7 Important Lessons Learned Whilst Growing My Small Business

I highly recommend “Small Giants” by Bo Burlingham to entrepreneurs who aspire to not only make money but also build a remarkable company. This classic book explores the journey of several American private businesses that have not only stood the test of time but have also become invaluable contributors to their communities. It emphasizes the importance of ethics and principled practices in transforming a business into something more than just a profit-generating entity. In my own entrepreneurial experience, I learned that humility and resilience are essential qualities for success. 

When I first started my business, my confidence was at an all-time low. The previous venture I had embarked on with four business partners was marred by internal conflicts and ultimately failed. I carried a sense of shame from that experience. Additionally, I was coping with the recent loss of both my parents and the impending arrival of twins, which added immense pressure.

Out of sheer necessity, I did whatever it took to generate business. I vividly recall trudging up and down London Road in Sheffield, braving the pouring rain, attempting to rent air fresheners to restaurants. I managed to secure a few customers who brought in a modest £20 per month, and I also sold a few state-of-the-art hand dryers, which provided a small boost. However, I felt disconnected from my successful friends who had stable, well-paid careers. I wondered what would have happened if everyone had turned me down that day; I felt somewhat broken. Fortunately, a couple of businesses came through for me, offering just enough support to reinvest and set things in motion. 

  1. I firmly believe that small steps pave the way for significant achievements.

During this time, I dedicated myself to enhancing my website, striving to make it more user-friendly than any of my competitors. I still recall the exhilaration I felt when I received my first online order! The realization that I could actually make a living and that my business had true potential served as a catalyst for my drive. From that moment forward, I focused primarily on the future, and the orders began to flow in more consistently. 

  1. Consistency is so important

Consistency has never been my strong suit. I’m constantly brimming with ideas, and it frustrates me when I can’t devote enough attention to each one. I’m sure many entrepreneurs can relate to this struggle. Interestingly, I believe I came up with the concept for Moonpig back in the 90s. I sent a business plan to an idea hub I saw advertised on TV, but they never responded. A few years later, Moonpig had become a household name. 

Over the years, I’ve had countless other ideas—some good, some not so good—that I didn’t pursue. However, Intelligent Facility Solutions was different. We took a simple idea and committed ourselves to improving the business every day. While we may not be a massive company, we take immense pride in being a respected and reliable presence in our community, for the planet, and for our employees. This wouldn’t have been possible if I had continued to jump from one idea to another. 

  1. The people you surround yourself with determine your success.

Skills are undoubtedly important, but in a startup, it’s crucial to have individuals who are willing to roll up their sleeves and tackle various tasks. It requires energy, loyalty, and a shared belief in the company’s mission. A positive mindset and a thirst for learning outweigh academic achievements. Intelligent was built on the foundation of individuals who consistently went above and beyond, and many of them will be rewarded with ownership in the company in the coming years. 

My late mother always emphasized the golden rule, “do as you would be done by.” Taking a moment to check in with people’s well-being is incredibly important, and I like to think that over the years, we’ve been able to help a few individuals with their mental health. 

While making money is certainly a pleasant outcome, it should always be secondary to doing what’s right for people and the planet. Don’t get me wrong—I’m driven to succeed, especially when competing against companies that lack the same ethical values as ours. I’d rather have just £1 in our pocket, knowing it’s being put to good use, than see it go to a competitor who is less committed to social and environmental causes. I truly believe in the positive impact businesses can have. 

  1. Founders excel at getting things off the ground, but it’s crucial for them to trust others to take the business to the next level.

When I wanted to grow my business, I made the decision to empower others and bring in experienced talent. I still serve as the moral compass, ensuring that our sense of social and environmental responsibility remains strong. However, I acknowledge that others can contribute far more to the company’s commercial growth than I can. Letting go can be a deeply rewarding personal decision that enhances not only your own life but also the lives of your team. 

  1. The spread of misinformation is becoming increasingly prevalent.

It has become exceedingly difficult to trust anything you read online. Even reputable newspapers and academic institutions are guilty of lazy journalism, often regurgitating information without delving deeper than the headline. The insidious nature of social and online media has accelerated the dissemination of misleading information, infiltrating people’s consciousness with ease. 

Regrettably, some industries and corporations have capitalized on this flawed approach to journalism, using it to sway decision-making in favour of their products. Examples include the tobacco industry, fossil fuels, and even the paper towel industry, which has spent substantial sums trying to discredit eco-friendly hand dryers and boost paper towel sales. 

Their tactics are based on flawed, PR-driven scientific studies designed to instil fear about the hygiene of hand dryers. In reality, these experiments never replicate real-life scenarios and are now being discredited by reputable organisations such as the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

  1. Greenwashing is on the rise

Greenwashing remains a pressing issue, one that environmentalist Jay Westerveld first coined the term for in 1986. Over the past few years, this term has become increasingly familiar to us all. Numerous businesses claim their products contribute positively to the environment, yet in reality, they inflict more harm than good.

However, it is worth noting that several companies are genuinely committed to the planet’s well-being. While we may be aware of Patagonia’s founder relinquishing his company to combat climate change, there are countless other companies silently waging the noble battle. One such movement is 1% For The Planet, boasting 5,000 global members. Through this initiative, companies make authentic contributions to environmentally sustainable causes by donating their time and resources.

  1. Environmental and cost benefits are driving demand

Presently, the demand for hand dryers is soaring to unprecedented heights. Despite the paper industry’s efforts to instil anxieties, our industry is finally receiving the recognition it deserves. Manufacturers of hand dryers are dedicated to innovating technology and designs. This relentless pursuit is yielding energy efficiency and cost savings but also optimal hygienic solutions.

As for the future, attempting to predict the next ten years would be a futile endeavour, we are sure that ethical companies with innovative solutions to tackling the climate crisis will be at the fore though.

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