10 Years – 10 Lessons in Business

Ange Connor

Monday 16th September 2013. Ten years on I remember this day like it was yesterday. It was the day I resigned from my stable, secure job to start my own business. I remember driving to Geelong, walking into my manager’s office, my hand shaking as I held out my letter of resignation, my voice unsteady as I explained I was resigning and starting my own business. Was I making the right decision or the biggest mistake of my life? I was 30 years old, I had two mortgages, $5k of savings to start the business and I’d calculated to the day, how long I had before I needed to get some money coming in or otherwise I would be moving home with Mum and Dad. A horrifying thought at 30 years of age. And probably an equally horrifying thought for them too!

Tuesday 1st October 2013. The official first day of business for Inspire HQ. I remember this day too like it was yesterday. Arriving at our serviced office at 17 Armstrong Street South, which would be our home for just over the first 12 months of our existence. The excitement, the nervousness, the sheer terror of thinking could I do this. Could I make enough money to survive; that was my one and only goal at that stage. I certainly never dreamt of one day having a team or having our own office or what it would be like to celebrate 10 years in business.

I’m not that great at stopping to smell the roses. I’m the kind of person who has already moved on to focusing on the next goal, the next idea to implement or the next problem to solve. However, this week I’ve carved out some time to reflect on the Inspire HQ journey and that’s given me the inspiration for this week’s blog:

My 10 biggest learnings as a business owner:

  1. Don’t procrastinate on having the hard conversations, they only get harder. I learnt this very early on in my journey as a business owner and I feel like I’ve learnt this one every year over, maybe I am a slow learner! I started in business with a business partner, however, it very quickly became apparent that we had different goals and priorities. We really should have had the hard conversations well before we opened the doors but we didn’t. These No Bullsh*# conversations as they are now referred to in our office, whether they are with a client, a candidate or a team member, only get harder when we put off having them. They not only get harder but also end up consuming too much of our time, energy and headspace. Sometimes you just have to be courageous, rip the band aid off and start the conversation and sometimes they are not as hard as I had concocted in my head.
  2. It’s all about customer service. Most of my career has been in industries that provide a service so maybe it’s different in other industries but nothing beats good old fashioned customer service. At the end of the day, having the best software, the flashy client gifts (I’ve been to a lot of client meetings where they have been using a pen or a notepad from another agency), the funky office, or whatever it might be means nothing if you don’t do customer service well. Of course, we haven’t always got it right but at the end of the day when something has gone wrong, when I’ve unpacked it, it’s come back to not meeting someone’s expectations which to me is customer service. How you treat people differentiates you and that becomes your brand.
  3. Be careful who you listen to and take advice from. It can feel like everyone has an opinion on how to run a business, what to do and how you should do it. There have been times throughout my business journey where I have given others too much air time with their thoughts, ideas and opinions and sometimes not enough air time but ultimately you have to decide what’s right for you and your business. You can’t let someone else’s risk aversion hold you back or paralyse you. Maybe it’s the recruiter in me but I’ve learnt understanding not just what someone is saying to you but why they are saying it (their motivations) is vitally important and what credibility do they have in offering the advice. Then you can choose to take it on board or ignore it.
  4. Systems and Processes. I believe systems and processes can stifle customer service and innovation; people can become complacent and just follow the process without stopping to think about stepping outside that system or process to get a better outcome or deliver better customer service. However, I’ve learnt it’s about finding a balance. I learnt this lesson the hard way when I started to grow my team. My first employee had worked with me in a previous workplace and so when she joined me it was easy. We knew how each other worked, she knew how I operated and how I thought. When I started to bring other team members into the business it was a different story and without systems and processes or anything to guide team members on how we do things at Inspire HQ, I was forever checking, finishing off, reworking or getting stuck doing what I’d hired someone else to do as too much of how we do things at Inspire HQ was stuck in my head and wasn’t documented. Without systems and processes, you struggle to grow.
  5. Surround yourself with a fabulous network. There are times when it feels like the loneliest job in the world. There are times you want to hand in your resignation but there is no one there to accept it. There are times when it’s so bloody exhilarating and you are kicking goals. It’s these times that having an amazing network of people around you is so important. I’ve been incredibly lucky to have a network of people around me who have listened, let me vent, been my biggest cheerleaders when I haven’t been able to see the small wins, have checked in, have cared and had my back. Occasionally they offer advice but more often than not, they listen, encourage, share a different perspective and simply believe in me. Without that network of people, I’m not sure I’d have made 10 years. To those people, you know who you are, THANK YOU!

In next week’s blog, I’ll share the remaining five lessons I’ve learnt. The hardest part has been culling the lessons to just 10 as being in business has been the biggest learning curve of my career.

About The Author
Ange Connor

Ange is the Founder and Director of Inspire HQ, one of regional Victoria’s leading recruitment, human resource (HR) and careers agencies. Ange is an ‘ideas’ person and a ‘big picture’ thinker. She loves to challenge the status quo – in fact, that’s how Inspire HQ began.

Ange has supported hundreds of businesses across Ballarat and regional Victoria to attract, engage, motivate, develop and retain their greatest assets; their people. Ange’s unyielding passion and invaluable knowledge of the recruitment and HR industry ensures she delivers the best solutions for her clients.

Ange has held various board positions and regularly volunteers her time to share her industry and market knowledge. She was recently a Councillor for the Victoria and Tasmania region of the Recruitment Consulting and Staffing Association (RCSA) of Australia and New Zealand, and she is a current Board Director of the Committee for Ballarat.

For more useful information, follow Ange on LinkedIn.

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