I’m a big believer that if you surround yourself with good people, good things will happen. So, one morning in the shower (where I do all my best thinking), I pondered, what if I put together an event with the best business people in town, who may not know each other, what could come of it?
So it was with this brainwave, that I went about making it happen. The problem with this was that I didn’t know enough of the “best business people in town” to ask. But I had been following a few of them on Linkedin, and there were some businesses I admired, but I couldn’t just pick up the phone to invite them. Well I could, but cold calling isn’t my thing, and a cold invite to dinner from someone you don’t know doesn’t have the best odds in my opinion. So how did I do it?
I leaned on my existing networks and I put a call out on Linkedin to get some names. From there I had my shortlist. Now for the unsolicited contact. I put my best grovelling copy writer hat on, and wrote some copy that I sent through Linkedin Inmail, that started something like this;
We haven’t met before and I know this unsolicited message has about 2 seconds of your attention before you either read on or delete, so I’ll cut to the chase….”
I went on to briefly explain what I was trying to do, and most importantly, what was in it for them.
To my surprise it had a fairly good response rate. A couple of polite no’s, a few maybes, a yes or two!
I then stalked Linkedin to see who was connected with who, which these days, doesn’t help that much, because everyone is connected without actually knowing each other. Nevertheless I persisted. I asked for introductions from people who could introduce me, I told them what I was trying to do, and they helped me. It’s amazing what happens if you just ask.
Finally, I had a table and on the 1st of February, Watson & Watt held its inaugural Founder’s Feast featuring the founders of some of Brisbane’s fastest growing businesses;
- Joe Fox – Studio Culture
- Nick Eckers – Bluewater Lawyers
- Jason Andrew – Smartbooksonline
- Nathan Schokker – Talio
- Kaitlyn Sapier – Orbmaps
- Tara-Jay Rimmer – The Van That Can
The format of the night is a facilitated discussion. This results in topics being relevant and using the collective wisdom, rather than just chit chat over dinner. The best outcome of the night, is that it’s a catalyst of change or improvement in the guest’s businesses, so they come away from the dinner with not only new connections, but an idea or two, some way they can improve their business, or product, or perhaps a new venture all together.
So what did we learn?
As a founder of a fast growing digital marketing agency, it was interesting to hear Joe’s thought’s on the continued importance of personal relationships, particularly in a B2B market. It’s not enough to have digital strategies, you need people to help people. You need a strong sales, and after sales system and to build strong relationships with your customers because the relationship doesn’t end after payment. Those who are winning are building relationships by finding out how they can be of help, and presenting that opportunity rather than trying to sell somebody something.
I thought it would be interesting to understand what the common issues are in small and medium enterprises from Nick’s experience as a lawyer. Again, it came down to people. People are the issue and the solution. Issues occur, because someone did or didn’t do something to someone else. It’s not the business, or a system, it’s a person. We also discussed was how easy it is to start a business, without clue in the world about the legal ramifications, financial implications etc. People get themselves into life changing situations because they simply didn’t know the risk, and didn’t know to ask.
Similar to Nick I thought it would be interesting to hear what common financial issues arise from Jason, who is at the pointy end of a businesses finances. He is seeing daily results and issues from a plethora of businesses. Jason’s view was that a lack financial literacy is the most prevalent issue. People start businesses because they have an idea, or are a good technician, and many don’t understand the basics of economics, accounting, tax or finance. They’ve never heard of a break-even point, never mind how to calculate it, or how to set pricing, or how to create a system keep their receipts, or what data they want financial reporting over. So many revert to their own calculations, backs of envelopes and flying blind.
As the founder of The Van That Can, Tara in my opinion has had significant success in managing remote staff. I mean, a van driver isn’t exactly in the office doing their job. It’s not like you can watch or hear how they talk with a customer etc. They are out at a person’s house or business, and need to deliver on the customer service experience and brand that Tara has built. So how have they managed to grow so fast and deliver on their customer service? As Tara explained it was setting the right expectations with staff initially and setting up the systems to on-board new staff so they know what is expected and gather open and honest feedback from their customers, which is then swiftly acted on that has bought them success. Tara’s view is that to scale, you need to delegate, and to delegate you need systems.
As most of the guests had at one time been an employee, I thought it would be interesting to get their opinions on how this has impacted how they are as employers. The resounding opinion was “Don’t be a f**whit”. Be a nice person, treat people like people, and give a damn. It’s just as important to build relationships with staff as it is with customers. Because as we started off the night, it’s people doing business with people.
The glorification of “entrepreneur”. One of the last topics discussed was one of the most passionate. No-one around the table enjoyed the title of entrepreneur. There is a glorification of working 18 hours a day to build a legacy. The whole thing has become romanticised. The reality, we agreed was that your business should work for you. Not the other way around. There seems to be this idealisation of being “entrepreneur” as cool and being an employee is not and it’s simply not true. Some people are more suited to business owning, some to being an employee and they are in our eyes equal. You can’t have a business without employees, not everyone wants to, or needs to work for themselves. There needs to be an adjustment in mindset, that you can be happy without being the owner.
Surrounding myself with good people, hasn’t let me down yet. The best nights of my life have been around a table, with good food, good wine, good company and good conversation. I’m pleased to say, this was one of them.
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