Alex MacArthur: Improving small business processes
Alex MacArthur helps small businesses improve the financial and operational elements of their business as a platform for growth.
Tony Radford 0:05
Welcome to the Small Business heroes podcast where small business owners tell their story so we can learn from their experience. My name is Tony Radford. I hope you enjoyed this episode.
Alex MacArthur 0:17
Hi, everybody. Today's guest is Alec McArthur from one up consultancy. You can find Alex at one up consultancy.co.uk Thanks, Alex for coming on the show. How are you doing? Oh,
Unknown Speaker 0:32
yeah, I'm good. Thanks. Good.
Unknown Speaker 0:34
Great. Now, Alex, I wonder if you could tell us about what you do.
Alex MacArthur 0:38
So, I am basically I'm a business consultant and independent business consultant for small businesses. And my background is as a business owner and director for a while I was part of a family business so for nearly 15 years now and and after having built that business up and sold it the main premise of my business is to work with all businesses who need help and support with the business side of the business, so I pass on my, my experiences both good and bad, of being a business owner and to the to current small businesses and just help them get control of everything really. So that, you know, they can focus on growing the business and focus on the things that that actually goes up really. And so I think, you know, I find that I work with the trades and construction sector is a sector that can work quite a lot with that, that's a sector where, quite often these guys are overwhelmed with work. And one of the biggest challenges is just keeping control of it all really, and you know, having enough capacity in the business so that they can, you know, they can they can grow and they can take on more and more work. And rather than just being flat out all the time, the way that I do that really is helping them with the financial side of things and the operational side of things by implementing cloud software products. So I'm a zero accountancy software certified advisor I also partner with a software company called sim Pro. And that is a job management system which is, is built specifically for the trade and construction sector and integrates with zero as well. So the two, the two products together and form a full end to end solution. So, so yeah, so that's pretty much me, I'm what I do.
Tony Radford 2:19
Now, it sounds like a really interesting and very useful service you provide there, Alex, what would be your ideal size client?
Alex MacArthur 2:29
Well, the good thing about him the software products that are used, and they can be implemented into a business from you know, any, from anything of a one man band, right, the way up to, you know, maybe 200 stuff or more maybe so anyone in between, there really is, is ideal for myself. And it's interesting as well, because we've cloud technology, you know that there are lots of people who aren't using any kind of software systems at the moment. So it's a bit of a no brainer for them really to jump on board and Start taking control of what they do. And, but equally, that there are lots of businesses out there who are very well established, they've grown to a decent size. They do have control of things, and albeit with systems that are maybe a bit outdated, so maybe they're they heavily reliant on spreadsheets or pen of paper even, or maybe a software product that just hasn't been updated and is sitting on a dusty server in the office somewhere, constantly needs maintain, and it just isn't valued for money anymore. When we talk about ideal customers, it's, I have quite a broad range really, which is, which is quite good.
Tony Radford 3:31
Yeah, that's great. Well, if you could tell us what your one of your biggest business challenges has been and how you how you actually overcame it.
Alex MacArthur 3:38
So the way I got into business really was my parents started, it was a fresh produce food shops, so basically fruit and veg shops, they moved that into a wholesale business was just supplying the food service sector and just as they made that change, I was entering my teens, so I started working with them. Basically just learned the business from from the ground up, and then to a point where, you know, stage in my life where, without twisting my arm to take it over off him and, and it was everything was great at that stage taking over it was quite exciting, good opportunity for myself but one of the biggest problems I hit straight away was parents and my dad in particular, he really struggled to let go of the business. It was his blood, sweat and tears that he put together over the last 2025 years or something. And it was really difficult to implement change into the business. And one of the biggest things I used to say to him all the time, or biggest things used to shout at him all the time, I'd say was just because you've been doing this for 30 years, it doesn't mean you're right. Because there was always new ideas. There was always different ways of looking at things. And that wasn't to say I was always right, but I didn't always see things the same way. So so that was a massive challenge that we had to kind of overcome because we all at the same angle. We just had different ways of getting there. And you know, there was only ever going to be one winner because I was I was the future of the business and so I'm trying to get my dad and my mom to understand that and let go and let me implement my things into the business so that we could grow and be successful. And that was that was really difficult that it took quite quite quite a number of years to really hammer home what I wanted to and in the business sounds really tricky, or you're still friends?
