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Growing Your Small Business With Alec McPhedran


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Alec McPhedran works with a small business to discuss ideas for moving to the next level. The article is from the Royal Bank of Scotlands in house magazine for clients.

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Growing Your Small Business With Alec McPhedran

  1. 1. business bootcamp “Your team will help you plan your future” After 15 years at the top of the media sales tree, Deborah Maclaren has taken on the challenge of running her own sales agency. Business Sense gave management consultant Alec McPhedran just one day to take her business to the next level The mission at the company’s smart South London offices, Alec is Having worked for some of the UK’s biggest publishing keen to find out about Deborah’s business processes companies, selling advertising in their magazines and and existing strategy. on their websites, there is not much Deborah Maclaren “Our current strengths lie in our accountability and doesn’t know about media sales. After the birth of her communication with clients,” explains Deborah. first child, Deborah decided that running her own “Virtually all agencies I’ve dealt with in the past are words: Andrew Geekie imAGes: richArd cAnnon; jenny lewis company would give her the work-life balance she hopeless at this, and clients are left wondering what is Name: Alec McPhedran wanted, so on 1 April last year she launched The Media happening, with little or no knowledge of what the Title: Associate Sales House, an agency that provides outsourced sales agency is actually doing on their behalf. I believe that consultant with expertise to magazine and online publishers. While honesty and accountability is always the best policy. the Chartered business has been going well so far, the company is “However, I do worry that I’m struggling to find time Management reaching a crucial stage and Deborah is aware that her for everything I need to do, and I don’t feel that my current Institute Experience: Was lack of business experience may be holding her back. business plan would stand up to scrutiny because I’m previously head of We sent Chartered Management Institute associate being too reactive and not planning enough.” learning and sector consultant Alec McPhedran to meet Deborah and her Alec is quick to reassure Deborah that these are talent development staff and share his expertise in strategic development. common problems when starting a new business. at Channel 4 “I’m a huge believer in business plans,” he says. “I think and is a Business The company that you have to be calculatedly reactive at the moment. Link adviser and a Prince’s Trust The Media Sales House has had a successful start to life, With the current market, it’s not possible to plan creative mentor Deborah with having picked up several contracts in less than a year, in detail three years in advance, but you should be Website: her Media Sales and Deborah now employs six staff members. Arriving reviewing your business plan constantly – I look at House team 32 | Business Sense bBusiness Sense | 33
  2. 2. business bootcamp Business: The mine every three months to make sure my objectives are being met and I’m still on track.” “You should know your margins and have a fixed starting point,” he says. “You might want to start at 100 per cent above your try to find out Media Sales House break-even level and then negotiate slightly down from Founded: April Time management there. However, to work out the exact margins for your what competitors 2009 by Deborah One of the areas that most concerns Deborah is time own business, you should try to find out what competitors Maclaren Staff: Six full-time management. “I manage people and clients most of are charging, or if there is an industry average. You might employees Business model: Media sales agency my week and when I get any spare time I look at the accounts, network and deal with office issues,” she says. “I know that these things are important, but I’ve not are charging ” find that you could charge significantly more while still undercutting larger competitors.” selling advertising in magazines and had time to make a detailed business plan.” and it isn’t in the best shape at the moment.” Mentoring websites Alec believes that the only way to solve this problem However, Alec suggests that their involvement might Something that is common to a lot of SME owners Website: is by being strict. “What a lot of small businesses don’t benefit Deborah: “You might find that they help you during the early stages of their business is a feeling of themediasales do is invest in the future, and by that I mean invest time. define your goals and it should make them feel even isolation and needing to do everything themselves. While For the first six months you tend to obsess about getting more a part of the business. Getting the team together discussing support networks with Alec, Deborah reveals money in to pay the bills, but after that point – where for just half a day to hear their thoughts on what the that she lacks independent advice. “My only real support The Media Sales House is now – you need to make some business should be doing in the coming year can has been through my NatWest Relationship Manager, commitments to future planning. For small businesses, provide you with a great deal of insight.” Greg Lewis, who has been on the phone to me lots since that should be something like 5-10 per cent of your time I started. He’s also been to visit us here at the office, so a month when you say no to anything else that crops up.” Market awareness he’s helped a lot, but I haven’t had any formal mentoring.” A key area that Alec feels Deborah could benefit from is This is something that Alec feels would help take Staff understanding her business margins and how she prices Deborah to the next level. “First of all you should look at The Media Sales House currently employs two junior her services in relation to competitors. She explains that the businesses you work next to,” he says. “A lot of them members of staff, who Deborah is training, along with although she has a definite pricing strategy, she is will have been around for years, so even though they four more senior salespeople. Alec asks her if her largely unaware of how her profit margins compare with might be in completely different industries to your own, employees have been shown her business plan or asked other agencies, and doesn’t know if she is at the high or the owners will have a wealth of business knowledge. for their input into it. “I’ve never considered showing my low end of the scale. This information, Alec explains, is “You should have no qualms about asking people for business plan to staff,” admits Deborah. “Probably something that will prove useful going forward. advice – they are often happy to share their experience because I didn’t think they would learn much from it “In order to negotiate prices for a service, you need to and you may be able to give them some insight into their own business. Another route is Business Link, who can offer you a local mentor to give you regular support.” 10-seconD tiPs Conclusion 1. Always set aside time Having gone through Deborah’s business in fine detail, both she and Alec are in good spirits. “Deborah is a for planning – it’s a crucial talented, bright individual,” concludes Alec. “She clearly investment in your knows what she’s doing and where she would like the business’s future business to go, but she’s got a few questions about the 2. To be able to negotiate overall business issues, like getting her objectives down prices, you’ll need to know on paper and planning how to achieve them. your margins and have a “She would also benefit from a good mentor who fixed starting point could help her see things from a wider perspective. 3. Make the effort to find out Hopefully if she addresses these issues she’ll find what competitors are charging growing her business that bit easier.” 4. Share your business Deborah was equally positive about her ‘bootcamp’ plan with employees – it experience. “Alec really challenged me. I am definitely may help you as much as WRITE IN going to take his advice on board. Once we’ve hit our revenue figures from recent contracts I’ll sit down and it inspires them If you feel that your business could dedicate time to looking at our business strategy. 5. Don’t forget that advice benefit from a day’s free expert “I also feel that a mentor would be of use to me, so is available. Making the consultancy, and you would like to feature in the next Business I’m going to get on to Business Link as soon as possible. effort to find a good mentor Bootcamp, send us an email to Alec has also said that he’ll keep in touch, which is really could make a huge difference nice as I value his experience and opinions.” to your business 34 | Business Sense Business Sense | 35