Ten Years On – Looking in the Rearview Mirror
John Sollars, founder & MD of printer ink retailer, Stinkyink.com
I was 47 when I started Stinkyink.com, and now, 10 years on, seeing all those fresh-faced University graduates and twenty-somethings that seem to dominate the start-up scene these days I feel very old.
The upside of working for 40 years is that the experience and lessons I’ve gained have contributed immensely to the stability and longevity of my present business, making it what I call a sustainable company which is efficient, profitable and where everyone enjoys coming to work.
Here’s a few thoughts on what I have found important.
Lesson 1 – Understand the basics
It feels like a long time ago, but in a previous life I ran other businesses which weren’t as successful as Stinkyink is now, and in consequence I lost a lot of money. However, I think that so long as you learn from your mistakes you are a richer person (even if not financially). The biggest lesson I have learnt is to manage, and more importantly understand, my accounts and what they are telling me about my business. It is no use waiting for the accountant to finish your year end as that information is history. Make sure that you are on top of your accounts every month, looking for trends and managing your everything proactively.
Lesson 2 – Manage your cashflow
“Cash is King,” I always say, and really mean it. If you have got money in the bank then you can spend your time building your business; if you haven’t you spend your time firefighting problems caused by the inability to pay people on time. Having gone through a devastating period recovering from £32,000 of credit card fraud I know both the downside and upside of managing cash flow.
Lesson 3 – Hire wisely
Employ good people, but don’t take on more of them than you absolutely need to. People are your greatest resource but also your greatest cost.
Wait until you absolutely have to before you take on anyone and really understand the role that they are going to fill. In your early days utilise agency and temporary staff before committing to the huge expenditure involved in employing full-time, permanent staff.
Lesson 4 – Be a benevolent dictator
It’s your business, you have to be a leader. You must make decisions that are unpopular as well as the smiley happy ones. Nobody else has got your well being at heart like you have, so become the ‘benevolent dictator’. Always listen to the people around you, but still have the bottle to make the decision that you know is right.
Lesson 5 – Care for customers
If the cash is King then customer service is Queen — it is the most important thing you provide. With the internet you can offer a product, but so can dozens of others, and the customer gets to choose who to buy from.
With the plethora of social media and review sites around, bad news spreads quicker than a nasty smell. Make sure that you treat your customers as you would want to be treated. “Do what is right” is the mantra in my business and we always try to be the customer’s friend. As a result, these days we have over 50% repeat business from satisfied customers, which in our highly price-sensitive marketplace is impressive.
Lesson 6 – Automate where you can
In these days of cheap software, automation is an imperative. As your business grows and scales from startup into maturity, your processes need to change and improve constantly.
Three years ago, my store’s team consisted of three people and we turned over £1 million. Nowadays there are three full-time and one part-time people and we turn over £3 million, shipping nearly 10,000 parcels a month. We can only achieve this by automating everything we possibly can. I have always believed in ‘constant improvement’ and in my business it pays dividends.
Over the past ten years I’ve taken my business through near bankruptcy which hit within weeks of opening, to a solid, profitable company turning over more than £3 million and keeping 14 people very busy. My success has undoubtedly been due to not just experiencing, but learning from my two previous business failures. Not so much third time lucky as making it happen third time around.
This article was written by our business expert John Sollars.