The magic of letting go of SMEs

Many people mistakenly believe that starting a business is the hardest part, but for Dom Sutton it wasn't. He reveals why hiring the right people at Pumpt Advertising and learning to let go so the business can fly itself was the most challenging part.
Serial entrepreneur Dom Sutton explains why letting go of Pumpt helped the advertising firm flourish.
Serial entrepreneur Dom Sutton explains why letting go of Pumpt helped the advertising firm flourish.

Most business owners don't find time to work on the business? How have you managed this?

We have a clear succession plan in the business - our sales director will be taking on a general management role shortly. We are also formalising many of our processes, and putting clear training and assessment guidelines in place to help eliminate the 'check with Dom' element that the business had in the past.

How will you use your 'freed-up' time 'on the business'?

I'm using some of the time to find better ways to attract new business via digital channels. Many initial enquiries come through our website, and I want to improve how we frame our offering to get the right kind of business coming to our team.

What prevented you from creating the space to do this sooner?

Initially, I struggled to delegate.

It is different delegating as a manager working for someone else compared to when it is when it is your money, and you are a start-up. I also had trouble finding the right staff - the right mix of knowledge, sales ability and soft skills around clients.

Ultimately it was easier to hire and train younger staff than it was to adapt other people to the special way Pumpt works with clients. I call this the 'Incubator' strategy; the downside is it takes some time and you never really get clear of the day-to-day. The next challenge was finding a key right-hand person.

What are some of the challenges you've faced since start-up?

Finding the right people, with the right attitude and the right mix of skills. We are in a tough business (most of our clients are retailers), and they demand a lot - we need resilient people. Identifying resilience early on is difficult.

We have had no challenge in getting clients, but we had to get better at being clear on what we are and aren't, and bowing out of situations that will not achieve the right outcome for either party.

The other challenge for me personally has been about focus. As an entrepreneur at heart, I've started a few businesses on the side. Some I have sold or closed, but eventually, you realise that if you had focussed on your core strengths, to begin with, you would have a more solid business - the biggest mistakes I made were the best lessons.

Finally, working with suppliers because they invariably make mistakes. Our trials in trying to protect our clients and our reputation have enabled us to build a robust way to pre-empt supplier #fails and implement mechanisms to remove the impact on our workflow and customer outcomes.

What are top five mistakes business owners make at this stage?

Based on my experience and observations of my entrepreneurial colleagues, I would say:

• Not being clear enough about expectations
• Failing to monitor against expectations and give feedback in the right way
• Not formalising 'values' early enough and hiring only to these values
• Handing over, then micromanaging competent staff
• Handing over too quickly to staff that aren't up to the task, or don't enjoy extra responsibility

What's your biggest fear for the business?

I am at the point where I am not fearful of any impact. I am committed to advancing my journey and that of my team, and sincerely believe the business will be better as a result. If the business cannot run, or grow, without me there day-to-day, then it is not a healthy business. I am confident that it is.

What sacrifices have you made over the years to achieve business success?

I didn't take any holidays for more than ten years. I didn't pay myself at all for the first six months and have spent many hours when others are curled up in bed working on client plans, putting together ideas and plotting the next big thing.

Over this time, I have started a family but haven't allowed myself the freedom that owning your own business should give you.

- NZ Herald

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