Welcome back to Leader Talk! In this episode, we chat with Trent Lines, the CEO of Access 2 Place Housing, a leading not-for-profit community housing provider of affordable and accessible housing for people living with disabilities in South Australia.
With over 25 years of experience in construction projects and developments, Trent’s focus has been on residential properties. Prior to joining Access 2 Place Housing, he spent 12 years as an equity partner with Keith Timber and the Westpac Banking Corporation. Trent is passionate about helping small and medium-sized businesses expand and firmly believes that building a team of devoted and dedicated employees is essential for a company’s success.
Want to learn more? You can read or listen to our chat with Trent Lines on YouTube, Spotify, Listen Notes, or Player FM. It’s also available anywhere you listen to your favourite podcasts via Buzzsprout.
Authored by Trent Lines, CEO of Access to Place Housing.
As a business owner, you want your business to grow sustainably. No one wants to lay off employees or close up their dream shop because they’ve hit a snag and didn’t have the resources to bounce back.
Over the years, I’ve seen many businesses grow. The problem is that they’re growing for the sake of their turnover, jumping at any chance they can to expand, but not looking at their long-term future. What I have found is that the most sustainable businesses are the ones that ensure they are growing their business only incrementally, as they focus on and follow a well-thought-out plan.
Growing a business sustainably involves having a handle over all factors of the business. This means understanding what the business, materials and rising labour costs are. It means creating open communication with all stakeholders and creating partnerships with customers. This is what will help your business stand the test of time.
Competing against the bigger businesses
One of the main qualms of a small to medium-sized business owner is having to compete against the already established big league companies. My advice is to take the time to understand your business. It might sound too self-evident and simple, but it takes work. Those who are willing to do that work are the ones that succeed.
More businesses go broke not because they’re missing out on sales, but more because they lose control of their cash flow and costs. Be across all the details within your business, especially while your business is growing. Don’t rely on your finance team to keep an eye out on the cost of running your business. The accountants can do the number crunching, but you have to be the one asking how much you are putting into X, Y, and Z. You have to be the one looking for consistencies and opportunities to reduce costs by even one or two percent.
Knowing your business also means knowing the processes of the employees and other stakeholders. Your employees might be doing things out of habit and don’t think of ways to be more efficient or solve more problems.
Create an environment where you encourage your employees to experiment with how they do things and change the processes. If it doesn’t work, that’s fine. Revert back to what you were doing before. If you can find ways to save five or ten minutes in your process, it will have huge effects on your customers’ experiences, and in turn, your business.
If you want your business to be sustainable, you have to understand your business, your people, and your processes and find where the leaks are and how to improve.
Call your customers a partner
In order to know if you’re doing the right or wrong thing for your business, establish partnerships with your customers. See them as partners in business, not just consumers. If your customer regards you solely as a supplier, it doesn’t become sustainable.
To gain partnerships with customers, you have to do three things: work towards a personal relationship with them, add value to them and add cost efficiency as a supplier.
In saying this, it’s not all about having the cheapest price. I learnt this lesson as Director at Keith Timber Group, where we supplied timber and materials to builders every day. There were times when we might not have had the cheapest timber prices on that given day, but over the 12-month period, we had consistently good prices and our customers knew they could rely on us for that consistency.
A lot of those builders understood that someone will come in and offer a better price than us on a certain day, but those key loyal customers wouldn’t be swayed by the size, scale, or price that others were offering. Why? Because we weren’t just focusing on one good price. We also focused on adding value to their business through innovation, working with them on different design techniques, and introducing them to different suppliers or builders interstate they can learn from. Added value like this sets you apart from someone who will drop a truckload of material for cheap one day and that’s it.
Larger clients and customers are looking for efficiency and reliable service, so they expect your price to be a bit more expensive. Smaller customers may care more about price, but they also care about service and reliability. Value adding creates better services and long-term relationships with customers. It might take years to build that loyalty, but it is fundamental to sustainable growth.
You can also make it efficient for your customer, not in dollars, but in time. Find out what is important to your customer and work your systems around that to benefit them. For example, with Keith Timber Group, we focused on producing quotes in two weeks rather than four weeks because that meant our clients could get their procedures done earlier. Things like that build long-term loyalty. If you continue to care for them and their needs and prove you’re fair dinkum, as I like to say, you will rise above the competitors.
Communicate with all stakeholders
Communication is a fundamental thing. As the leader, you’re the spokesperson and figurehead to all stakeholders and shareholders. We sometimes forget to bring everyone on the journey.
When your business is growing you become so busy and think everyone understands what you are doing and where you want to go. However, they are an employee, not an owner and so they probably won’t be as invested in the business unless you communicate why they should be. Take time to bring everyone along and say, “This is what we’re doing now, and here’s why”.
I am a big advocate of transparency. If there’s a problem, own it straight away and consult others to work out avenues so that everyone is on board to achieve your goals. Business owners don’t have all the right answers, so be open to transparent feedback from stakeholders so you can push your business in the right direction.
You can have the employees, equipment and sales, but without taking care of the more human side of things and engaging your stakeholders, your business will struggle to grow.
Plan for the future
Sometimes I look at business owners and wonder if they really understand their industry. You can tell when they are focused on the month or quarter and neglect the next five or ten years. They have these great resources but don’t plan for the ways the industry is evolving and how they can be part of that in the future.
To figure out where to take your business, you need to understand your industry. Take time daily to analyse the industry by talking to stakeholders, partners, and similar small to medium enterprises. Join a group where you can share ideas about what the future of your industry holds. With that, you can make bold decisions that are reasonably calculated and then bring everyone along with you.
That’s why business plans are critical for all businesses of any size or shape. Spend the first six months of the year working out the direction of the business and where you want to go. A business plan doesn’t have to be some fancy booklet or glossy brochure. It can be one simple page with four pillars of where you want to take your business and what annual activities you will do to deliver those strategic objectives.
It’s so easy to get distracted. People will come up to you and tempt you with things you weren’t there for in the first place. If you’re not focused on your business plan, it will become a bit ramshackle, and you’ll lose the engagement of your stakeholders. Don’t stuff your business plan in a drawer and revert back to it once a year. Treat it as a living, breathing thing that you come back to regularly.
It is difficult to build a business, let alone a sustainable one. You have to put in the personal work. Stay on top of your costs, the processes of your employees, and where your industry is heading. If you focus on the long-term goal and grow your business incrementally, your business will beat the odds and stand the test of time.
So, let me ask you this: do you really know your business?