Facts About Your Business
Name(s) of Business Owners:
Tadhg and Lousie Henderson
Number of Employees:
Business automation software solutions
What Supports Were Provided by The Local Enterprise Office?
Training courses (SYOB, MDP), seminars, priming grant, employment grants and business expansion grant
1. What year did you start your business and what can you tell us about those early days and how it all started?
We incorporated in June 2009, a point in time when Ireland was at the depths of the recession. It really was a case of if we can make this work now, it will work any time! We were trying to convince small businesses to spend money on what was for them an unproven concept – to invest in Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software to help them focus on sales and increasing revenue. Not an easy task when you consider that the reality at the time was quite the opposite – sales were going the other way for many! But a few key wins helped us establish a reputation as a respected supplier with a local presence.
2. What were the high points and low points in those early days, when you were a start-up?
In the early days, anything that got enough revenue to pay the bills and left enough to pay ourselves was a high point! There were months we didn’t get paid at all, we got stung on one or two contracts when we really couldn’t afford it – but in each case the mistake made was also a lesson learned. A couple of big wins early on proved the business model for us, and put enough in the bank to fund the next few. As we started trading with no finance other than a small bank loan which we somehow managed to convince Bank of Ireland to grant, it really was a case of surviving day to day in the beginning. That eventually became week to week, then month to month.
3. What was your big ‘break-through’ moment?
I’m not sure there was one break-through moment, but a succession of what at the time were big contracts for us proved the concept and we began to think we had something that would work into the medium and long term.
4. How did the recession impact the business and how did you respond?
As we started trading during the recession we didn’t know any different I suppose. It worked because ultimately it really had to – I had left my previous job and there were no jobs out there to be had. So there was no other option but for this to succeed!
5. Post-recession, what do you do differently in business now?
It might be a cliché but we like to think we focus much more on quality than price. Proof of this is our recent award of Best Vendor Demonstration at ERP HeadtoHead 2016 – where we pitched against some truly massive organisations including Microsoft, SAP, Oracle, Netsuite and others. We can’t compete on a level playing field with these corporate giants, so we change the game. We can do what they can’t – provide a tailored, personalised service to all of our customers giving them ownership of the contract and putting real names and faces behind the business. It works really well, as evidenced in the award.
6. Is the company benefitting from the recovery?
Very much so. Many of our Irish customers are export focussed, as are most of our UK clients. They are doing much better and can therefore afford to resolve some of the issues in their businesses by implementing much more efficient processes through our software systems.
7. Your Local Enterprise Office (LEO) has supported your business. Tell us about these supports and what impact they have had?
Over the years we have availed of various LEO supports including Priming Grant, various Employment Grants, Business Expansion Grants, as well as mentoring and courses provided by the LEO. These have been invaluable tools which have in no small part contributed to our success in building a sustainable business. In particular the Employment Grants have allowed us the cash flow to take on people earlier than would have been the case otherwise. This effectively meant that these employees were in a position to add value sufficient to cover the cost of their employment before the cost was incurred. Without this assistance we would definitely have struggled to grow at the pace we have.
8. Are you optimistic about the future?
We remain cautiously optimistic about the future for the economy as a whole, despite the challenges the EU faces as a result of the Brexit vote. As regards our own business, the market we operate in is growing at a pace, and just about all of the alternatives to our product now are provided by large multi-national corporations. This provides a great opportunity for us as we can supply a personalised, tailored service through web technologies. It is proving an increasingly popular approach with clients as evidenced by our recent Best Vendor Demonstration at Lumenia Consulting’s ERP HeadtoHead.
9. What’s next on the business agenda for your company?
For 2017 and beyond, the plan is more of the same – continue to grow and acquire more clients both here at home and in the UK. Over the coming 12 months we expect to expand our workforce to take on some IT graduates and possibly one or two project managers. Cash flow continues to be a limiting factor in terms of expansion, we are looking at all options including potentially investment to address this as it is now the biggest constraint preventing us from growing the business to the scale we are looking to achieve.
10. In the future, what will be the biggest challenges facing Irish businesses?
The biggest single issue over the short to medium term has to be Brexit – I think though that the major factor here relates to currency exchange rate fluctuations as it is in the economic interest of both countries to ensure trade is allowed to continue as normal. Aside from this, there are a number of factors which we largely have no control over – growth in the world economy, influence of the US with Trump as President, impact of EU policies with regard to taxation, budgetary controls, etc.
11. What’s the best piece of advice you got about running a business?
Don’t worry about taking on too much work at one time! Seriously in the early days we used to stress about what we would do if we got two, three or four projects in at the same time. Right now we have about 20 ready to close by year end. But they won’t, if four of them happy we will be more than happy. Of much greater interest is the work we actually have. Someone once told me that 90% of the problems we anticipate never come to pass, and conversely, 90% of the problems we have were never anticipated!
Your ‘Top Tips’ for success
- What are your ‘Top Tips’ around attracting new customers and keeping existing ones loyal…
- Always listen first, pause and then respond. People do business with people. People with a problem like to be heard and like to feel they have been listened to. It’s even better if you can answer the problem but if you can’t there and then, you stand a greater chance of getting the chance to respond later if you show you understood the problem.
- Rather than explain, show them how it is done. These days with web technologies, online meetings can be held to show software or Powerpoint presentations, spreadsheets, etc. A picture paints a thousand words.
- Don’t be afraid to say “No.” If someone asks for a specific feature, if you don’t have it – don’t try to cover it up. Say something like “I can’t give you that, but here is how you could approach it” and show them an alternative. That way you have dealt with the negative issue but made a positive out if it.
- Keep talking to your customers. Give them a call, drop into them if in the area. Have a customer day. Many business owners only see cost in these things but the repeat business over the years will pay it back many times.
- What are your ‘Top Tips’ around keeping on top of costs and cash flow?
- When cashflow is tight, don’t be afraid to ask your customers nicely to pay early. Sometimes they will do so without a problem. If they won’t or can’t though, don’t push it.
- Ensure payment terms are specifically agreed with new customers and are stated clearly on all documents (quotation, order acknowledgement, invoice.) An invoice should have a payment due date which is clearly labelled as such.
- Agree longest possible payment terms with suppliers where it does not affect pricing.
- What are your ‘Top Tips’ around getting the best out of your team?
- Within reason be flexible. As a small business you can’t give the benefits a large company can. But you can let someone go home early to watch their kids in the Christmas play, for example.
- Reward good work.
- Hold regular meetings to keep everyone informed as to what is happening, where the business is going, etc. Every Tuesday at 10 we have our office meeting – rarely does it last more than 15 minutes. Everyone knows when and where – if you’re not in you get a copy of the minutes.
- Ensure everyone gets the chance to try something different every once in a while. We have had software developers at a trade show looking for new customers. Sales people working on customer solutions, accounts doing marketing.