1 December 2013

When you are faced with the challenge, “How do you run a business that changes shape and size so quickly that you barely get a second to breathe?” The answer is, you don’t. It runs you. And that’s where we began.

There is a problem with this method, it’s all consuming. There is a danger that you live, sleep and eat your work just to stay ahead.

Actually, I have learned the best way to run a business, is to relax a little. But anyone who knows me well, will know that wasn’t always the case! Quite the opposite at times. However over time, we have found a formula.

When we were small, we ran a very relaxed outfit. Don’t get me wrong we still had incredibly high standards. Relaxed doesn’t mean lazy or complacent. It was just easy in those days. We were all in talking distance of each other and could assemble an entire team around one small table. Everyone knew each others business and everyone was able to contribute and affect the result, in an instant. These are the days that I look back with tremendous affection. It’s not even that long ago, but what an era. This was the time we set up the game, determining the things that matter, our values, our beliefs. We formulated a plan that is still very much alive today.

It’s important to hang on to the people who set the plan in motion too and one of UKFast’s plus points is that my entire team who was there at the start are still with me today. Hanging on to talent is just as important as finding them.

Its awe-inspiring to think where we are today in comparison to where we started from. When you consider the odds stacked against us back then in our 2 person office on Fountain Street I struggle to understand how we have arrived at this point. It doesn’t feel real.

As the business started to grow, we looked to improve our formula starting to look for “best practices” in other businesses too. Reading books, looking at the business leaders who had great reputations, some high profile and some local, and if we liked something they did, we’d apply it. If it worked we’d keep it, if not we’d quickly retrace our steps.

You could argue that this isn’t a very scientific way to run a business, however it’s proven to be successful and very quickly a style developed. The UKFast way.

As we continued to grow, like in any business, fear begins to kick in. We started to consider, “How do other people do it?” It became less about what we were doing, even though it was working incredibly well and more about “how do the big boys do it?” and “what are we missing?”

Well, it turns out years later that the answer was “not a lot!” We had a winning formula that was so incredible, I shudder to think where we could have been if we’d never tinkered with the rules of the game. If we’d stuck to our guns on some of the things we changed we’d probably be 2 or 3 times the size now. But life’s not like that and the fact that we were able to play with the model on the fly is why we are at this point now and why we value the things that make the business special.

Besides, regret is not something I like to focus on and I believe everything happens for a reason. I am someone who looks forward, not backwards. There’s a time to reminisce, but it’s not now, not when you are flat out running around a race track.

The journey of continuous improvement is certainly an exciting one. It’s taken me and my team to the other side of the world, places like Fiji and the British Virgin Islands and I have been fortunate to meet some extraordinary characters. People that are active in making an impact on a global level. It’s humbling to witness and it puts what we do into perspective when you see how small we are in the greater scheme of things. Mind you its this blend of inferiority and certainty that fuels our ambition to get to the next levels.

Travelling to different destinations has become part of our formula. If I ask Gail (wife, business partner, founder) “who runs the best pre-game team meeting?” She will answer instinctively “The 5.30pm meeting on Rangalli Island where the team assembles outside the Vilu Restaurant.” You have to see these guys in action to understand how good an operation can be, where information travels across the reef from island to island seamlessly, without effort, without technology.

Being this close to my business partner has to help when running UKFast

Being this close to my business partner has to help when running UKFast

If you ask her who runs the best focus group, she’d reply, “Chet Holmes!” Sadly Chet died of cancer not so long ago, but I travelled to Fiji to meet him as I was so inspired by what he was doing. This focus is so effective its been used by the last 3 presidents of the United States. If you want to get to the bottom of a problem and come up with the answers, there is only one way, the Chet Holmes way.

“Who runs the best sales team training?” this is easy, and I am honoured that he’s reading this blog, it’s Richard Cohen, arguably the greatest living telesales person alive. He’s Tony Robbin’s best trainer by a country mile and I am privileged to consider him a friend. I went trekking through a rain forest in the pitch black just to hang out with this guy because his energy is so infectious.

I could go on, but I think you get the gist. UKFast has become a myriad of small formulas, taken, plagiarised if you like, but put into our own unique language and structure.

Travel has become one of the single most important factors in staying fresh. The team know when we return to expect change. Learning at a time when you also getting complete rest, means that when you return you arrive with huge amounts of energy and excitement ready to share your new findings and catapult the business to the next level.

There is one thing you have to look out for on your quest to quench your thirst for knowledge.

When you are searching for advice, you get contradictions and not everyone can be right. Some things work for some people and not for others, some things work for you, but every now and again, people may moderate them further down the line and they stop working. We call this the Doctor Who effect. Things that get changed, for no other reason than people like changing things!

If you have a formula and it’s working for you, NEVER EVER change it. Look for the things that don’t work, there will be plenty! But leave the things that do work well alone.

Be wary of new managers, consultants and senior execs coming into your business telling you that they have a better way. Believe me they don’t! They just think they do!

How you play your game depends very much on the people you attract and employ and hang out with. You can have the greatest product and an awesome environment, but if you have flat people expect a flat curve on your growth graph.

There are a million ways to run a business, and I do not profess to know everything. Far from it, I am still lifting up stones and sifting through rubble looking for gems. I suppose I always will.

So if you have things that work incredibly well, things that you can teach me, I’d love to learn about them.







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