Small business and startup has been part of my life for a long time now. And in my 20 years of experience working in small businesses, starting and running businesses, selling my startup businesses, and notching up a few failures in business too, I reckon I have a pretty good understanding of why some businesses thrive, and some businesses don’t.
The tempting thing to say is that it’s about product, or the market, or pricing, or tech, but honestly, it’s always about the people.
I know from my own perspective that when I have done well in business, it’s been coincidentally when I have been doing well both physically and mentally. And I see time and time again in businesses that I consult with, or invest in, when their teams are content and purposeful and happy, profitability follows.
Let’s face it, we spend a lot of our life working (too much actually). And if your work, or your team, or worse – your teammates – are a source of frustration for you, then the rest of your life is soon going to become more difficult too.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Now, more than ever, businesses are investing IN their people. Small businesses and startups, particularly those in Australia, are starting to finally see the benefits in having a positive team culture at work, and ensuring that everyone who is working in the business is having their needs met along the way too.
When I worked at Facebook and Twitter, the people I worked with were well paid and the perks were great, but everyone would say that the best part of working there was being able to work on something that mattered, feeling like you and your work mattered, and that you felt supported and listened to and that the business cared about who you were and how you were doing.
It doesn’t have to only be big multinational businesses who are achieving that, though.
I want to introduce you to 4 clever Aussie businesses who get the importance of investing in their people too, and show you the difference it has made to them, not only in their workplace culture, but in the company’s bottom line too.
The Digital Marketing Agency
There is a digital agency based in Brisbane. They have 4 full-time employees, 3 work-from-home contractors, and a couple of outsourced workers based in the Philippines.
The two sisters who run the agency are driven and smart, and even though they are not very alike in their skill set (both bringing very different things to the business), they are both very aware of the importance of cohesion in their team, particularly when 3 or 4 different people in the agency can in some way service the same client.
They had started to have a few issues with staff members bickering and generally just building a more tense and adversarial atmosphere at work than it needed to be.
So the girls got to me to come up to Brisbane and conduct my Held Back or Propelled Forward small team workshop for their team. The work-from-home contractors all came into the office on the day, and their Philippines team dialled in via Skype as well.
The workshop, while obviously aiming to increase the profitability and productivity of the business, is focussed less on the actual business, and is all about the people working at the brand itself. It’s a challenging few hours for the teams that attend, and covers themes like change, and growth, and the things that hold us back (fear, criticism, and wondering ‘am I enough?’) and the things that can propel us forward (focussing on fact, being good at storytelling, and leading with kindness).
When I conducted the workshop that day, it worked out to be the perfect balance between business development and the ongoing development of the people in the business – including the owners.
In the 7 months since I conducted the workshop, the sisters have reported not only a growth in both productivity and revenue but, more importantly according to them, a much happier, more cohesive, and more purposeful team as well. Winning!
The Hair and Beauty Salon
Even for businesses with much less headcount, this kind of coaching can bring huge benefits.
The owner of a hair and beauty salon on the Central Coast of NSW contacted me because she just felt was slowly “losing her mojo” for both her business and, more sadly, her life.
She employs two other people, both similar to her in age and family situation, and she felt like the 3 of them were just “going through the motions” every day, and she was worried not that she would go broke or the business would fail, but that everything would just continue in the same way for the next 30 years before she retired. Pretty bleak.
She decided that the best thing she could do for her employees was work on herself as a leader and as a person.
She purchased a 10 session pack of my Business Growth Coaching, and she is now on her second 10 session pack after getting what she needed from the first one.
It hasn’t been an easy thing for her to not only put her hand up and ask for help (that’s a rare thing for her), but also to put her faith in someone else to advise her in a business sense, since she has been the sole owner of her business since she first got qualified 13 years ago.
That said, she is thriving, her business is thriving and changing for the first time in many years, and her staff are loving it. Even her regular customers have started to notice and report to her how happy they are to see her excited and energised again!
The Manufacturing Business
But what about a larger small business? How does coaching work when there are more employees and it’s harder to keep track of how everyone is performing in the business?
There is a gap in a lot of Aussie businesses where they are too big for everyone to have a personalised and individual contact with the business owners, and still not big enough to justify a full-time human resources department or in-house coaching program.
