Tim Sell of Crossprint Ltd, Newport
You have to re-equip as technology progresses.
In the printing industry, technology has leapt forwards. First with mechanical innovations and then with computerisation. There has been more change in the last 15 years than the previous 150.
Many years ago, you only bought new machines when the old one wore out. And sometimes you gained new technology when you did so. But now, it's the improved results that new equipment gives you that are important.
It's vital to keep up-to-date. But each decision is still a risk.
I wanted a small version of the new digital printing machine to try it out in parallel to our existing litho press. I had to buy a small company that owned one first. That all took 5 months and a 3inch file of papers to arrange. And we did a one-year trial.
And it proved good so we went ahead and bought a big one that we still use. It was worth the delay as we had to find new skills, new money and a new print machine manufacturer.
As the boss, you physically live the business. All day you are trying to reduce the risks and improve your service. Some of my best letters are written at 3am!
Planning and Patience Win
Commentary from Dave Simon
A hundred years ago, most of us followed parents into the same factory or family business.
Modern working life allows a lot more freedom. More youngsters want to be entrepreneurs like Richard Branson, and build a company.
But the route to success is not quick.
While most self-employed people start in their thirties, more start employing in their forties.
Partly this may be because banks seriously prefer mature business owners to lend money to.
Most new businesses are started by practical people. Very few have academic training in business skills before they start. Passing exams does help, but it's not essential. Some owner-managers have no educational qualifications at all.
Only one-third have experience of managing a business before they start their new venture.
But half have already worked in the same industry. Most had jobs in other companies – very few go from self-employed to employer.
So what seems to work well is to plan a few patient steps ahead. Get a job in an industry you enjoy. Gain experience. Learn from mistakes (yours and other people's!).
Take all the training you can. Watch for opportunities. Gather contacts. Learn finances. Ask for advice. Then start when you have everything ready.
Continuing Tim Sell's experience
I trained as an engineer. I worked out on the North Sea oil platforms, climbing hundreds of feet above the sea. That was fun but it was dangerous!
Coming back to land, I needed to change direction. I answered an advert for a print salesman job and started learning about the printing trade. I was rapidly getting promoted and I could see I wanted a successful career in the industry. I was ambitious and always thinking about what I wanted to do next.
My First Company
The opportunity to buy the company I was working for came up. It was very outdated and required major investment. But my wife and I were young and enthusiastic. And we built it up from £50K per annum to in excess of £1.2 million in eight years.
It turned out that we were too dependent on one international customer. They had around half of our output, which was great while it went well. But their CEO changed and the new man decided to place the printing order in Eastern Europe.
So almost overnight we had to scale down. That meant closing down part of the operation, laying people off, selling machines and so on. It was very difficult.
I have always been pretty determined. I keep going even when I should stay away from work. In 1994, I was diagnosed as having Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Throughout an extended period of diagnosis, I kept working through numbness that ended up over 80% of my body. I had headaches and burning pains, and my eyesight was partially affected. It was very frightening.
But I kept my grip on myself and decided that 'I control it, it doesn't control me' as the title of the book I'm writing about it says. And after changing my attitude, visualising health and changing my diet, the numbness slowly reduced to 7.5% and my eyesight improved greatly.
I take that attitude in business too. Nothing scares me. Sure, I get frustrated sometimes. As they say: 'there is always an engineering solution' to any problem. You just have to keep working it.
Profit Is Your Security
Profit is key! There is no reason to be in business if there is no profit.
I enjoy providing employment for staff and I enjoy providing a great printing service for customers. I willingly take responsibility for the business.
I was very proud to be awarded UK Printer of the Year recently. That's a confirmation of what I set out to do. To me, sustainability in business is vital – it's no good being famous for growing fast and then burning out.
And, given my age and health, I want to retire with security. The MS is greatly helped by sunshine, so holidays abroad are important to me. Sad to say, the NHS doesn't pay for those, so I have to keep savings for my retirement.
I am completely self-taught as an MD. I guess many of us are. My method of keeping ahead is to go and look at competitors and suppliers, and learn from them.
Many aspects of improving our efficiencies are about people management, not about our machines. Skills, communications and engagement are key factors for me. I was impressed when I saw closed circuit TV screens somewhere else – everyone knew what everyone else was doing. It helps people belong to the team.
I really want everyone in the team to be involved in helping customers. It helps customers feel that they are backed up by a team. And it helps the team provide the best answer for the customer.
Success Is A Slow Slog
We've had customers for 20 years. That's a good sign – we earn that loyalty through our relationships with customers. It speaks of a high level of trust – and you just can't keep business going without trust.
I'm convinced that if you keep trying new ideas, one in a hundred helps. Success is a slow slog of continual improvement.
Even though no-one mentored me, I think we have to train our young. It's our responsibility to help them do the best they can. We let them do the task and then we review the results together. We don't do training-first-then-practice. We do have-a-go and then nurture improvement.
The Island Is Shrinking
Our economy here is slowing. We are losing manufacturing, which is the place where all value-building starts. The Island is in danger of becoming dominated by service industries. That's not necessarily bad, but it needs to be kept in perspective.
Like many others, I want to help improve the economy. But it is not going to be easy! I am interested in ideas that help change attitudes as well as make money. We have more chance with that double-win strategy, if we can find the right ideas.
As a manager, you learn to keep on trying. We need to manage change proactively here. We need to bring in new skills to keep at the front. We need to interest our youth in exciting opportunities. The challenge for us older business owners and managers is... how to do that?