This month, Peninsula celebrates 35 years in business. That means it’s 35 years since, when running another business, we were taken to tribunal. Despite following all our lawyer’s advice, we were advised to settle the day before the hearing, costing us a fortune—not only in the settlement but also in lawyer’s fees. Frustrated and disappointed, I thought that there had to be a better way for small businesses to get employment law advice, both to avoid getting in this position in the first place and to get better advice if they were taken to tribunal. So that’s my first tip to building a successful business. Identify a need. If there’s something you need, and you do your research and others need it too, there’s probably a market for it. I wasn’t a lawyer but I employed people who were. I found people who had years of experience working in the law, in industry and in HR to offer the best and the most commercial advice. From the perspective of a small business owner, I knew this service was needed, so I found a way to provide it by hiring the best people to help me make it a reality. If no one’s already doing what you want to do, then that’s great. But if someone is already doing it, it doesn’t rule you out of the game. If they aren’t doing it well enough then find a way to do it better. Whether it’s through technology, or marketing, or people, or systems, then see if you can find a more efficient or more effective way to bring that service to market. Look at all the seemingly invincible brands that no longer even exist because smaller, nimbler competitors slipped into their space. This brings me to my next point. Never take your eye off the ball. Never take it for granted. Keep learning. At Peninsula we were the first to break into this marketplace—a classic disruptor model. But since then, many businesses have inevitably emulated what we’ve done. How have we kept our position as the leader in the UK? By innovating, setting tougher targets, pushing ourselves even more. Only by listening to our customers and by never assuming anything is a given have we managed to keep growing and stay successful. Related to that is the importance of costs. As a business owner, always keep your eye on the costs. Even when things are going well—in fact, particularly when things are going well—don’t let your cost base get out of hand. That means that when the economic environment turns tough, as in any business’s life cycle it will, then you’ve got the disciplines in place to get you through. When cash flow becomes tighter, having a managed cost base can make all the difference to survival or failure. And finally, always focus on the customer. It can become easy once your business is up and running to forget who pays the bills. When you’re growing your business, it can seem easy to get the customers in through the door, particularly when your product is the only one on the market. But there comes a point where your customers will leave you; for example, if the product isn’t good enough, there’s a better one available, or the customer service is poor. It is far harder to get new customers in then it is to retain your existing ones, so try as hard as you can to keep your customers happy. Listen to their needs, their concerns and their ideas. In 35 years, these are the five basic principles I’ve used when building Peninsula. It’s incredible to look around now and see the business not only leading the market in the UK, but in Australia, New Zealand and Canada, helping small businesses to manage their employment law issues effectively day in, day out.
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