7 Lessons Learned: Darren A. Smith, founder of Making Business Matter

Darren A. Smith, founder of Making Business Matter, Dragon’s Den casualty and author looks at the seven lessons he has learned since starting his business, with the benefit of hindsight.

Darren A. Smith is the founder of Making Business Matter. A training provider to the UK grocery industry. They help suppliers to the big four supermarkets to develop the soft skills that will secure them more profitable wins. Their unique training method, Sticky Learning®, ensures that their learners are still using their new skill 5 months later, which enables them to guarantee a measurable return on your training investment. Darren also claims to have made probably every mistake a SME owner can make. You can learn a lot from his mistakes…

1 The business books were right!

My bookshelf is stacked with books. Business books. A means to be better, be faster, be happier, be awesome, be extreme. You get the idea. My advice is to read. That’s obvious. The harder part is to find one thing that the book says and do it. Do it until it becomes second nature. I realised that I was always trying to re-invent, challenge, or do it differently. On the things that don’t matter, learn it and do it the way they said.

2 People will criticise

Those that haven’t got the guts to try something will always be your greatest critic. They always knew the answer, knew that you shouldn’t have done that, that this or that would end in failure. Those people are hard to ignore because there is always a piece of you that knows they could be right. My advice – Do it anyway. Use their energy to prove them wrong. To show them that you could, you did, you made it happen. Of course they’ll never be around when you succeed, but hey, you’ll know.

3Branson’s advice

Of all the great things that Richard Branson has proven the piece of advice that I like most is, ‘If someone offers you an opportunity and you don’t know how to do it, say yes and figure  it out afterwards’. I like this piece of advice most because so many times there are a million reasons not to, but one reason to, because you think you can you can. Believe that and make it happen.

4Working 100 hours per week isn’t the answer

I worked in excess of 100 hours per week because I thought I had to. My children were small and I regret those days. The days when I only saw my family on a Sunday afternoon having worked every day and every evening, and then I was too wasted to do anything useful. As a SME owner you’ll work hard. You expect to and of course you will. Just know that hours is not the only answer. I learnt Brian Tracy, the time management guru’s lesson the hard way. I was trying to do everything. I’d forgotten that I was paid a lot more per hour than others on my team, so why was I doing the £15 per hour work? Shouldn’t a person being paid £15 per hour doing £15 per hour work?

5Get the support of a great tech company behind you

Thinking about the stress I have spent on technology stresses me even now! My advice is to get a great IT support company. I have witnessed the downtime I and others on my team have spent getting frustrated with technology and it hurts to think that we were trying to save money, yet the time we spent on the wrong technology, upgrading the right technology, or getting technology to talk to each other, was insane. A great IT support company is essential.

6Don’t allow your thinking to be too insular

Great mentors are invaluable. As a SME owner one of the key concerns is that you wrap ‘yes’ people around you and you start to believe your own hype. You need people that will constructively criticise, will not believe everything you do is brilliant and will offer the experience that you might not have. A sales mentor, an online mentor and a people mentor is what I have and I wouldn’t be here without their advice.

7Become a student of time management

No matter what you do, what you want, what you have, time management is the key to the answer. I worked in a corporate office for 13 years. I did what everyone else did. I switched on my emails when I walked in, went to meetings, did my emails throughout the day, and never really got to the really important stuff. Leaving, I decided that if I was to make my business successful then I had to be conscious of how I spent my time. This worked and didn’t work for years until I read Brian Tracy’s ‘Eat That Frog’ book and then it all just started to click into place. My last piece of advice is that if you ‘don’t have time’, then turn your car into a university and listen whilst you drive.