Last weekend my husband, Leigh (isn’t he gorgeous?!) celebrated 25 years in business, 11 in it’s current format. It’s no mean feat to still be in a business that you started when you are 23. We’ve been together for 17 of those years so whilst I wasn’t around in the years he worked out of his parent’s avocado packing shed, or was sleeping on his customer’s floors, I think I’ve seen enough to learn a few things that I can apply to my business. Here are a few lessons I’ve learnt which I hope might help you too whatever you’re up to in your work-life. Enjoy this break-from-food-and-oils-post… I know it’s different to the norm, but I am too proud of him not to write it.
Let me say from the outset that Leigh is an engineer. A creative entrepreneurial engineer in the electronics field. He thinks like an engineer, researches like an engineer and problem solves like an engineer. I have never worked with him in his business and it’s highly unlikely that I ever will, I’m not an engineer and to be honest not interested in electronics other than for the latest ‘gadget’. Leigh’s business is very different with a business partner and staff of 50 compared to my work-from-home 1 person business, but I love that we can learn from each other in all sorts of ways.
Business is hard work. It is a long term thing.
It’s easy to look at a business that is ‘successful’ and think that business is easy. That they were lucky or it happened quickly. There is that saying that ‘X is an overnight success’ when what you haven’t seen are the past 10-20+ years of hard work and failures. There is no such thing as an overnight success. Business requires a whole lot of hard work over a loooong period of time of serving your customers and your staff. Turning up day after day, year after year, doing the same thing, not flitting from idea to idea and expecting to make a quick buck. Maybe that happens, I’ve never seen it. I can see that business is for the long haul.
Business requires stickability.
There have been times, many times where Leigh has wanted to quit. The load has been too heavy, the responsibilities too great. The rewards not big enough. The quiet life in the country has been calling, and yet, he’s still at it. He hasn’t quit. He’s pushed on. He has valued his staff and his customers and his God-given skills enough to keep going and see the rewards in the long term. Success in business I’ve learnt is in riding out the hard times. Not giving up. Enjoying the small successes and looking back at what has been achieved (as that is so easy to forget).
2 steps forward, 1 step back.
There have been times when Leigh and his company have poured lots and lots of hours and dollars into products that haven’t worked. In the worst case we are talking a 7-figure amount. They have always had a variety of products and customers, so it’s been ok, but demoralising to have your hopes for the ‘big one’ to get away. That’s why you press on, take on what you can afford and know when to let go. Business is not a linear journey, much like your health or life. It’s full of ups and downs. One rejection or failed venture does not mean that YOU are a failure or that you are bad at business. It just means you have to take stock, shift gears, reassess and keep going.
Get help when you need it.
It’s important to know when you’ve reached your limit and get help. For Leigh this was about 12 years ago. He’d grown his business into a thriving small business but was worn out. He’d reached the limit of what he know and his capacity for business. Then, in walked his now business partner who had (& still does) a complimentary set of skills, experience and personality. After 6 months of working together weekly on a plan to go into partnership (I told you, detailed engineer), a match made in heaven was born. Pieter and Leigh work brilliantly together. Being in partnership has shared the load, helped the business to expand, and given longevity to Leigh in business. I can see that whilst we have the capacity to learn a lot (a lot more than we often think), it’s smart to outsource, employ out of your skill set and not pretend that you have to do it all.
Be a caring boss.
On Friday night at the big celebration I spoke to a number of the staff who told me that they LOVE coming to work. That this is the first place that they have loved the people they work with. I was brought to tears with one lady who Leigh has tried to help her son by giving him some work and supporting her through some tough times. He cares about the people who work for him, he really cares. Many of their staff work flexible hours and travel a long way to get to work. They have such a lovely camaraderie amongst production staff, engineers and the office staff. Here is what one new employee posted on Facebook (it filtered it’s way back to Leigh & Pieter… as it always does and is shared with permission!). This says it all.
This is something Leigh has learnt largely from being part of my family of celebrators for a long time now. My family love to party and to celebrate. Perhaps this 11th birthday party celebration will be the start of more company celebrations, I don’t know, that’s not my call, but I love that last week we celebrated with staff & their families, customers and suppliers the journey to date of IEDEC (Leigh’s first business) and Elexon. It’s important to acknowledge the success (& failures) and to have fun together! At the end of the party these ladies just grabbed Leigh into this pose, and happy to be the life of the party ever now and again, he got into the spirit!! You should also have seen the smoke machine, laser lights, disco and the dancing astronaut routine a few of them put together (not sure I’ll get permission to upload it onto YouTube to show you!
So, congratulations Leigh, I think you are awesome and I learn from you all the time. I hope one day my business can be half as successful as yours.