Welcome to another Small Business Update, and today we’re talking to Dave Bradburn from Opus Design. Dave’s one of my stalwart originals – we first met him in July 2011, then caught up with him in July 2012 and September 2013. I do find it fascinating to watch my interviewees’ businesses change and grow, and it’s amazing that we’re on the fourth interviews with some of them! When asked last year, this is where Dave wanted to be by now: “Steadily growing the business. The intention is to work fewer hours for greater income (a not uncommon aim!) and to gradually develop the core client base. The team will grow and evolve – most probably through outsourcing and collaboration.” So, how’s he doing?
Hi Dave! Are you where you thought you’d be when you looked forward a year ago?
Yes and no. To be honest, it’s been a very busy year and I’ve ended up mainly working ‘in’ rather than ‘on’ the business. I’ve found it difficult to find the right people for an expanded team in some areas, although part of the responsibility for that lies with me. The team has both evolved and strengthened, and the business has grown too. The hours most definitely haven’t reduced though!
What has changed and what has stayed the same?
New clients have come, I’ve refocussed what the business offers in certain areas (for example, I’m far more specific about the type of website projects that I’ll take on), I’m using some new suppliers alongside a number of longstanding ones and I’ve reevaluated where I get leads from. For example, I still do a reasonable amount of networking but, due to family commitments (school runs!), I had to make a decision on which to attend. Fortunately much of the networking of previous years still continues to bear fruit. Word of mouth referrals, repeat business with existing clients and networking are by far my largest sources of work.
I’m still in the same office with the structure of the business (excluding suppliers etc) unchanged and with many of the same clients that I’ve worked with for several years. The additional team member that I really need is a reliable and capable freelance designer – basically, the role I was doing 6 or 7 years ago. The irony is that at the point I need that person it is very difficult to take the time to find them and take the risk of ‘trying them out’. I’ll get there!
What have you learned? What do you wish you’d known a year ago?
I’m gradually getting better at saying ‘no’ to jobs that are not right for me. I know I can do an excellent job for my clients – I’ve proved that many times. But that is weakened if I take on too much or take on a job that isn’t one that I’m best suited to. The danger in those cases is not only that you do a poor job on that particular project, but that the time and effort that it absorbs is also taken away from those projects that are within your core offer and skills.
I tend to be very loyal to suppliers. 99% of the time that pays off. Once in a while though it can be detrimental – I need to be a little harder and more decisive in those situations.
Earlier this year I experienced my first real bad debt. I’d had a few clients that didn’t pay or took a very long time to do so in the past, but most were minimal amounts and/or eventually coughed up. In this case a client phoenixed – went into liquidation on the Friday before starting up as a new, debt-free business the following Monday. They owe me about £1.5k – I doubt I’ll ever see it. I have my feelings on whether it should be legally possible to do that, but whilst it is it is a lesson to minimise the risk that you expose yourself to with clients.
Any more hints and tips for people?
I think my tip this year would be to have a plan and to review it periodically (annually and quarterly perhaps). Take time out to do that. Be prepared to change the plan if need be, but try to avoid just drifting along without any direction.
And … where do you see yourself and your business in a(nother) year’s time?
Reading last year’s update I said “To treat your own business as a client. Schedule time to work on your own marketing and development. If you don’t it will always be at the bottom of the pile.” I need to take that advice myself! I’m long overdue a new website (it’s embarrassingly out of date now – don’t look!!!) but I have also decided that it’s time to go back and review the whole visual brand of the company – the logo, literature, stationery and everything else. I always advise that clients need to be proud of the way they are presenting their business but currently I’m not living up to that with my own visual branding. Time to schedule it in!
I think many of the aims for this year are the same as they were last. Increasingly managing a larger outsourced team rather than doing it all myself and, in doing so, reducing my working hours.
It is really hard to say no to people and to keep those business hours down. I’ve been quite successful at taking at least a full day off at the weekend and a half day during the week, although that last one was a by-product of my husband working from home during the summer, and I’m not sure that’s going to happen quite so nicely now he’s in an office-based job again (having said that, he gets home earlier than he used to at his old job, so I try to stop earlier, too). Dave’s hit that awful problem of a bad payer, and the way in which they did that seems very unfair indeed. Not sure what can be done about that, but it’s a warning to us all to take care and protect ourselves as much as possible. As always, I look forward to hearing how Dave is doing next year – and hope he can get that staff member and those reduced hours sorted out!
If you’ve enjoyed this interview, please see more small business chat, the index to all the interviewees, and information on how you can have your business featured (I have a full roster of interviewees now so am only taking on a very few new ones). If you’re considering setting up a new business or have recently done so, why not take a look at my books, all available now, in print and e-book formats, from a variety of sources.