How long have you been freelance?
I started self employment in 1971, so that’s 41 years.
What made you start your own business?
When I was 12-years-old I started working in a greengrocers shop after school and at weekends. I left school at 15 to work in the greengrocers and at 16 I was asked to manage one of the shops when the manager was sick. It turned out that he was off for three months and during this time I increased both turnover and profit. As a result, I was asked to do relief work again and each shop that I managed saw an increase in sales and profit; I was then used as a troubleshooter.
After a few years, I saw that I could make a success of running my own business. I decided to start a building company because I could see that the majority of small to medium builders lacked management skills and this was a gap that I could fill.
Do you have any tips for anyone looking to start out in business or looking to grow an existing business?
The main reason for my success is because I have researched what customers wanted from builders, and more specifically, what they did not want. The most common complaints about building companies were that they did not turn up when they said they would, they would start one job and leave it mid-way through to start another, they would leave things in a mess, they would not stick to the cost quoted and many were even reluctant to put quotes in writing. I made sure to address all of these issues and never fall into the same trap.
With regards to general business practice, always do what you say you will and build relationships with your customers. My focus has never been money first; invest in good customer service and the profit will follow, it always has.
Also, be prepared to do some research and see what you can offer that is different to your competitors. For example, as part of my new business I have introduced an online booking system as I could not find another building company offering this. This is a system that allows the customer to choose the day and time that they would like me to come and quote for their building work.
To stand out I had to think outside the box, so I decided to offer evening and weekend appointments too; no one else seemed to be offering a genuine seven day a week estimating service. I realise that this sounds like hard work but when you work for yourself you have to be prepared to go that extra mile.
What does your typical work day look like?
After rising at 5.30am, sometimes earlier, I do one hour of meditation – this has saved my life, without it I would be very stressed – then I have breakfast before heading to the office. Depending on my diary, I will spend some time in the office or out and about visiting clients and dealing with contractors.
Most days I try to fit in a visit to the gym, even if it’s only a sauna and swim. If I find my stress levels rising I will stop and do some breathing exercises and this re-balances me. My day can end anywhere from 18.00 to 21.00.
What are the biggest challenges you face?
For forty years finding the right staff has been my biggest challenge. So, when I do find good people I will look after them and encourage them to be part of the team. If you are looking to expand it can only be done through team-work and letting the people you employ feel that they are part of the team. When I say everyone I mean everyone, from the cleaners to the managers.
What are the perks that come with your job?
In one word, freedom! Having the freedom to choose your hours, the freedom to make decisions and the freedom to grow the business to the size you decide is the best thing about being self-employed.
How do you tend to find new business?
As a new-start you need to spend more on advertising, as you get more established you find that new business will come from recommendation, which is the best source. Not only is a recommendation from a client free but it also confirmation that you are doing things right.
What advice would you give to aspiring freelancers?
Always be true to yourself, list your values and never compromise them. Some people will push your boundaries, do not let them.
Be clear where you want to be in one year, five years and ten years. Never think that you know it all, things are constantly changing and we need to change as well.
Know yourself and work on the areas you need to work on. Most importantly, listen to your intuition; your gut instinct will not let you down. Most importantly don’t let fear stop you.