Alex MacArthur 5:18
Absolutely. I mean, I think that that was the main thing we had them. We had some some massive arguments and some, you know, some real slanging matches at times, but it was it was all based around the job. We did used to then go home and the next day was was another day. I mean, of course, tensions were tight from time to time with them. We all recognise that that the reason why we were having these disagreements was was because it was for the benefit of the business and the job and also in our own lives. So it did get quite fractious, like I said, it did get to a point where I nearly walked away a few times. But you know, having having that that persistence attitude and trying to stick out things when things were tough. It's such an event. Bottom pass of being an independent business, or small business? It really is. Absolutely.
Tony Radford 6:05
No. That's great. Thank you. And what's one thing that you wish somebody had told you when you started out?
Alex MacArthur 6:12
Probably to do with risk. And that if you want to grow your business, you have to be prepared to take some risk. Like I've intimated already, you know, I learned most of what I know about business through my parents and my parents went through the the 80s, in Liverpool, but a difficult time for, for businesses in Liverpool at the time, and my mom and dad ended up being quite risk averse. And so that attitude rubbed off myself and it just meant that our growth wasn't slow as such, it just wasn't as fast as it could have been. difficult. So yeah, if someone if someone had said to me, Look, if you really want to go for if you really want to make some money, you know, just start taking a bit more risk.
Tony Radford 6:51
Interesting. Richard Branson was a big risk taker. One of his books was titled, screw it. Let's do it. Can you give a tip for anybody who is weighing up a risky situation right now,
Alex MacArthur 7:05
it's all about, you know, it's those dreaded words, risk assessments. And we tend to think of a risk assessment in regards to health and safety and things. But, you know, it's lots of things in life, it's as long as you're looking at everything, you sit down, and you're, you're mapping out the best case scenario, worst case scenario and everything in between, you know, it's usually it's usually the, the only thing you can do is just try and predict what's going to happen. And I'm playing around with that, really. And that's where the risk comes in, you know, you can identify, you know, terrible things that might happen as a cause of your decision. But, you know, that's when you need to decide whether to take that risk or not. Some people are very risk averse. Some people on the other end of the scale are quite happy to just go for it and put everything on the line. You know, it's usually the most successful people at some point in their life that had to take quite a big risk. So yeah, there's there's no, I would say there's no real tip, as such, that can give you an answer. It's just more about them. You know, weighing it up for yourself, but I do think you can learn to be a better decision maker Do you think you can, over time as you make more decisions, you get a lot better at making decisions and experience.
Tony Radford 8:11
Yeah, when I opened my business in Romania in 1999 2000s, I couldn't measure the risk. It was such a unstable place then. And to be honest, I didn't really know what I was doing. But it was, for me, it was a case of just being totally committed to, to doing it, whatever happened. Yeah, you know, and that just basically saw me through all the difficulties and there were many to be honest. But yeah, I think commitments are ready. Like you said, you know, you just do the assessment. But ultimately, you have to take a step forward, then you and then you need to be committed to it.
Alex MacArthur 8:48
Yeah, that's it. You just got a bit of belief in yourself sometimes having year and, you know, you don't want to be doing things blindly. But ultimately, I think for me as well, it comes down to how much control you've gotten this. This is one of the reasons that Do I do with businesses and I'm trying to help them get control? I feel if you've got us stable environments, if you have control and you know, it really minimises the risk, you know, you stop, you stop just doing things on a whim, planning and you know, trying to really weigh things off. It just makes it so much easier when you've got control of things. That's something I've always tried to keep in my life. It's like, well, it's again, you know, being a being an independent business owner in these difficult times with the Coronavirus, as difficult as it is, at least you're master of your own destiny to a certain extent, you know, you're not in a job where you, you're waiting for somebody to either lay you offer or whatever. So yeah, control is it is a big factor, I think as well.
Tony Radford 9:40
Yeah, absolutely. And you're talking about the future. What's the next step for your business?
Alex MacArthur 9:46
I think so. I need to really work upon my marketing and lead generation. For sure I'm working on how to I don't like cold calling so much. It's quite nice to get referral into a business but I do need to work out a way of capturing shooting clients and, you know, in a different way. So I'm looking at reaching out with personalised letters, trying to put some kind of video together like an explainer video right now. And then hopefully being able to read him a website soon as well. So yeah, so that's something I'm working on at the moment, just just to try and grow my business. I'm pretty busy, but I can't be busy early. So at the moment, it's just small steps. So I think I think I do have another idea of how to help independent trades, trades people looking at launching a service where, you know, maybe using third party lead generation companies. Yeah, I think one of the reasons that they don't want to get success from items that they don't manage the opportunities correctly, but with a little bit of support, I think it could be quite lucrative for people. So so that's a little idea I'm mulling over at the moment. It's just something I've got a job at work on first before I can launch it properly.
