WHEN you run a business, it’s often easy to get distracted. As things grow, your time gets diluted across all areas of your company, often being distracted by things that seem important at the time but really aren’t.
What colour do you want the carpet in the new meeting room? How many water bottles do we need this quarter?
Is Sharon from accounts allowed to take a half day because her mother’s aunty is having a cat? You get my point. All this fog can cloud your day-to-day working life and lead to you taking your eye off the ball.
I’ve certainly seen it in my business as we’ve grown from a company that just produced Car Dealer to one that now arranges events for ourselves and others, produces thousands of words a week of editorial for global websites, newspapers and dealers, does PR work with car manufacturers, engages in video production and even makes TV programmes.
My time is now pulled from pillar to post every day, making decisions I often really shouldn’t be involved in, or sticking my nose into things I really should know better to avoid.
But as an owner-operator, someone who started this business 10 years ago with a personal loan, I can’t help myself from sometimes getting involved in the nitty-gritty.
It’s in my blood and it’s because I care. The danger is you can fill your time with the small things and forget about the bigger picture – and that’s when the wheels can really fall off.
In the summer, I took a moment to sit back and reset. I reorganised my priorities and concentrated on the things that could really make a difference to my business. That was quite simple really: bringing in more money.
This mantra even flowed down to my day-to-day to-do list. I now draw a line down the middle of the pages of my notebook.
On the left are the things I need to do today that have the potential to make the company money; on the right is everything else. I concentrate on the left-hand list and if I knock one off the right, then it’s a bonus. It’s little things like this that can shuffle your brain into a new way of thinking.
It’s very easy to forget the importance of good old-fashioned sales when you’re leading a company, especially as you become so far removed from the art.
In car sales, I can imagine it’s always at the forefront of your mind – but as the boss of your dealership, how often do you actually go back to the floor? I suppose it all depends how big your dealership is, but getting into the mix, whatever size your business is, can teach you important lessons. Or, better still, refresh old skills.
Recently, I’ve been doing exactly that. As you probably know, we work very closely with TV’s Mike Brewer. In a few days’ time, we’ll be celebrating the very best in the used car business with him at The Brewery in London for our Used Car Awards. But this year, we’ve also collaborated on our first consumer magazine. Called Mike Brewer’s Ultimate Guide to Used Cars, the bookazine hit the newsstands in August and promptly sold out.
Far better return
Now, I won’t bore you with the inefficiencies of the retail newsstand magazine model – suffice to say it’s pretty poor – but it does mean selling mags direct to the consumer via our website, eBay or even face-to-face gives us a far better return than what we get from newsagents.
With that in mind, we’ve tried to sell as many as we can online – eBay proving to be the best way to get printed material into the hands of the consumer.
In fact, with Mike’s worldwide fan base, we’ve sold copies all over the world. But with stock of around 1,000 left clogging up my office, the opportunity of Mike appearing at the Classic Car Show in Birmingham for three days was too good an opportunity to miss to sell the last of them.
So, with that in mind, I packed the boot of my long-term Volvo up with them and headed north, spending three days flogging the magazines Apprentice-style to anyone and everyone on the show floor.
Most people in the office laughed – they couldn’t believe that I’d be bothered to give up my weekend to sell magazines for a fiver a time. But I did.
I was reminded that most people’s default answer when you try to sell them something is ‘no’, but what they really mean is ‘tell me more’.
I remembered that you need to explain to them how good the deal is, remind them they can’t get it anywhere else, create demand, urgency, and then close.
I lost count of the number of times I sold to someone who started the conversation with ‘no’.
Some people said no three times, after each part of my pitch, but still bought by the end. It was quick-fire selling, market trader style, with a 10-second elevator sales pitch. But it worked – I sold 857 copies, the team here saw I’ll do anything to make this business a success, and I got a reminder of the raw, gritty side of sales.
If you haven’t done that for a while, why don’t you dive back in and give it a go?
James Baggott is the founder of Car Dealer Magazine and chief executive officer of parent company @BaizeGroup, an automotive services provider. He now spends most of his time on Twitter @CarDealerEd and annoying the rest of us.