Starting and running a business is hard. Not hard like getting straight A’s at school, or slightly tricky like trying to find your first job or getting that promotion. No, these things are easy by comparison. Running a business is hard like running a full marathon, in the rain, uphill, with your legs tied together while people (customers and employees) throw large heavy objects at you.
Fortunately when Dean and I first set up our software house Atlas in a shed in my parent’s back garden we didn’t comprehend the enormity of our decision to set up a business. I assured myself and those around me that in a couple of years we would be sunning ourselves in the south of France. What a moron. Only after eight years of hard graft, mistakes, more mistakes, and the odd spot of luck here and there do I finally feel that we can write knowledgeably and comprehensively on the subject of running a business and managing staff, and boy did we learn the hard way.
A brief history of Atlas
Prior to Atlas Dean and I worked together at a large law firm in London, UK. Dean could code to hack things together and make them work in a way that was magical. I was a humble IT manager but had a knack for selling and ran a couple of small businesses on the side. I believed that Dean’s potential was wasted, and asked him over a cold pint if he would like to come and work with me to create a software development company. He agreed, and Atlas was born.
We set up shop in the shed in a cold September 2007, and I networked my ass off. I attended every chamber of commerce, Federation of Small Businesses, and BNI meeting I could find and slowly but surely we started to secure income. In the second year we hit £250k turnover and hired staff to ease the workload.
By 2011 we were making good money but our staff turnover was high and it seemed we had hit a plateau. I started to feel burnt out. When one of our best programmers quit I realised it was time to change my approach. I had to find a way to better balance my attention between external forces (sales and customer) and our internal operations (policies, processes and managing staff).
Only now three years later in 2014 with two successful products (Staff Squared and Fundipedia) driving our baseline income, a team of incredibly happy staff, and a clear vision of the future am I sure that we’ve struck the balance. We are by no means perfect, and still have a way to go, but we at least know what we don’t know.
We're now in the incredibly fortunate position that we get to hand pick which bespoke projects we work on and even better, we're profitable! How we achieved this utopia is detailed throughout this guide.
So what’s the book for?
So why did we create this guide? Well we want to give back to small businesses. We want to share the lessons we've learned over the years so that other business people don’t have to learn the hard way.
This book isn’t academic, and won’t cite high level management principles such as Tuckman’s stages of group development. We’ll leave that to the folks who spend more time talking about managing staff than actually doing it.
Instead we’re going to use our real life experiences to give advice that will fundamentally impact how you hire, manage and develop an optimal team.
If the lessons we've learned the hard way help just a small handful of business owners to avoid pitfalls and ultimately achieve success faster and with less pain we’ll consider this book a success.
Good luck to you and all of your endeavours. Without further ado let’s talk about the first and perhaps most important aspect of successful management - the recruitment process.