I’m in an impressive, neat and modern print and design studio, housing million-dollar printing machines in Bendigo. Peter Reading is the managing director of the Bendigo Signarama franchise.
Discovering we are both green tea lovers and both grew up on dairy farms, our conversation shifted quickly away from a formal interview. We fell into a warm open discussion on entrepreneurialism and what it takes to generate the drive to keep moving a small business forwards.
I really enjoyed talking with Peter, and I never expected him to open up with some great, real advice for small businesses. I suspect this openness is at the core of his business practice. It is difficult to dig deep and have a good hard look at yourself and your business. It’s an ongoing wrestle for small business owners to not work in their business work, but on their business.
Peter responded to my question of “how creativity grows business,” away from the inspirational and into the uncomfortable. I know that it is difficult for small businesses to share with others that they are going through a hard time.
“When you need drive most—is during awful times.” I nodded in agreement with Peter. And my stomach gave a little knot of yes; I know how hard you need to dig to find the reserves to “create something to create the momentum again.”
“If you always only think about the awful times, you will always be in the awful times,” Peter shares. “You need to pull yourself up by the scruff of the neck, feel the burn and get on with it.”
So how do you go about feeling the burn?
“I have other business owners I can talk to and I know that the conversation will remain between me and them. I have a very special network—my inner business network is personally and emotionally tied to my business, although they don’t have any financial connections to the business.”
“I have a mate and we can call each other and say, ‘I want to come and talk to you’ —we go to each other’s house and the conversation usually goes something like; ‘This is what happened at work today—how would have you handled it?’ ”
“I think there is so much complacency in business, and behind the scenes of a business becomes an unspoken secret. People can become so guarded and protect their profit and loss. If you can open up, then you can get some sanity in your business—and new ideas.”
“If all you get is a new idea when you put yourself in a new situation—then it is worth driving yourself and stepping outside of your comfort zone.”
“Although I was a part of a franchise, I was frustrated—I wasn’t sure how my business was going—I didn’t know if we were performing well, mediocre or terrible.”
“I approached other Signarama business owners and asked them— ‘are you prepared and willing to do some comparisons and see how your business is travelling?’ I invited them to come to Bendigo for the weekend with their profit and loss sheet.”
“Funnily enough, after spending a day together, we concluded that our businesses were either going very well, mediocre or extremely poorly.”
“Our statistics were really close and our businesses were operating similarly. Although over time—I found as we checked in with each other—the Melbourne-based business did not grow as rapidly as ours. This was because we invested into capital and a sales person.”
Peter didn’t just conclude with talking to one business owner and sharing the intimate deals of his business. He approached a Signarama business in Sydney that is double the size of his in Bendigo. “I thought that the larger size business would reveal efficiencies we might be able to adopt.”
“The first thing we noticed in comparing our businesses, was the mix of business activity. For example, in Sydney, they have a day marked out just to update directory boards in high rise buildings—we might do this sort of signage work two or three times a year.”
“I was also surprised to discover efficiencies in our business and they wanted to know how we did this—it turned out this was really hard to share because it is something we just do in our day-to-day work. But I found that when I started this conversation and shared the discussion, it lead to new ideas and ways of thinking to grow our business.”
As Peter talked more about the way he connects with a peer group to find ways to reward his team, to train his team and grow his team with his business, I find myself growing in respect. As a small business owner, I am always on the lookout for ways to scale my business and balance working in my business with working on my business. I love his fearless creativity and drive to find answers to grow his business—because no one else is doing to do this for you.
I do have business mentors, and within a co-working space I have others around me that keep me buoyant and challenging myself—but I have never sat down and made a like-for-like comparison. My goal for 2017 is to actively take some of Peter’s advice and talk more about profit and loss—and reveal my secrets.
You might like to consider some of Peter’s advice about how creativity is growing his business:
• Business owners need to have an open mind
• You need to pull closely around you; peers who you can trust, and you need to be brave and courageous
“If you look at high flyers in business—do they do it on their own? No! They have people around them—staff, friends and mentors.”
Thanks so much for your time Peter, wishing you and your team much success for the rest of 2017.
Stay in touch with Peter and the Bendigo Signarama team on Facebook.