Fifteen Things We Have Learned In Fifteen Years
19th July 2018
We don’t want to be show offs but IT’S OUR BIRTHDAY! We are fifteen years old this month and in spite of a few growing pains here and there and a little ‘teenage angst’ at times, we are proud of all that we have achieved during this last decade and a half.
Liquidline started out with one 19-year-old man, with one water machine and a big dream. Fast forward fifteen years and Liquidline is comprised of 70 staff, 5 regional offices, a huge machine range comprising of water machines, coffee machines and juice machines and our own coffee bean and consumable range. Liquidline have expanded rapidly and continue to grow at a rate that most businesses would be proud of. So, as we reach this fifteen-year juncture, we thought we would share fifteen of the most valuable lessons we have learnt along the way, in the hope that they may bring you success in your business too.
1. Work Really Hard
Be prepared for the rest of life to take a back seat for a while. When you start any business but particularly when you start one that provides a service, you have to be prepared to work really hard and really long hours. When you work for yourself, you don’t get paid holiday or sickness and the harder you work in the early days, the quicker the business will grow.
2. Think Big from Day One
If you are ever going to be a £10 million business, you have to think like one. This means taking practical steps to forward plan and future-proof your buildings and warehousing. We haven’t always done this and have outgrown a few buildings for this reason along the way! But more than this, it’s essential to have a roadmap of where you’re going, that you can always refer back to whenever you feel like you’re losing your way.
3. Be Fearless
People might tell you that you’re mad, that it’s a big risk or even that you’ll fail. But as Tywin Lannister says in Game of Thrones ‘The Lion does not concern himself with the opinion of Sheep.’ Sometimes you have to ignore those that attempt to sow the seeds of doubt, be bold, brave and keep fighting for your vision. Not everyone is going to see your vision as clearly as you do – and thank goodness or they’d all be setting up businesses just like yours!
4. Don’t Stop Innovating
This is particularly poignant for Liquidline as Innovation is one of our core values. But it really is important to understand your customers’ challenges and to find new and innovative ways to solve them. The most forward-thinking companies out there anticipate their customers’ needs before they’ve even realised them for themselves. If you can do that, you’ve really cracked it!
5. Implement simple processes early on
When we were small, we focussed on getting the job done and delivering for our customers, ‘ducking and diving’ wherever we needed to! But as you grow, things need to be scalable and you’ll want to have clear processes (even if they’re manual initially) to make sure that you’re working in the most efficient way. You may not mind making a detour or a special trip to take a customer their goods when you’re a small company but as you grow and have hundreds, if not thousands of customers, you may find that you can no longer accommodate it.
6. Stay Lean
One thing we have found useful is regularly looking at our processes and ways of working and eliminating waste wherever we can. This can mean waste time, waste stages in a process or waste materials. It also means looking at the staff resource and ensuring that the best players are in the best positions, doing their best work. We have always looked to recruit multiskilled staff, who are capable of moving from one role to another according to the needs of the business.
7. Pay Suppliers on Time
We feel that wherever possible it is important to pay suppliers on time. This has in impact on your reputation within the market or industry you work in and is good business practice. It ensures good relationships with suppliers and means that should you ever need to call in a favour or need a last-minute order for an important customer (which really does happen) you’re more likely to get the help you need.
8. Always think of the Customer
They don’t always have to be right and they’re not always going to be happy. But you have to put them at the centre of everything you do. We find that putting genuine effort into this pays off huge dividends. Not only do our customers go out and tell the Liquidline story on our behalf but we know that they are much less likely to switch suppliers the next time someone comes along and undercuts us on price.
9. Businesses are Made of People, who have relationships and ties to the communities they live in
Wherever possible we have always tried to recruit locally, from the communities around us. This supports the local economy and we find that our customers like to talk to local people, who are just like them. We have also tried to support local charities and groups wherever possible – all of our charity day money supports a local hospice, who supported one of our team through one of the hardest times in her life. The world is so huge and so global now that local connections are more valuable than ever.
10. Selling the Machine isn’t everything
The message here is to think about repeat sales and the entire lifetime value of your customer. In our own case, coffee machine sales are great and are an immediate hit of capital but better are the sales that you get month in, month out – these are the steady, predictable sales that really form the ‘bread and butter’ of the business.
11. Invest in Marketing
One thing our founder has always believed passionately is the ability of marketing to drive the turnover of the business. Building the brand makes the job of the sales team far easier. But without quality, qualified sales leads, you can’t expect the business to grow. Identifying early on how decision makers in your industry access information about your particular type of service and being present there is essential. If it’s online – invest in your website. If they read publications, try advertising.
12. Get service right
You can create the greatest brand and online presence in your industry but if your service is poor, you’ll be swimming upstream and you’ll never grow your reputation. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is expecting to grow and take on more customers without investing more into your infrastructure. Stay lean but invest in more resources when you need them. Then work to exceed your customers’ expectations – surprise them with quicker than expected deliveries, service visits and courtesy calls.
13. Bring everyone into the vision and reward everyone for success, not just the sales staff
In lots of businesses the sales teams receive bonuses for achieving or exceeding targets – and righty so- new business sales drive growth. However as other teams rightly point out – they too have to work harder when sales are up. There is more stock to order, more deliveries going out and more installations and service calls. Implementing a bonus scheme for all staff, where everyone gets a bonus when the company performs is a great way to get all the teams in the business working together and to ensure that everyone feels rewarded.
14. Understand what makes you unique
Unless you are a true innovator, there are probably other companies out there providing a similar product or service to you. It is therefore essential to work out what you can offer that nobody else can- what do you offer that is unique to you and what do you do better than anyone else? And then to shout about it!
15. Operate with honesty
Last but by no means least – operate with honesty and integrity. This means being honest with customers, not mis-selling or overselling and when you make a mistake, owning up and putting it right. It means telling your staff the truth and also being open to feedback yourself.