Always be optimistic, even when things aren’t going well
2007-07-14 15:31:40 -

Founder of O’Briens Sandwich Bars, BRODY SWEENEY, continues his series on how to cope with the stresses and strains of starting a new enterprise 

Aim for long-term success
Lots of businesses seem like they are a licence to print money. The dot-com boom was a typical example. It appeared that you only had to add ‘.com’ to your name, dream up some wheeze that said you had ‘first mover advantage’, and you were off. However, I have seen very few businesses that have enjoyed overnight success, and some of the great success stories of our time come from companies that had a miserably difficult and protracted start-up period.

In our business, we understood that what we wanted to build would take time and that this would come only from making our franchisees successful. Knowing that, I wasn’t in a hurry (although it would have been nice if it hadn’t taken quite as long as it did!). Slowly and carefully, we tried to bring the right people into the business and do whatever it took to help them achieve profitability. We needed them to know that we would do just about anything for them, and that they would be treated respectfully and seriously.

It takes time to get your business right; to make mistakes and recover from them; to discover what you’re good at and what you’re not so good at; and to bring in people who can complement your strengths.

Understand the key drivers for your business
There are particular aspects of the running of your business that are critical to its success. For Jay Bourke and Eoin Foyle, who rescued Bewley’s on Grafton Street, it was understanding what their peer group wanted from a mid-market bar-and-restaurant business. For Ronan McNamee and Pat Loughrey, the guys who started the Cuisine de France business, it was providing a really good-quality par-baked product which could be finished off in the local corner store.

Understanding the key drivers for your business will show you what you should concentrate your management time on – even if that means ignoring what’s biting you on the bum at that particular moment.

Actively listen to customers, staff and suppliers
Getting caught up in the day-to-day hassles of running an organisation can divorce you from what’s actually happening on the ground. You need to take time out to listen to what your stakeholders are saying. In the middle of the clutter, there may be a message for you which it’s important you know about.

Forget about what the competition is doing
It’s easy to spend your time watching what the competition are up to, particularly if your business is not doing very well. I can remember standing outside a competitor’s café in Mary Street wondering what he was doing to fill his place up that I wasn’t. I got very upset about it for a while and wasn’t able to do anything positive about my own situation.

I was paralysed by the success of the competition; when I reacted to what they were doing, it was in a knee-jerk fashion. Their prices were lower, so I reduced mine. It made no difference. They were doing cooked breakfasts, so I tried cooked breakfasts. Our sales actually went down. We stopped doing cooked breakfasts.

Meanwhile, I lost sight of the big picture. We were supposed to be the best upmarket sandwich-and-coffee house in Dublin. Cooked breakfasts were no part of the game plan. 
If you concentrate on your own game and don’t lose sight of your reason for being, you’ll get it right eventually.

Employ the best professional advice you can afford
Usually, when we’re starting up in business, we don’t have many contacts in the legal and financial world, and we end up with family members or friends of friends as advisers. You may be lucky and end up with someone really great this way, but you might not. The lawyer who handled the sale of your house, for example, may not be the best person to handle your business affairs.

Your professional advisers, apart from providing a legally required service such preparing accounts or agreeing a lease on a business premises, also act as informal mentors to the business.

Your accountant, for instance, may also act for businesses in a similar field to yours and be able to let you have the benefit of that experience (without, of course, breaking client confidentiality). An accountant can be an invaluable source of advice as you plan and execute your business strategy. Like any mentors, they also have the great advantage of being dispassionate and not involved with your business on a day-to-day basis.

Professional advisers come with a health warning, though. They’re not all as expert as they think they are, and they can give bad advice as well as good. Tread carefully, and remember that it’s your decisions, rather than somebody else’s, that have got you this far.

Next week: Always be optimistic – continued

n Taken from Making Bread – The Real Way To Start Up and Stay Up in Business by Brody Sweeney, published by Liberties Press – buy at and get a 10 per cent discount
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