The causes and cures of small business stress
Starting and running a small business isn’t for the faint of heart, and often it’s the stories of those who’ve made it which inspire us to keep going.
After all, for every win there are countless failures as we attempt to make a living from what we’re passionate about.
So tales of success draw us in, to see if there’s anything we can learn from their journey we can use in our quest.
This brings us to Gary Stanton, air conditioner business owner who went from apprenticeship to winning awards.
He fills us in on how he managed to conquer sleepless nights and the one move he made which made his life easier.
The Pulse: Why did you decide to start your own business?
Gary: I left school at 15 to do an apprenticeship with a large air conditioning business before cutting my teeth at several other air con companies.
I then moved to the Gold Coast in 1978 to work as a subcontractor until the main company I worked with went bust. This event was the catalyst for starting my own business because I felt I was in the right place at the right time, with the right skills.
The Gold Coast was experiencing a development boom and I saw an opportunity to strike out on my own and started Hinterland Air Conditioning in 1986.
It was a business that won a major award at the Gold Coast Business Excellence Awards in 2000 which was actually handed to me by Dawn Fraser – so it’s been a pretty good ride.
The Pulse: It can’t have been all glittering awards handed to you by legends — what were the early days like?
Gary: Exciting and terrifying all at once! While I knew a lot about air conditioning I knew little about running a business so it was a very steep learning curve.
I was very lucky because I found a couple of savvy business people at Mitsubishi (one of our major suppliers) who generously gave me guidance and offered solid business advice.
When I was starting out I remember spending long hours in the office working on tenders when everyone was having fun – so trying to balance that with spending time with my family was tough.
The Pulse: Did you have any sleepless nights?
I would always bite off more than I could chew. I’d then stress out when I realised I didn’t have the resources to do the work, and the tension would mount when we got behind on projects.
My advice would be to learn that it’s okay to say no, or, make sure you’ve got all your ducks in a row before you commit to something.
The Pulse: What helped you rest easier?
Life is much easier when you’ve got the right staff by your side. In my experience, many small business owners try to become subject experts in everything, and it wears them out.
I’ve always hired smart, trustworthy people that can drive the areas of the business they’re good at so I can focus on doing the same.
When I found these people, I made sure we nurtured them professionally and rewarded them appropriately because they were our greatest assets.
For example, I hired First Class Accounts Bookkeeper Megan Conroy nearly 11 years ago and she still works with me today at my new business venture. She really helped whip the business into shape.
I can’t stress enough the value of getting a good bookkeeper.
The Pulse: What would be your advice for those starting out in business?
Prepare a business plan so you can lay out your vision and track progress against your goals.
A lot of people think they’re a waste of time, but if you don’t know where you want to go then how can you plan your journey to a good destination?
Also, while it’s not always easy in practice, remember to work on your business and not just in it.
By that, I mean keep looking for more effective and efficient ways of running and promoting your business, and be open to new technologies and ways of thinking.
Gary Stanton is an air conditioning expert, award-winning business owner, and director at Stanton and Son Mechanical Services.