Matt: Being a business minder sounds like an intriguing occupation. Can you please explain what your services entail as well as your experience in this field (and related ones).
Nick: Having been in a small business for over 30 years here in Perth working 6 days per week and long hours, I know how difficult it is to get break for small business persons. Business Minders offers a quick response to small business owners who are planning a well earned break from Perth like an overseas holiday or who are faced with a sudden crisis such as unexpected ill health or family business conflict or sometimes even a death.
Who do they turn to? It's normally an adviser such as an accountant or lawyer or trusted friend. But they in turn have their own businesses to run and own clients to look after so they can't relocate from their offices to run the business even if they do have the experience.
And some people make the mistake of turning to an employee or even a family member. But it's not always wise to reveal business details to an employee and we have found that asking family members to step in often causes conflict. This is where we come in as we can react quickly.
New customers who don’t know us often appoint their accountant or financial adviser to keep a watching brief over us to ensure that we are sticking to the services that have been outlined in the Letter of Appointment which is signed at the start. Often we are required to submit a weekly email report to the customer or their representative on the activities of that business.
I have been running my own manufacturing business here in Perth but also have experience in importing, sales, marketing, retailing and of course accounting.
Matt: As a result of the resources boom, new businesses have been popping up all over Perth. Has this growth resulted in more work for you? Or is it mostly established businesses that require your help?
Nick: As we all know there has been an explosion in people starting their own businesses here in Perth in recent years. Firstly there are not many large companies outside the resources sector in Western Australia to offer employment as most head offices are on the east coast and secondly with many services being offered online now -- eg bookkeeping, accounting, and consulting -- many are now home based businesses.
With the heat coming off the development projects in the resource sector many firms are downsizing so there are a number of people looking to secure their future in their own businesses. Our work up to now mainly comes from established operations particularly in the commercial areas of Perth such as Cannington, Welshpool, Myaree and Osborne Park to name a few.
But with the trends mentioned we expect assignments from new owners, many of whom have never been in business before. We can offer them help with setting goals, identifying their target markets, and marketing their products or services. And of course ensuring the businesses performance from time to time.They also find our fees very attractive as we also operate from home with low overheads!
Matt: I'd imagine that there are many reasons people engage your services, such as sickness, stress, urgent requests to travel interstate or overseas. Which are the most common and how do you react to them?
Nick: Obviously we are normally engaged well in advance when overseas travel is planned. This gives us time to complete the Critical Information List which gives us vital information like bankers, accountants, lawyers, staff wages etc, and then to outline the duties expected to be performed which are listed in the Letter of Appointment.
But when being engaged following an emergency there are other routes to take such as completing our Emergency Contingency Planner and our check list called First Steps in Dealing with a Critical Illness. The Planner has a contingency check list such as identifying the client's legal responsibilities such as employment contracts, leases, contracts of supply and insurance policies.
This is followed by pinpointing immediate financial commitments to see if these can be extended to ease the pressure so we contact suppliers, bankers, landlords, industry associations and also important customers. You would be surprised as to how co operative they can all be when they are presented with the problems faced coupled with a plan to fix it over a given period.
The Dealing with a Critical Illness questionnaire covers such matters as deciding what to do with the enterprise, who to inform about the illness, developing short term strategies, appointing Powers of Attorney whether general ones or Enduring Powers of Attorney (both Financial and Medical) and of course advising the client to review their Will.
Matt: Are there any particular kinds of business that you receive most work from? If so which ones are they, and why do you think this is the case?
Nick: We find that we are best suited to general businesses rather than specialized trade orientated or professional services. These include retail outlets, news agencies, importers, agencies, country businesses, delis, wholesalers, caravan parks, nurseries and such.
Clearly we can't step into the shoes of tradesmen such as electricians, plumbers etc. Clients may be scattered throughout Perth from Joondalup to Fremantle and even down the coast to Bunbury.
Matt: I'd imagine that an ability to empathize and understand people would be very useful in your profession, since many would be coming to you in a somewhat stressed state. If so, how do you deal with these people?
Nick: It all depends on who contacts us to to fill the gap. In many small businesses, the other partner who may be a business partner or a silent partner or the wife or husband often doesn’t know much about the business so when they contact us they are clearly stressed and don’t know which way to turn. If we can't discuss priorities with the business partner due to his or her illness or something worse then we talk to their accountant or other adviser to fill in the background and to outline what service is required and for how long.
Sometimes the period of engagement can be longer than expected when the business is being put up for sale. It doesn’t take too long to get the facts together with the help of those in the know and to then draw up an action plan. This normally eases the stress levels!
Matt: Still on the issue of stress: I'd also assume that managing another person's enterprise, even for a short time, could be stressful for you and your staff -- particularly if it is a chaotic operation. So how do you cope with these pressures?
Nick: The first thing is to get their trust and this is sometimes hard especially if we are being engaged for the first time. Spending some quality time with them on location is essential and asking the right questions and pinpointing their concerns is important.
Then we tackle each area of concern and outline how we can address it in their absence. Quite often their business adviser or accountant attends for a second opinion. Often clients lack organizational skills such as time management and prioritization which we can help them with, too. Running one's own business can be lonely!