, buckle up for safety and enjoy the ride!