I have often heard it said, “Once an entrepreneur, always an entrepreneur.” A recent experience, however, made me pause and think again.
My family and I recently booked into a Bed & Breakfast as a part of a short trip around Wales. The B&B was quite well rated despite only having been around for a few years. The place was a beautiful building run by an elderly couple – George and Katie (names changed). Katie welcomed us and helped us settle in. She was the ideal hostess – helping us with dinner options and in deciding what to do around the area.
When we sat down for breakfast the next day, I could see that Katie loved to chat with the residents and we struck up a conversation. We had been very impressed by the décor of the place and could see that a lot of money had been spent in making it look the way it did – probably a little more than required.
As we conversed, Katie told us that they had bought this property around 15 years earlier from the profits of George’s booming business. They had lived in it with their large family until around seven years ago, when they had had to close down their business and decided to convert their house into a B&B.
As a business mentor in London, I am obviously keenly interested in business success and failure. So this piqued my interest and I was keen to delve deeper into what had happened to the old business. At this point, George came in and Katie passed the conversation to him.
George described his old business – he had been on the cutting edge of the digital revolution 30 years ago! He was servicing expensive analogue printers and converting them into digital ones – before most people in the country even had a clue what the fuss was about. He had been one of the most respected technicians in the country with his business pushing the £1M turnover mark every year.
However, as manufacturers gradually stopped producing analogue printers, George’s business proposition became unviable and he had to shut down the business in 2007.
Unable to let go of this great opportunity to seek business advice for my business consulting clients, I asked George his three top learnings from his life as an entrepreneur and he happily obliged.
1. Commit to your clients
“The one thing that defined the success of our business was our commitment to our clients. Our clients knew that we would never let them down and would always be there to support their machines. This often meant on the spot decisions to fly across Europe and fix machines – and stay there until they were fixed – which could take over a week.”
“Our clients kept coming back because they knew they could rely on us. ”
2. Get help
“I remember there was a time when I used to smugly boast that my business was recession proof and that I had a business that would reach the £1 million mark. The printers we serviced were used in the printing of packaging material of big name cereals and confectionaries and these would still be needed when the economy was down. Through the long and hard days of putting one foot in front of the other, I did not even pause to think that getting outside help or some sort of business mentor for experienced business advice could actually make my life easier and my business better.”
“One of the things that destroyed my business was a deal I agreed with a customer to become a potential distributor of our cutting edge product. I signed off distribution exclusivity to them and they did nothing for two years on my product – time in which they were able to build a competing product and get it entrenched into the market!”
“I was the best at changing analogue printers to digital. Everything else about my business, I learnt along the way – and I realise now that not only did I not do a lot of things that a good business should do, several of the things I did, I did after making expensive mistakes that I could have avoided.”
3. Don’t forget to live life
“I remember once when I was running at the airport to catch a flight and as I shoved past someone to reach the check-in counter, I got a tap on the shoulder and the person I had just shoved aside said, “You need to slow down, mate! You’ll have a heart attack!” I laughed it off then but as I reflect now on the time I missed with my family and the physical constraints I now have to face – I do realise that while clichéd, there is a lot of value in that single piece of advice – to slow down and enjoy the journey.”
George had wistful tears in his eyes as he recounted the last part of his story. “The manufacturers moved to digital printing and our whole line of business was wiped out. We used to have a map of Europe with little lights for all our clients,” he said. “I saw the lights go off one after the other over the last three years of my business and there was very little I could do. Firing the people I’d worked with for decades was one of the toughest things I have ever had to do.”
“I don’t think I have it in me to do it all over again now. This B&B is really Katie’s business – I only help her run it.”
As we left the B&B, I thought of all the entrepreneurs I have worked alongside as a business consultant in London and recommitted to making sure that they got the best of what they deserved in their lives and in their business.
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