Top Tips to Create a Thriving Business, from Craig Ford, CEO of Bugs & Sparks.
When Craig Ford joined Bugs & Sparks eleven years ago as a partner, his focus was to grow sales and improve marketing to take the small enterprise to a flourishing business. Today, nine years on, the compliance certification company is performing better than ever and continues to grow from strength to strength.
Craig shares his top five tips on how to grow a business that doesn’t need you to run it every single minute of the day.
1. HIRE THE RIGHT PEOPLE
Craig Ford only hires people who are a brand fit for his organisation.
“Your people are your brand,” says Craig. “It doesn’t matter how good they are or how long they’ve been with the company. If they are negative or break down the positive work culture, they don’t belong there. I believe in being slow to hire, and quick to fire, it’s the only way to create a team that can work without your constant supervision. Hire the best, put them in the right role, train them and then give them the autonomy to do what they do best. This frees you up to focus on what you do best – like thinking up clever ways to make more money!”
Giving up isn’t an option.
“When I joined Bugs & Sparks I worked 7 days a week, 14 hours a day,” says Craig. “For the first few months I didn’t even earn a salary. But quitting wasn’t an option, literally. I had no choice but to make this work, because I certainly wasn’t going back to working for a boss. I had bills to pay, salaries to pay, and a family to feed, but you tighten your belt, focus and push harder.”
Craig knows that self-motivation is the key to being your own boss: “When you work for yourself you need to be self-driven. A little bit of healthy fear isn’t a bad thing sometimes. You can’t lie on your couch hoping the phone will ring. Get up, get at it and get working,” encourages Craig. “Your destiny is in your own hands.”
It doesn’t help if people don’t know about your business. And if they know about it, they have to have reasons to pick yours above your competitors.
“This was probably my biggest drive in the early days,” says Craig. “I knew that real estate agents were key in terms of sending us work and referrals, so I invested all my energy in getting to know every single estate agent in our focus areas personally. I would drive out on Saturdays and Sundays to show houses to meet them, chat, and bring them snacks and drinks.”
It wasn’t long before Craig started seeing the fruit of his labour, and the sales started to trickle in: “I focussed on one market segment at a time, saturated it, and didn’t move on until I was top-of-mind within that segment.”
“When you turn your customers into your friends, it’s very hard for them to say no to you.”
Over time the business grew from two staff members to 36 full-time staff members with a growing market footprint.
4. SYSTEMS AND PROCESSES
“We used to do everything in Word and Excel, we ran the whole business off of a few spreadsheets,” laughs Craig. “It was very manual, time-consuming and inaccurate. We forgot to invoice for work done, couldn’t track who had paid, and we weren’t able to give our clients the service they needed.”
Efficient internal systems and processes were the key to staying on track: “A very early focus of mine was to buy a system that integrated all our business operations and process requirements into one seamless system that was quick and easy to run. For the first time we could see where we were losing money, where the opportunities were, and where we could scale up for growth. It was an investment, but one that helped to set us apart from our competitors.”
These systems have made all the difference for Craig and his team: “We now have an app that our field staff uses to do quotes, track jobs, and take pictures of each site, all integrated into our reporting, accounting, and operations. I can run the business using just my tablet from the beach, golf course, or anywhere in the world.”
“Having systems and processes and software in place meant that we were ready to scale up for growth when it came, and believe me, it came. Word started getting around that we were reliable, honest, quick, and reputable and now most of our work is from repeat customers and word-of-mouth. That means we’re doing something right.”
Now that leads were streaming in, Craig was able to cast a vision for the future: “Once we had the above in place, it was critical to ensure that our staff was unified under a common goal. If you stop anyone from Bugs & Sparks they’ll tell you that we aim to be the leading compliance certification company in South Africa.”
Craig believes that teamwork and unity is the glue that holds the business together: “Unity means that we pull together as a team. We’ve got the right people in the right roles, empowered by systems and processes, and motivated by a common goal. I can’t say it was easy, but I can say that I wouldn’t have it any other way. And that if I could do it, you can too.”