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Small business: Labyrinth - when to ask for help

Small business: Labyrinth - when to ask for help

Author -  Gill South - NZ Herald

Vaughan Reed, managing director, Labyrinth Solutions, talks to Gill South about using expert mentors to keep the business strong.

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Labyrinth Solutions is a website design agency that has been building websites and creating long-term partnerships with businesses in Auckland and throughout New Zealand.

We are the company behind the renowned Content Management System (CMS) - Contegro, which last year was listed by US based CMS Report as one of the Top 30 CMS products worldwide, out of 1,700. We deliver a premium web service to marketers of leading New Zealand brands. Our Web to Cloud service focuses on fostering the on-going relationship and removes the financial burden generally associated with larger website projects.

When to ask for help

I'm a strong advocate for seeking out expert advice when needed and over the past 12 years in business I have worked repeatedly with a selected number of specialist business mentors.

There have been four main stages in our business where we have called on business mentors to help take our business to the next level.

Our first involvement with a business mentor was very early on. It was a business mentor offering proven 'franchise-model' business advice. They were strong believers in establishing documented business processes and manuals for staff, which we implemented initially but the most value came from the on-going relationship we had of meeting with the business adviser once a month over breakfast. Topics covered a broad spectrum and included large issues, like employing the right person, to small things like, how to write a flow chart for office systems. These meetings gave us a chance to tick off issues quickly, rather than dwelling on them, and work on the business to focus on what was important for moving the business forward.

Strategic financial advice

As the business grew, the need for more strategic financial and accounting services marked the second stage of business mentoring where we sought out an accountant that offered a higher-level of mentoring advice. Bi-monthly meetings look primarily at financial forecasts with a business sense at the foremost of our minds, where we can confidently plan ahead for the future. This continuing relationship with our accountant / business adviser is working extremely well for our business and provides us with the confidence to grow the business with the fundamentals in place around cashflow and forecasting.

Advice on export markets

Our third stage of working with business advisory was when we were investigating establishing an export market in the United States for our commercial website content management system - Contegro.

We wanted expert advice to guide us from the outset rather than spending years haphazardly testing different marketing strategies. As it turned out, our six months of researching the market with our business adviser showed us that the timing was not right to be entering into the US market saving us a lot of time and money in the long run.

Sales and marketing help

The downturn in the economy brought about the need for our recent business mentor who is a specialist in sales and marketing. As a high end web design company specialising in working with marketing managers of leading New Zealand brands at a time when marketing departments budgets were being slashed, we had to adapt our business to suit the current economic climate.

By working with a sales and marketing specialist who was able to provide an outsider's perspective, we have reinvented our business and delivered a unique solution offering in the New Zealand market.

Tips on mentoring

You don't know what you don't know so by bringing in expert advice it helps you to keep your options open and to grow your skills as a business owner. But more importantly, having outside advice helps you to put things into perspective and stay focused on the big picture, not the day to day activity.

As a small business owner with often limited resources, you tend to get pulled into the day to day running of the business with little to no time for essential strategic business planning. By bringing in the mentors that I have to date, I have benefited greatly from the input of an objective outsiders perspective.

But I think the biggest benefit I have found, comes from having to set time aside each month for business planning and being accountable for the agreed action items and outcomes. We continue to have scheduled meetings with our accountant / business adviser bi-monthly, Mike Atkinson of Hayes Knight and we have bi-weekly strategic sales and marketing meetings with Mark Windust from Mastermind.

Our original mentor, Garth Partridge, and specialist software exporting mentor Richard McLean from Concept to Market, are always available to run ideas by and we regularly catch up over coffee or a beer to discuss how we are progressing.

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