Questions for Jane about running a business.
How do you engage and motivate employees and keep them?
Appreciate their contribution. Keep them in the loop about developments and have regular ‘keep in touch’ calls or 1-2-1s, to check how things are going and find out what’s happening in their world.
How do you maintain and enhance margins?
By keeping overheads steady and building the capacity of work that can be undertaken. We also look at specialisms which can justify a different rate and margin.
I’ve got this great idea – what do I do with it?
As well as finding out your idea’s strengths and weaknesses, talking about it helps to make it more real and gives you an opportunity to test it and explore angles you hadn’t thought about. Menta was the first place I turned to when I was thinking of starting Bay Tree. As well as sound business advice, you can also tap into their workshops and in some cases funding.
How can you protect your reputation and enhance it?
Be mindful about what you put on social media. Also show an interest in the people you meet and actively listen. Lastly and quite simply do what you say you’re going to do in order to build trust.
What can you do about competitors who have an unfair advantage?
Play to your own strengths. They may have a larger infrastructure, but that can mean they are less nimble and flexible on adapting their offering and prices. You may have a smaller team, but that can mean you have a tighter bond and come across as a friendlier partner to work with.
How do you network to your advantage?
Quality over quantity. Having meaningful conversations is much better than surface level interactions and quick card swapping. You get a better sense of people that way and they may not be your target market, but don’t underestimate their ability to be in a position to recommend you to others.
How do you shut off from the business?
Delegate! Even if you are a team of two, having someone else to keep the wheels of your business turning helps to give you peace of mind to switch off. Having boundaries is important too. It is really easy to be available every waking hour, but you won’t be as productive and will also lose perspective which is really key when running a business. Allow yourself to turn your phone off.
How can you cut costs without negatively impacting your business?
Look at smarter ways of working. This can mean streamlining time consuming tasks and using cloud-based software on monthly subscriptions, so they are easy to turn on/off if your business requirements change. Also consider working with outsourced partners who charge for time spent rather than on a fixed basis.
How do you move your business to the next step?
It comes back to one of my previous answers of learning to delegate, having trust in who you are working with and not micro-managing. Running a business doesn’t mean that you have to do everything; you are responsible for ensuring the business has what it needs to run efficiently and there is a difference. Once others are tasked with doing the day-to-day work, you will gain the headspace to plan and navigate the growth of your business.
Jane Cattermole has previously been recognised by the national VA industry as ‘VA of the Year – England’ and is now a speaker and judge at industry events. She is also Vice Chairman of Menta – the Suffolk Enterprise Agency
Photo of Jane taken by Warren Page