We hear a lot about big corporations, with hundreds, or thousands of employees, but what about the self-employed, or small business owners? Every company had to start somewhere. From farmers, to carpenters, blacksmiths, cobblers and merchants, throughout history, working for yourself has always had its advantages. So what can companies that started small, tell us about running a business?
Never stop innovating
The success of many long-running businesses comes down to their ability to keep developing ideas. Producing new and improved versions of their product, or service, keeps them at the forefront of the market. It’s hard to believe that the chocolate giant Cadbury, emerged from such humble beginnings. Originally a grocery store in Birmingham, the business took off in 1831, when John Cadbury bought a warehouse. By 1842, the company was selling 16 different types of drinking chocolate.
In 1866, Cadbury introduced a new form of processing, by buying a cocoa press. This was a turning point for the business and helped to develop it into the global success story it is today. New products included Easter eggs and chocolate bars. From the logo, to its advertising campaigns, the Cadbury brand has continually evolved. Rationing in World War II made development difficult, but the company emerged stronger and hasn’t stopped growing since. Searching for something new for your customers, will make sure you keep up with competitors and don’t become complacent. The Cadbury story is testament to the fact that survival and coming up with new products, often go hand in hand.
Adapt to change
Technology continues to develop at a rapid pace and although in many ways international trade has made the business world seem a lot larger, it’s also far more connected. The internet has changed the way that we do business. Transactions can be checked on the move and we can delegate entire workloads to smart software that will do the hard part for us. Sage offers 24/7 support to businesses and software solutions that automate everyday tasks. From customer relationships, to payroll and finance, taking the hassle out of the paperwork, is a great tip for running a business.
Companies must adapt to the changing business environment around them. The Industrial Revolution changed the face of business in the UK and new technology coming in has characterised business development throughout history. Businesses that reevaluate their goals regularly, do better. One of the key ways that a company can stay successful, is by thinking about how its customers needs are changing and what they can do to meet those needs.
For hundreds of years, UK businessmen have looked beyond their shores for commercial opportunities. In the 17th century, merchants set out for the West Indies and America. Products including woollen garments, were sold to the colonies. The British Empire opened up many avenues of trade and selling overseas still boosts the British economy.
Finding international customers is one of the most effective ways to protect your business. If sales fall in the UK, your business stands more chance of surviving, if it has an overseas back-up plan. Businesses that start selling internationally, are more likely to be growing and make an average of £100,000 more in the first 18 months after they start exporting. Many small businesses receive enquiries from overseas customers, but by proactively targeting new markets, your business will benefit. Even if you don’t offer a product, you can still find a market for the services your company offers. Expand your horizons and see where it could take you.
Employ the right people
Throughout history, businesses have been passed from generation to generation. RJ Balson & Son is the UK’s oldest family business. Started in 1515, when Henry VIII was on the throne, the butchers has been run by 25 members of the same family. The business model has changed very little, although a horse is no longer needed to make deliveries.
What family businesses tell us, is that working with someone you trust, that you can pass your knowledge on to, is often the starting point for a great company. We can’t all employ family members and we probably wouldn’t want to, but business owners can ensure they surround themselves with a loyal, committed team. Finding people who share your vision, whether as a business partner, investor, or employee, is key. Making the wrong hire is time-consuming and costly, so putting the energy into getting the right team behind you, will pay off in the long run.
Get running a business right, by following in the footsteps of successful companies that have embraced new ideas and not been afraid to expand. Taking what we know works from the past and bringing it into the 21st century, is the best way to secure a long-term future for your business.
Looking for more advice? We offer a range of business courses that will put you on the right path.