A dealer’s top tips for success

Having moved from frustrating plateau to a £1m turnover target, Discount Office Supplies’ managing director Dave McFarlane shares his top tips for success

1            Don’t try and do it alone

This is the first lesson I learned. I wanted to be my own boss. I thought this meant I could and should run my business alone. But I quickly learned that, if you want to grow – and especially if you want to grow quickly – it’s not possible to fly solo: there’s simply too much to do and, even if you can cope with the workload, it’s not possible to excel at every role required to succeed in business.

I had a successful 12-year career in sales before I decided to set up my own office supplies business. All I wanted was to be my own boss and answer to myself. Looking back, I can see I was naïve. While I’m confident that my commercial expertise, product knowledge and customer empathy are second to none, I thought these things alone would be enough to strike it rich. I quickly found they weren’t and it wasn’t long before I came up against several unexpected – quite major – challenges. Thankfully, they are a thing of the past and I am now running a successful business, working closely with Office Power.

My tip? Look at where your skills lie and hire people from day one who complement those skills and can share the workload with you.

2            Stop spending time doing things you are not good at

This follows on neatly from the above point. It may seem obvious, but it took me a while to work out and even longer to put into practice.

If you want your business to be a success and have any chance of striking a good work-life balance, it is essential that you focus on doing what you are good at.

I am a salesperson, but when I first set up Discount Office Supplies I wasn’t selling; I was sitting in the office chasing outstanding invoices, dealing with suppliers or packing boxes. What I should have been doing is prospecting and visiting my customers. I know that now and, as a result, I am more in control of my business and back doing what I’m good at and what I love.

3            It’s harder to get credit the quicker you grow

It’s true what they say, ‘cash flow is king’. It’s crucial to understand how your cash flow is impacted from day one and how to keep enough money coming into the business to cover your outgoings and more. There is no fun in going without a salary, let me tell you.

I know this, because one of the first challenges I faced was how to secure enough credit. When you grow rapidly you very quickly hit your credit limit and this can get in the way of trading and halt growth.

4            Work with a fulfilment partner and go stock-free

In the early days, my big focus was keeping cost of goods down. I learned you could get the best pricing from suppliers if you ordered a lot of stock, but then that stock was stored in a warehouse to be picked, packed and delivered when – or if – it was needed. At one point, we had £16,000 worth of goods in the warehouse and £30,000 of outstanding invoices from suppliers. That was when we realised it was time to go stock-free and get rid of the warehouse by working with a partner who would fulfil customer orders directly. We now have no stock and no warehouse.

5            Make sure your systems are customer-centric

When we started out, we were working with an antiquated ordering and CMS system. Yes, we had a web presence, but all that did was send us an email nudging us to place the order on behalf of the customer and this essentially doubled our workload. The system we have now means that customers can order direct – so once the order is placed online, it goes straight to the suppliers, where it’s boxed and delivered next day. We don’t have to do anything and this obviously saves us a lot of time. We also have a responsive website, which means it looks great – and the same – no matter which device the customer is viewing it on and given the ever increasing amount of browsing and ordering that takes place on mobile, we believe this is key in securing new customers and holding onto existing ones.

6            Real time reporting is a must-have not a nice-to-have

From a business point of view, our systems were complex and unfriendly and it didn’t take long for us to work out that, if you can’t access accurate reports quickly, then you are unable to (a) recognise there is a problem with the business (b) find out where that problem is or (c) fix that problem. For example, if I had a margin issue it would take hours to find. But with the Office Power system, we can access information in real time, see exactly what is going on in our business and effortlessly maximize our sales opportunities.

7            It is possible to have a life outside work   

Before taking the leap to work with a partner, I had no work/life balance – I would be working on my laptop in bed at 2 am trying to get better deals from suppliers. I now go home at 5.30 pm – without guilt – and even take days off. It’s important to remember why you went into business and I bet it wasn’t because you wanted to work 18 hour days. 

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Posted by Austin Clark (95)

Written on 22nd June 2017

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