Tony Radford 10:50
Yeah, that's great. It's interesting hearing you talk about writing to people while you're actually writing what's in the letter, what's, what's the aim of the letter.
Alex MacArthur 10:58
So I've discovered that you know, a lot of my clients, but a lot of my potential clients, they have the problems that I know I can help them with. But I think quite often they don't tell people about them. And it's not something that they would readily admit to. Whereas I think a personalised letter, you know, people, people are more likely to read that as well, you know, we don't get many letters these days through the posts. So, whatever comes through, when you might, you may take one look at it and throw it in the bin, but it doesn't meet, you know, at least they've looked at it. And whereas, you know, quite a few years back, you just got a bundler licence, and you've thrown off them away without even looking at them at all. So, so the lattice is a reason because I think, yes, it's personalised, I think they're more likely to read it, you know, post is something but dying, dying off, let's say so think people, again, are more likely to read it. And it's just really about, you know, asking them, do they have the duty have problems, just keeping control of everything to be fine that you know, that they're struggling to grow because they're at maximum capacity? funnily enough, one of the questions I asked people is basically how do you issue an invoice is it pen and paper is it a Word document you've got as far as using accountancy software? If he's any of those three, then then they can take further steps forward, really. So I've had a few indicators to help help people in my network, try and find me clients. So it's about structuring the data so that, you know, I can pick on a few pain points, and that hopefully, they want to get in touch with me about
Unknown Speaker 12:17
you know, it's very interesting. I think there is a future for for write contacting people through the post. Are you at the stage yet? Whether you have thought about following up those letters?
Alex MacArthur 12:27
No. So I'm just at the stage now where I'm just trying to put them together and trying to work out, you know, do I need a few templates for a few different types of businesses? Or can I get away with with one so it's really just going to be a socket and see job? Yeah, I don't want to be issuing 200 letters at a time I want to be doing it in blocks of maybe 10 2030 at the most maybe, you know, and then and then following up from that, so I think it'll be a letter and then maybe a phone call or an email or what again, it's gonna have to be a little bit of a trial and error really, because of course, you know, you don't get any feedback. You don't know how it's being received. So, unfortunately, it's just a bit of a shot in the dark.
Tony Radford 13:04
Well, good luck with that. I think it's a great idea, especially for your b2b type work. Yeah, thanks. So if someone gave you 500 to spend on marketing, how would you spend it?
Alex MacArthur 13:15
So interestingly, I've actually been in this situation and part of it a networking group where we have a small budget to spend each year, and we've got about 700 pound in the pot. And it's actually been really difficult to actually identify one thing that would be worth spending the 700 pounds on, there's actually a few of us that it needs to be spread across. So it's a little bit different books and we have identified maybe some kind of training to do with social media and such as LinkedIn that we may be able to generate some leads from but I think if it was if I if I was just giving 500 pounds now I would certainly be putting it towards, like I say, some kind of website upgrades to try and bit more of a funnel really a lead generation lead capture funnel so when I could just get things out. They're a little bit easier, but then you know, would be weighing that up as well. In the past I've bought leads, which has actually worked quite well for me, I've been able to buy five qualified leads for 500 pounds. So, you know, that would always be an option, but it's a bit bit of a shortcut that which is, which is not ideal. But yeah, that's probably what I do.
