What do yoghurt and great businesses have in common?

May 16th, 2013

This week, I had every intention of using my blog to give my insights on the budget recently handed down by Wayne Swan. I was going to sum it all up, the highs and the lows, and consider its impact for all of us. But I’d barely even made a start when I realised that this was already looking like an awful lot of hard work. And besides, within hours of the budget being released, reviews by expert analysts were already indicating that small business had been bent over once again.

So let’s leave the budget to the accountants of this world and look at something else.

Looking back over it, you might say it was all a bit melodramatic. I’d lost a person who I saw as pivotal to my business, and I was pretty down about it. I’m only human, and I also believe that one of the key factors that helps makes small business both successful and enjoyable is the human touch. I’m not someone who believes that you can just apply the right business systems using any staff at all and expect a brilliant result. I really value excellent staff.

The other thing that really stung at the time is that up until that point, I’d had no turnover of staff at all for ages; it was easy to take the situation as a very personal blow. I received lots of feedback regarding that blog that indicated it was a really popular topic, in fact it got quite a conversation started. Furthermore, when I visit small businesses and ask the owners what some of their greatest challenges are, the one that always crops up in the top five is ‘attracting and retaining great staff.’ In fact it’s right up there with concerns over cash flow.

With all this in mind, I thought it might be worthwhile taking a look at this subject again, and revisiting some of the important actions you can take in your small business in order to attract great staff and keep them for as long as possible. As always, this is my blog, and these are my personal opinions and experiences; I don’t pretend for a moment to know it all.

Have a great culture

Ah, culture. Aside from that culture found in yoghurt, it’s often used as a great business buzzword, and it can be a very hard thing to define. If you’ve been reading my blogs you’ll know that I’m really not a fan of corporate bullshit, and I do all I can to avoid buzzwords, but the fact of the matter is that I don’t really know of a better word to describe a great work environment – it’s your culture.

How do you create a great business culture? Perhaps once again just like yoghurt, it comes down to having a decent ‘starter’, and everything simply growing naturally from that point. Immodest of me as it may be, I think my own business has a pretty good culture, and I think a good culture starts with a decent leader. I enjoy coming to work, and so do my staff. We work hard, we laugh a lot, and we all get excited about the growth of the company. And if you’re sitting back and starting to think I’m something of an egotist, let me balance things out for a moment; I reckon part of the reason I’m a good judge of great business culture is that I’ve also been the owner of a previous business that had a rotten culture! So I know all about the contrast between the two. A poor business culture sucks the life out of you, so do all that you can to make yours great. It’s a tough thing to put a finger on just what it takes, but it starts with a business owner who isn’t arrogant or ‘bossy’, but rather genuinely interested in his or her staff. In short, don’t be shallow, be authentic…and that’s really a topic in itself.


Pardon the French for a moment, but FIFO is one of my favourite acronyms – Fit In or F**k Off. Crass for sure, but very to-the-point, and very memorable, too. And I like the political incorrectness of it because it reminds me that this isn’t some airy-fairy matter of motivational talks to your staff reminding them how important it is to be strategically aligned and personally empowered and to share a corporate vision…FIFO cuts through the crap very nicely. I’m not suggesting you add this thought to the interview process, or walk around reminding your staff how important it is, but I dothink that as a business owner you should keep it in the front of your mind. Who fits in well with the team and where it’s headed? Who doesn’t? If someone doesn’t, you know what needs to be done. Just as surely as a great leader and good examples will grow and propel a business forward, a single staff member who is a bad fit will wreck your business culture in next to no time.

Give staff responsibility

Micro management does nothing at all to build a strong, confident team. Most staff will thrive in an environment where they’re given the freedom and responsibility to perform on their own. I’m not suggesting that you abandon them completely and leave them to their own devices; obviously training, systems and processes need to be in place to ensure that roles are carried out as they should be. But give your staff some space – after all, who wants the boss looking over their shoulder every minute of the day? Give your staff a good degree of freedom and responsibility, and nine times out of ten you’ll find that they grow quickly in their roles, become more efficient, and are soon looking for even more responsibility. Achieving things independently is very rewarding, after all.

And those are my thoughts and opinions for another week. As for my own business, although I’m certainly not about to rest on my laurels, I think that I have some of the above points pretty well sorted. And getting some of these points right has actually been a key part of attracting some good, experienced people to come and work in my business, too.

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