And I have seen that gap played out more and more in businesses in Australia, particularly in the startup ecosystem.
That’s where my coaching can come in and plug the gap until you grow enough to build out an internal HR team of your own.
I was contacted by a manufacturing business located in the western suburbs of Melbourne. By all measures, this business is pretty ‘old school’. They have a workforce of 43 people, all male but two of them. They have been operating for 31 years in the same premises and have a lot of the same customers that they provide the same service and product range for, and have done since day one. They were not growing, and not changing, and not paying any attention at all to the workforce thinking, wrongly, that since they were all pretty ‘old school’ types too, they wouldn’t want any kind of coaching or help, or even any attention for that matter.
They were wrong.
When I first started working with the business, I uncovered a culture of apathy within the workers. Every employee (including even the owners) seemed to be doing just the bare minimum to get through without being noticed or reprimanded.
This wasn’t due to laziness, but rather because they felt unrecognised and not encouraged anyway, so they had decided just to punch the clock and get through each day with their head down.
To go with that, there was also a lot of in-fighting and nastiness starting to build in the workers, and they had largely just been left to sort out any conflicts and issues by themselves, which to this point, had not been going very well.
Together with the owners, we decided to offer the workers a private and confidential session with me conducted over Skype when they weren’t at work, where they could discuss their hopes for their position, their frustrations with the business and their workmates, and just generally have some Personal Growth Coaching for themselves that was an investment from the business in them.
The business purchased a 25 session pack and the workers were encouraged to come forward and claim a session (or more) if they wanted total advantage of it.
The first 25 sessions were snapped up in under an hour.
I am currently working through those sessions and some of the revelations have been amazing. While I gave the employees a guarantee of confidentiality and privacy, I asked a couple of them if I could pass on their concerns anonymously to their bosses, and they agreed.
In the 3 weeks since we started the sessions, the company has made some HUGE changes to the conditions for the workers, based on that feedback, and morale is at an all-time high.
The best bit though? Seeing the relief and level of engagement in these workers when they sit down with me and are actually, finally, listened to. Pretty cool.
The National Franchise Business
The final business had in some ways, the biggest challenge. The ‘tyranny of distance’ meant that this business that had franchisees, and employees of those franchises, all over the country meant that the executive team had very little – if any – contact with their people, far less being able to do any coaching or investment in those people.
They had a national conference once a year, and most of their people came to it, but the owners were starting to notice less and less engagement at these conferences from their people, and were worried that, because they had so little individual contact with their people in the market, their bottom line would soon start to suffer.
I asked them permission to call a few of their franchise owners, again confidentially, and get a sense of how they felt about the parent business, and the owners.
The results weren’t great.
They felt like they had been abandoned once they signed on the dotted line. They felt like the owners didn’t care about them or their business as long as they paid their monthly fees. And they felt like the owners were in some kind of ‘ivory tower’ far away from them and their market, and they felt slighted and alone.
To the business’ credit, they acted swiftly.
They arranged a two-day workshop that all of the franchise owners were encouraged to attend. The first day they spent on business practices, market updates and product information sessions. The second day they unleashed me to focus on THEM, the very thing that they felt like they were lacking.
The day was transformative.
There was anger and frustration, and some tears, but at the end of the day, every one of the franchise owners felt they had been listened to, and invested in, and the business owners had been tons of notes about their concerns and their suggestions.
And then the business went one step further, purchasing 50 individual sessions with me that each of the franchise owners (and their employees) could use free of charge, and again all 50 were snapped up within the day they were offered.
This kind of investment in your people – and yourself – doesn’t have to be super expensive or difficult to implement. A lot of people in your business teams just want to be included, to be heard and listened to, and to feel like they are an important part of your business and your plans for the future.
This coaching, whether through a workshop or individual sessions, or a combination of the two (as above) is a cost-effective way to fill that gap that bigger businesses fill with their own in-house human resources department.
Could this coaching help you and your business?
I would love to have a chat and see if we are a good fit. Email me and let’s have an obligation-free chat about you and your business and where coaching will fit in to improve both your culture AND your bottom line.