- Develop a clear plan
- Find the right staff
- Have policies and procedures
- Don't be afraid to ask for help
The business – Visual Graphics
Hector Henriquez began Visual Graphics out of his home garage in 2004. The business creates signage for companies out of a range of materials, and Hector learned the skills by putting himself through night courses, after he left his job at a small engraver.
'I was always really interested in signage,' says Hector, 'and I had a feeling I wanted to run my own business, so I did night courses in things like business management, and taught myself how to use the right computer programs, while I waited for the right time to get things moving.'
As for any sole trader, the first couple of years were particularly tough, but Visual Graphics gradually earned a reputation for quality. As demand – and the workload – grew, Hector invited some family members to join him in the business. Today, Visual Graphics has six employees and fields up to 15 business inquiries a day.
The challenge – taking time away from your business
Hector has also been proactive in sharing his knowledge and skills, to ensure that his staff are all multi-skilled and can continue to operate without Hector at the reins. 'I learned from my old boss that you need to make sure everyone can do more than one thing in a small business. It’s important to overlap each of the jobs, so that when I or another staff member can’t be at work, the business will continue to run.'
As a small business owner, Hector has worked some long hours – sometimes 15 hours a day when the business was getting on its feet. He has also shown enormous personal dedication, only taking holidays when the business closes for two weeks over Christmas. 'There’s not enough time to be sick or to take a holiday,' Hector says. 'I try to work through anything; especially because we’re family orientated, I feel that I have a stronger obligation to not let my staff down.'
This commitment has ensured that Hector has not lost more than five clients in the eight years he's been operating. However, Hector understands the reality that even business owners need to take a day off sometime, possibly at short notice, and the business must continue to run.
The advice – some good ideas for sharing the load
Hector has this advice for other small business owners grappling with how to successfully manage time away from the office.
Develop a clear plan
Have a clear idea of where you want your business to go and how you’re going to do it. This includes developing a capability map, so that you can identify where the gaps are your business and you can find the right people to fill those gaps in your business. Finding the right people is so important. 'You're only as good as the staff you have.'
Find the right staff
Make sure you get the right staff on board. 'Your staff can make you or break you. Having a team that you have confidence in and that you trust to run your business when you are away is crucial. If you don’t have that, you'll never leave the office again.'
Have policies and procedures
Writing a set of manuals for your staff to follow means your quality of service remains high. 'I think every small business should have a series of manuals around everything they do,' he says. 'Having information clearly logged for staff to refer to is priceless, particularly if you can’t be there to answer all their questions.'
Don’t be afraid to call in external support when things get tough. 'We have, at times, called in external support like a bookkeeper, to help us when staff were away. Of course you can’t do that for every role in your business, but it’s a great help in some cases.'
Through building a great team of staff, producing proper procedures manuals and implementing good systems, Hector can now see a future where he can take much needed time away from his business. Before that, 'We estimated it could cost us around $10,000 if I were away for six weeks.'