A few days ago, I met a client of ours who is always sunny, smiling and happy in his job. I want to share with you this client’s positive experience of running a micro-business, and tease out some inspirational ideas which perhaps you can also apply in your own small business.
Forty-seven-year-old Luca R is a self-employed road haulage contractor based in the north of Milan who is hired mainly by builders. He has no dependents, is organised and is a self-starter.
Is being small a disadvantage or not?
Luca has held a driving license since his teens. He trained and worked as a mechanic but when he tried it, it made him feel lonely and bored – it just wasn’t his thing. He needed to be stretched and so her started to work with his father in his road haulage business, which mainly dealt with waste disposal. He really enjoyed this work, so much so, that after only a few days, he felt that he was “made for the job”. In fact, his job means that he is always on the go, and mixing with people – something which gives him great satisfaction.
He has worked with his father for around 20 years, learning more every day. At the same time, he has had the patience required to negotiate the potential relationship pitfalls inherent in all family businesses.
He has had the good fortune of inheriting a good clientele from his father, but above all, he has managed to maintain it and acquire new ones – that’s no mean feat!
Luca is officially registered with the Italian associations for road haulage contractors and waste disposal businesses. He has also undertaken the necessary training which guarantees his professionalism. This means he can work safe in the knowledge that he complies with the latest regulatory standards.
As you might expect in a micro-business, he has to keep a close eye on every aspect of its operations. When he first went self-employed, he was very enthusiastic and was determined to make the most of his resources.
Clear values which also “add value”
But it’s not only about “giving value”, but “having values”; as time has passed, Luca has matured greatly and developed strong values. Here are the values which have earned Luca the trust of his clients:
- Punctuality. Most of his clients are building firms which need to have their building waste removed quickly and efficiently. Luca is always available to sort out any issue relating to logistics, payment or organisation.
- Flexibility. Starting work early or finishing late is not a problem. Luca organises his daily and weekly schedules around the needs of his clients.
- The ability to communicate very simply and clearly is much appreciated by both clients and suppliers. The relationship can be more or less formal but, in every case, it is based on mutual openness.
- Honesty, respect and good manners are all essential for clients and suppliers.
- Understanding of difficulties. When clients cannot pay, Luca tries to be accommodating, obviously within certain limits, the important thing in this case is clarity in the professional relationship. The only exception is of course the bad payers who initially make promises, talk a lot but then turn out to be untrustworthy.
- Organisational efficiency. This is needed for every operational and routine admin task in order to make progress and conserve resources. For example, Luca tries to arrange a number of pick-ups on the same trip for various types of waste, saving time, energy and money.
To help with admin tasks, technology such as smartphones, emails, online calendars, online banking and suitable accounting software are all useful. Some familiarity with technology helps to save time and energy which can be used instead for client work. In this way, he manages to bill more and feel better about himself.
Last but not least, on the personal level, Luca has the good fortune of having a wife who respects his work greatly; while being very supportive of Luca, she is also independent enough to deal with her own problems without burdening him. This leaves Luca free to focus his energies on running his business smoothly which, in turn, makes his family life happier
Furthermore, Luca analyses client relationships in order to understand how to relate to clients better. As a contractor or subcontractor, relationships can be complex. Clients respect him when they see that he does not have prejudices; in fact, he often finds it easier to work with foreign businesses and partners, more than some Italian businesses.
Luca relies on word of mouth to find new clients, in the traditional way, but also online. It is enough for him to place a simple ad for his haulage services on Google to acquire new contacts.
These good relationships with clients and suppliers fill Luca with pride and make him work every day with great determination, dedication and passion.
Among his competitors, there are many “cowboy” businesses who sell themselves mainly on price; but their service has a different quality to his – and the client notices. Clients prefer to spend a bit more to have peace of mind, knowing that their waste will be handled appropriately and in line with environmental regulations. Luca also makes sure that he submits his yearly report to the professional association for haulage contractors.
All this helps him to appreciate the value of his work and to feel good about it. Getting up at 6.30am or wolfing down just a piece of fruit for lunch is not a sacrifice for Luca, who will go the extra mile to meet the needs of my clients. Why? Because, for him, his work is fun!
Tax law is full of grey areas and, like all businesses, Luca has encountered some of them. Business taxes are too high, and this is a common difficulty for many small and medium-sized Italian businesses. Unfortunately, the only thing that can be done over the longer-term is to improve cashflow, so as not to have nasty surprises when tax demands come through the letterbox.
The Italian tax department believes that Luca’s small business should be liable for IRAP which is a production tax levied by Italian regions (see http://taxsummaries.pwc.com/uk/taxsummaries/wwts.nsf/ID/Italy-Corporate-Taxes-on-corporate-income). However, current tax law states otherwise and so it is necessary to devote resources to resolve this controversy. But, by pure luck, yours truly is helping to resolve this tricky situation!
And you – are you also working like Luca? Are you learning – with a little effort – to operate in an organised and efficient way, and above all, with a smile?
If you like this article, please share it with your contacts!