Tony Radford 14:17
Okay, thanks for that. You mentioned there being a group of you, I was going to ask if you have a business mentor or support group
Alex MacArthur 14:25
So interestingly now and again, one thing that happened with my previous business with the family business was I ended up selling that to a large companies at a PLC, who bought me out and what they did was as part of the purchase process was they obviously came in and looked at absolutely everything within the business and you know, said look 90% of it, absolutely fine. And but you know, the other 10% Have you tried this Have you tried that and there was some things that that came out of that exercise that really for me was a hand in hands moment it was a god oh god, you know, how, how did I not see you You know, the simple changes would have made a massive difference. And all it was was just having somebody from outside my business come in, take a look at everything from a fresh perspective. And, again, it's back to seeing things in a different way. Some of the things that he recommended, we tried and failed up, but we just not quite gone far enough, or we just don't think just a little bit differently that that didn't quite work out. And it taught me that really, you know, looking back, I definitely should have had somebody who wasn't in the day to day mire of the job. And they could come in from time to time and you know, they were part of your team, but they were far enough away from it to be able to pass the different perspective on things really so so I'm a massive fan of people having a business coach or a mentor or having like a non executive directors and I think the ads absolutely massive value. At the moment in my business. I've not gone down that road and purely because I just I haven't had the money really. I've been keeping it keeping all the money from myself from a family but I'm lucky because I do a lot of networking and I'm in the BNA. I'm in a national network of business. advises coaches mentors anyway, so a lot of people around me who I can call upon for help and advice if needs be, and and that's another thing in business as well it is really just to not be scared to ask for help. You know, it's good to have those people around you who can help you out when you need a bit of guidance.
Tony Radford 16:15
Yeah, definitely. I think having an outside perspective is so incredibly vital. There's just a whole range of reasons why that's that's true in my opinion, also a little bit accountability doesn't go amiss either. I'm in a weekly accountable accountability thing there's just a simple process but I find it so useful even down to what I'm going to plan for the following week and all that kind of stuff. But we can you know, if you're if you're a micro business or freelancer, you can get very much tunnel vision. You can go wandering off a path that's going to waste six months of your life other people can often see in and say actually, if you consider this
Alex MacArthur 16:52
Yeah, definitely mean even if even if the person you're speaking to whoever is advising you even if, even if what they tell you you totally disagree with and you don't Take their advice, at least it gives you a sense of perspective. And you know, you've ruled something out. So it can, it can move, sometimes it can reinforce your original way of thinking. And that can be just as useful, really. So I do actually have one client at the moment where I do provide this, this kind of mentioned service myself. And they've made really great strides forward. It's always been their decision that they're the ones ultimately, who have to make the decision on whether they listen to me or not, and lots of things they haven't listened to me on to the detriment at times as well, which has been interesting. So one thing that we did recommend that we did the wholesale business, they never had any kind of online sales activity. We had a little bit but not much. And I recommended to them, you know, that they really strengthen that area, just to really diversify the business. And it's turned out through this Coronavirus lockdown that that's been the thing that's propping them up. So that massively grateful that, you know, somebody came into them one day and said, Look, you know, you need to spend a bit more money on this. And funnily enough, I had that discussion with him about risk. I said, take some risks, get some money, you know, I don't think you lose on this and I know As it's turned out to be an absolute brilliant save the business. So that's not me being a genius that was just me coming into the business and just saying to them, Look, this is what I think. Do you agree and they happen to agree and yet it's a good results.
Tony Radford 18:12
Fantastic. Yeah, great result for them. And I imagine they're delighted.
Alex MacArthur 18:16
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah.
Unknown Speaker 18:18
Something if you could give us one actionable sales tip,
Alex MacArthur 18:21
I think one thing I've learned over the years, again, this is through, through doing the big networking really, really reinforced it to myself, you know, we did this a lot in the previous business as well. You know, we get told a lot or the general business advice that's out there is to identify your type of customer and the avatar, so to speak. And sometimes what what I think we forget about is actually, if you can think of an existing business that you want to work with, and then reach out to them, you know, the, make a list of of the companies that you want to work with, and see if you can do something with them. You know, don't wait for them to See your marketing efforts and and hope that they come to you do do what I'm doing, you know, write a letter or an email or phone call or do something to get their attention and, and see if they'll engage with you. And it's so simple and I just think a lot of people do it. It doesn't have to be cold calling, you can just be making your presence known. And you'd be amazed how much work and come up with that, really. So. Yeah, that's one thing I'd say.
Tony Radford 19:25
Okay, that's really great. Well, that's it for now. Alex, thank you very much for coming on. If you like, would you like to give us your website address again, you can find all my details at one up consultancy co.uk. I also have my social media pages as well. I'm on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Okay, that's brilliant. Thanks, Alex. Have a good rest of the day. Thank you very much YouTube. Part of the secret to achieving true success in business is in focusing on the specific things that result in sales and revenue generation. If you are a small business owner or Freelancer and you would like to break through overwhelm, gain focus and grow your business, visit my practice business.com
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