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Looking Backwards, Looking Forwards

In the second in a series of articles by business coach Nic Stone, who previously owned The Bottle Kiln gift shop in West Hallam, he reflects on the advice he would have given himself five years ago.

“Wouldn’t it be great to go back and advise yourself years ago, knowing what you do now? I was in business for years, and thought I pretty much knew it all, but having trained as a business coach since selling up, I can’t help thinking of things I wish I had understood or done better.

I don’t think that it was always ignorance either, but a feeling of having to prioritise firefighting, so that fire prevention was always pushed down the road to some unspecified future time. Every day you have to deal with rotas, incoming stock, bills to pay, customer enquiries; and so to spend time sitting thinking about your business can seem self-indulgent, or appear to others as ‘inactivity’, which people tend to judge harshly.

So what would my advice to the younger me be? Firstly, make recruitment and training a real priority. In relatively low-paid work, staff can drop out at short notice and commitment levels can be low. In addition, you aren’t necessarily inundated with talent when you advertise. However, looking back we did manage to find some wonderful staff members, with surprising hidden talents. What mattered most was their attitude.

Occasionally I delegated recruitment, especially when the business grew, which was a mistake, and, under the pressure of time, training and general onboarding were often cursory. Yet going into other peoples’ businesses we all see immediately how staff who neither know nor care about a company’s values can damage their reputations. My advice? However desperate you are to plug those gaps, take your time, and get it right. And really make those new recruits understand why they are there.

Secondly, take time to tell your story and to build your audience. Companies which deal with customers online find it easy to gather contact information and talk to them. In retailing it’s much harder. Simply asking people for their email addresses at the till can be annoying, so we need to be more creative. Customers want something in return, so offer extra services, expertise and information to those who sign up. Better still, a good competition (with a prize worth winning) on your socials will generate chat and lots of email addresses if done properly. Being the go-to expert in a particular area can drive traffic to websites surprisingly well, and for your general social media keep it entertaining and eyecatching or just don’t do it. There are so many good ideas out there, I recommend watching the smart people and adapting (nicking!) their ideas. A good business develops a strong narrative. For instance, are you the personalisation expert? The fine art specialist? The humour store? The shop with real local flavour? Make it matter, build your audience, then tell them about it regularly.

Lastly, I was preoccupied with the need to be ‘productive’ each day which, it turned out, was often counterproductive. For instance, if a large delivery came in it was always tempting to pitch in to get it done, giving you that great dopamine hit of ‘fixing’ things. But invariably the staff would be bored for the next three days and that valuable slot of your time was lost to more important long term tasks.

So I would give myself permission to make time for thinking, learning and understanding. A successful entrepreneur I spoke to recently swears by 90 minutes undisturbed at the beginning of each day, with the phone and email off, working on plans to progress the business. This wouldn’t be possible for everyone, but certainly the best businesses thrive on smart thinking and innovation and, like the other elements, I should have placed this front and centre in our values and lived it.

Of course, hindsight is a great thing, and in the end, we did OK with many valuable lessons learned. No-one can see the big picture when they’re ‘down in the weeds’, and that’s where a good coach can be worth their weight in gold, especially for those looking either to grow or to make plans to exit the business.”

Email: nic@thrivinginstructor.com, or phone 07792843122.

Top: Business coach and former gift shop owner Nic Stone.

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