This week, a look at small business owners upskilling themselves and the impact those experiences have had on them personally, as well as their operations.

Daniel Sadler bought the Newmarket branch of Office Products Depot (OPD) three-and-a-half years ago, and is now also a director of Silver Fern OPD.

What opportunities did you seek out to educate yourself as a business owner when you first bought your business?

I've got a business degree from Massey, where I majored in finance, and I spent nine years working in finance in London. One of the motivating factors for me in moving into business ownership was to learn new things; I don't think I feel fulfilled or happy unless I'm moving towards something new and improving.

When I bought this business I spent the first year-and-a-half just getting my head around how things worked. But what that did was highlight for me some real gaps in my understanding of how to run a business - things like how to manage people and resources, and time management. So at that point I thought a good option was to get some training and learn about where I could add more value.

What training did you do?

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I'd been really impressed with the EMA's service and had put a couple of staff members through their courses. I met with one of their directors who talked me through one of their courses that ran for three months and covered a broad range of topics a business owner should know about. I'm time poor, like most business owners are, so I didn't spend a whole lot of time researching, but it seemed like it would cover my bases.

Given you're time poor, how did you manage to take the time out of your business for training?

The course ran from 4-7pm once a week for three months, so having it scheduled helped me plan for it. There were times when I felt like the business suffered from me not being there; it's a really busy operation and it's not in my nature to find it easy to say goodbye to everyone an hour early when you can see there's still a whole lot of work to do. In reality the team picked up the slack and, at the end of the day, me not helping out for an hour once a week wasn't the end of the world.

What did you get out of the course?

It gave me confidence to make some hard, strategic decisions and I implemented a lot of the ideas that came out of the course. So, for example, we did a business plan as part of it, which forced me to put together some plans and goals. We already had some, but presenting a plan as part of the course really focused me on making it as relevant as possible.

From that I set some strong goals and shared those with the whole team so we could tick them off each month and that gave the whole team a sense of wanting to grow our sales. In particular, we put together a project around getting new business, where we bought a telemarketing list to get the correct contacts and focused an hour a week on getting in front of those people.

Once the staff could see the amount of growth we could get from that project, it took on a life of its own. There were also some aspects of the course that made me look inwards more. Rather than looking at what the staff could do for me, I started looking at what I could do for staff and how I could be better to get the most out of them.

It wasn't all positive. At times I did get frustrated with such a broad course that there were so many ideas that I wanted to implement but just didn't have the time. So I really had to prioritise the areas where I thought I could get the most impact and make the biggest improvements.

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COMING UP: Brand partnerships can be a powerful way for businesses to leverage off each other, so what are some local examples of brands from different small businesses teaming up? Why and how have they done this, and what impact have those partnerships had on both businesses?
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What tangible results have you seen in the business?

I've personally been told by staff that this is the happiest team they've had and we also won dealer of the year - beating 35 other OPD dealers in the country - for this past year. Our sales growth last year was 9.5 per cent, whereas in previous years it had been flat. Our growth outperformed all other OPD dealers except three.

What's next for you in terms of further education or taking on other opportunities to upskill?

I only finished the course last year and still have loads to implement from it, but I'm now also looking at corporate governance courses. OPD has a board made up of about half a dozen dealers and an independent director and it's always been part of my plan to apply to get on the board once I've had some successes in the business.

Again, that's just about always learning; we spend so much time in our own businesses, so I think that would be a great way to see how other people with similar businesses work and do things differently.