In what areas have you looked for business coaching over the years?
We have looked for coaching in the areas of staff management, cashflow management, systems improvement, KPI structure - most areas that SME's need to discuss. I have a degree in design, and while I did do several business papers, I have learned that business is a discipline and often it is great to have a fresh approach to the way you are doing something.
If you have had individual coaching and gone on Icehouse programmes as well, what are the differences?
We started on a group programme with the Icehouse. The way these are structured is there is a general workshop and then you are broken down in to smaller action groups that meet every two weeks. In these action groups, you are teamed with similar sized businesses to discuss through problems. This was a great way to start as you learnt how many other business owners dealt with similar issues, shared contacts and results.
The major difference for us in having a one on one coach, has been the ability to hone in on specific areas that directly effect our business as opposed to the more general approach taken in the programmes. Each has its merit and for us now, having someone to chat with when we need on specific topics has been a real benefit. Being able to draw on experience but then work out with our mentor exactly how and what way we are best to apply it to our business, has been very helpful.
Where have they helped you specifically?
When you have a business it grows organically and often you get so busy working you forget to stand back and take a look at the whole business. They have helped by working through a complete strategy for the business that will take us through the next 10 years and beyond. A business mentor makes you think on a different level about your business. A key component of this for us, has been the change from the owner / operator style of management whereby we lead and do every aspect of the business ourselves, to a true SME model where our staff and management team drive the business. This is an ongoing process and is something that takes some adjustment, The biggest adjustmeant has been in changing our - Mark and myself's thinking!
Do you have an advisory board for the business? If so, do they play a part in coaching you and husband Mark Thomson?
We don't have a formal advisory board - rather our business coach, accountant and our family play a large part in providing advice and guidance. We are accountable to our coach with regard to the strategic aspects of the business; and to our accountant regarding our financial reporting. My family was self-employed and ran a textile business for many years. Mark's family has been in menswear retail for over 56 years. So we are fortunate to be able to pick up the phone and talk through issues and opportunities as they arise.
Would you look at giving your senior staff business coaching?
Absolutely - we took two of our taylor management team to a team day with the Icehouse and we have also had one of the Icehouse mentors come on-site with our whole Auckland team to undertake a training session. These have both been great opportunities to be able to share ideas and plans with our staff.
Do you think you will be using business coaches on an ongoing basis?
Yes, I think one of the most interesting parts of being part of the Icehouse programmes, is how many successful businesses have used their mentors and training systems for five to ten years. I previously always thought coaching was a one off, or a set timeline to achieve your current goals, but now I can see how valuable this extra experience has been to us and I understand why other businesses around us have continued their business coaching.
Any tips for SME owners who have never tried a business coach?
Never underestimate the value of having a sounding board and to have someone to be accountable to. In general SME owners are only accountable to themselves and can sometimes get bogged down in the everyday details. We get emotionally attached to our businesses.
We would also suggest that you interview prospective coaches to ensure that they fit with you and your business. Coaches and mentors often have different strengths and it is important to determine what is right for your business and for you at that time. Look around you at businesses you admire and ask them if they suggest someone. The Icehouse had been behind several businesses that I admired and that was why we chose to talk to them.
Next week: Hiring a new staff member is a big step for a small business. They need to be reassured that the company can afford it and that the position is absolutely necessary for its growth. Tell us what a new person has done for your business and any tips you might have on your workforce planning.