Growing a business is an exciting and rewarding journey that often requires business owners to wear many different hats. From managing finances to navigating social media marketing and hiring the right people, scaling a business can sometimes feel like a juggling act.
Carl Reader, an author and speaker specialising in topics around small businesses, has had personal experience in growing his own company. We spoke to him about his entrepreneurial journey and some of the common challenges and opportunities faced by many small business owners.
Recruiting the best team
What are your main recruitment challenges?
At my accounting firm, d&t Chartered Accountants, we have two challenges. We are based in Swindon, South West England, and while many people are happy to live in Swindon, they would rather commute and work outside of the town. So we've had to be creative around how we recruit staff.
We had used recruitment agencies and posted the standard job adverts in the past, but then we started thinking differently and decided to treat recruiting employees more like a marketing exercise. We've put up billboards, carried out leaflet drops, we try anything and everything we can to get noticed by prospective employees.
How do you find and attract the right talent?
It's easy to recruit based on skills, but skills can often be taught. The risk of taking on a "bad egg" is far worse than taking on someone who needs training. We try to make on-boarding as informal as possible. For example, the first interview is a "pie and a pint" down the pub.
The next is with their peers. This way they can get to know each other socially and it's based more on gut feeling. We have used measures like the DISC personality tests, as well and psychometric testing, but a lot of it comes down to gut feeling.
Social media for small businesses
How did you develop your business's social media presence?
I started by setting up company social media accounts, but it was very expensive to cut through the noise. So I tried something else, which was to build a strong personal brand and funnel that into the business. I set myself a target within the first month to secure an interview per day — I didn't care who it was with, if it was a small blogger or a bigger magazine. At the end of the month, I had five pieces of national coverage.
How do you get your team aligned on your brand voice?
It's about being authentic. This plays quite nicely with the fact that business is based on personal relationships. Even if it's two corporate businesses dealing with each other, it is still two individuals shaking hands.
We have a corporate social media account, which is made up of the people behind the account. By employing the right people, I can be pretty confident they won't say the wrong thing. That's the benefit of choosing employees based on who they are rather than what they do.
How do you maintain the personal touch in a digital world?
I have a saying that businesses are not business-to-business or business-to-consumer, they are human-to-human. Technology is an enabler, but small businesses thrive with face-to-face contact. I look for opportunities where I can get the most "bang for buck" out of face time. For example, I tend to try and meet people at events and get to know them as individuals. Once you've strengthened a bond with someone and they've got to know and like you, it becomes so much easier to do business with them.
Maintaining a good work-life balance
How do you protect your employees' mental health?
The biggest thing for me is that there is a culture of acceptance. Mental health should be on par with physical health. It's important that team members feel a level of trust with each other so that they can talk between themselves about any issues they may be having before it gets too overwhelming for them to handle.
There's also a big "man up" culture in business. A culture of "pull your finger out and get on with it'. I try to make sure my team is conscious of that, and that we correct ourselves if we slip into it.
Managing cash flow for small businesses
What are the biggest learnings you've taken from managing your company's cash flow?
As you scale your company, one of the biggest lessons I've learned is that growth is expensive. Growth has a far higher impact on your cash flow than you can ever imagine. We've had periods of high growth that, on paper, looked really good, but it's tough juggling cash and ensuring we commit to investments in growth.
A challenge we've had is that we pay our expenses monthly but invoice annually, which means there is a huge cash drain. One of the measures we are now implementing is shifting our financial model to a subscription. We're living in a "Netflix" world, where people expect to pay £10-a-month and use what they want. We're moving our business towards that model, which has the added benefit of eliminating credit control as an issue in business altogether.
I have an American Express® Corporate Card that helps from a cash flow perspective, as we're able to delay payments for up to 55 days¹. It also helps from a reporting point-of-view, as everything is in one place rather than having to manage expense claims.
What did you buy with your first proper pay cheque?
I bought a set of record decks and a Helly Hanson puffer jacket.
What's your "elevator pitch"?
I translate complicated business topics into language an 8-year-old could understand.
Lunch “al desko” or sit-down business lunch?
Always out with someone, if possible. Why waste a great opportunity to catch up?
What’s the hour in the day where you have the most interesting ideas?
Probably in the evening - so I'd go with 8pm.
Which do you prefer: Thank God It's Friday or Thank God It’s Monday?
Neither - My work and life blend into one, so Saturday and Wednesday are just two ordinary days...
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