19 February 2012

At a time when so many businesses are struggling, why is it that some survive and others prosper?

Is it the economy? Is it the climate?

Well, the environment is obviously going to have an effect on potential performance but it’s not the cause. It’s human error that usually delivers the killer blow. Ironically, the economic environment suffers due to human error too.

If it’s raining outside and you go out in your underwear, you are going to catch a cold.

If you stay out, ill-equipped for the elements, then more serious things will happen.

This is exactly what happens in business. Common sense plays a big part.

If you go on a spending spree when your bank account is looking full but you have bills around the corner, then the enjoyment of feeling flush is going to be short lived.

As a business owner in a previous life, I fell foul of this many a time. It’s easy to get caught out.

I like Bill Gates’ discipline when he set up Microsoft and refused to take on some big hitting executives before he had enough money in the account to run the entire business for a year if they had no income coming in whatsoever. Whilst we are not quite there, we could do about 8 months comfortably at UKFast.

How many businesses that went to the wall might have been saved if that had been the objective from the proprietors from the outset? Probably a great many.

No matter how tempting it is, we have a philosophy at UKFast that if it doesn’t help produce a better result, you just don’t purchase it.

You can take this too far, as I was reminded by a member of my team when she caught me putting some stationery items back in a local store recently.

“What are you doing?” She looked perplexed as she asked me the question.

“I don’t really need these things… Besides, we can get them cheaper online.”

She promptly took back everything that I’d hung back on the racks and marched me to the counter.

So, I learnt you can take things too far. However, this is the result of years of restraint. After years of getting myself financially tied in knots, I learned that it is easier to go without.

So, is the answer to buy everything as cheaply as possible and don’t spend a penny unless you have to?

I could argue both sides of this coin.

I love Benjamin Franklin’s saying, “a penny saved is a penny earned.”

You never get that penny back; it’s gone for good. So, before you spend that hard earned cash, imagine what life would look like if you went without. Imagine if every penny you had spent was given back to you. I bet it would be a sizeable amount.

On the flip side, there is a massive danger that if you are too frugal you will miss the whole picture, which is common too.

Whilst you might find me trying to save money on random things, you will see me invest massively in my office surroundings and fun events and benefits for the team at work. Why? I suppose it’s because I learnt that I can’t do it without them and that they put up a much better fight for me when they know they are genuinely valued.

If there is one area to spend in business, no matter how hard times can be, it has to be on your team, and it’s not money you need to be spending.

My greatest ever moment in business was when my longstanding friend and colleague Richard Salisbury calmly and sincerely asked me, “Lawrence, can I work for you for the rest of my life?”

Richard Salisbury Head of Design @ UKFast

Richard Salisbury at Snowdon LakeHouse

It’s bonds like this that make everything we do worthwhile. You can’t do it with money either. So the argument, “we can’t afford big parties and nights out for our staff,” often falls on deaf ears with me. UKFast used to be a tiny organisation and Richard was there back when there were just 4 of us in a tiny office. I remember his first day vividly. We were in one of Tom Bloxham’s buildings Ducie House. Rich being head of design (a design team then of 1) needed an Apple Mac. When I heard that my father-in-law, John Everton, had a prehistoric green screen floppy disk original dinosaur Mac in his attic, I quickly commandeered it and set the thing up ready for our new employee.

Rich, being extraordinarily polite, took about 20 minutes of crawling around on his hands and knees and looking behind the monitor before he turned to tell us that he didn’t think this computer was going to cut it. Of course the 3 of us were crying with laughter by then.

I remember some great weekend camping trips, including one with Rich when we headed to the clouds of Snowdon to set the world to rights.

You don’t have to spend a fortune but you do have to spend quality time with your crew if you want a quality connection with your team mates.

Is UKFast a better place for the quality connections we all create together? Yes. How much better, and which parts can you quantify as a direct result of these connections?

Great question (from an accountant or the Inland Revenue). However, whilst it’s difficult to apportion the exact amount of success to the fun and peculiar things we might do for the team, no one can argue with a strong balance sheet and a profitable company.

I think Einstein sums it up beautifully when he says,

“Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”

 Relationships count. Yes, they are difficult to measure and they are often complex, but you can only run a business with people you can count on.
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