This is the second instalment of the The Story of inspire2coach. In this discussion, Mark Tennant and Richard Marklow, Directors of inspire2coach, talk about growing the business from 2008. They share their insights on the importance of a Mission Statement and Core Values, the value of good advice and guidance on using business consultants. They also include revealing insights about why you should pay close attention to the important things in the business – exposing some of the biggest mistakes they made early on.
Key take-aways from growing the business
- In the early years we learned a lot by making mistakes., especially about running a business. We started the business as tennis coaches but we had to learn to run a business! We soon found out it was important but it wasn’t always stuff (like finance) that we wanted to spend time on.
- The mission statement, vision and core values remain essentially unchanged. Some wording has changed, but the basic belief of what our business is about is the same.
- Early on we had great advice from a consultant on how to set up the business. Consultants can be very expensive. We’ve learned that you need to be very clear from the start about what you want the consultant to do for you. Use consultants who understand the business before they work for you otherwise you waste a lot of time explaining the business. Hire them to do things you don’t know about. You must also be prepared to listen to the uncomfortable things they might tell you.
- We’ve built the business around good people. You don’t want people who are all like you; you need a range of different skill sets around you.
- We haven’t made ourselves rich! But we’ve become much clearer that the business is a job, not a hobby. It’s OK to want to be well-paid – and it’s not easy to make money from tennis.
- When you’re starting a business you have to try different things. It might go off in a different direction to the one you though it would.
- Be prepared to start small and grow the business.
Read a transcript instead
Mark Tennant: Welcome to episode two. I’m back with Richard Marklow, my co-director, co-owner, friend, of inspire2coach. Today we’re going to talk to you about how we grew the business from the start in the early years. In the first episode we talked about how we set up inspire2coach and how it all started. We talked about the journey up to Leeds, how we both got together, how we chose the name and how we had talked about how we’d got to a point in our careers where we wanted to do something new. Today we’re going to share with you some of the ideas that we used to help to grow the business to a little bit closer to what we recognize as been the inspire2coach of 2020. Rich, if you remember back in 2008, we moved into the university of Warrick tennis center, but we were actually working as a company before then. What do you remember about the first a year or so before we moved in and took to the offices in Coventry?
Richard Marklow: That was really exciting. Wasn’t it? It was really new. We were developing a team and getting some people around us. We were looking at different venues to work with our business. It was an exciting time and it was new and fresh. The university of Warrick came on a good time for us cause that was a really good postcode or really good office space for us, but our roots down and we’re still there today, aren’t we? I think that was a good move to get an office space that early on.
Mark: It was, part of the reason why it was good was because we were actually working in the kitchen where we were having the meetings around the kitchen table at one of our colleagues’ houses with bacon sandwiches and lots of tea and coffee. We knew that we couldn’t sustain that we needed to move on quite quickly. Just describe the company in that first year or so. Can you remember the clubs and the coaches that we had?
Richard: The most important thing for us was we weren’t sure whether coach education was going to, whether that’s going to take off in the way that we hoped. What we wanted was a little bit of a security sitting behind the coach education business. We decided to take on a few clubs and we bought a few clubs off a coach. We ended with, we started off with four clubs and I think three coaches at the time. That just gave us a little bit of security to make sure that if the coach education route went wrong, we still had a business. That was almost like the starting point of giving us the best security.
Mark: For people listening, I think it’s worth pointing out when we talk about the fact that we bought the clubs we didn’t buy the facility and the land. We bought the contract, didn’t we? We bought the permission to be able to run the coaching and the competition program, and I wouldn’t call it member services in those days but we bought the permission and the contract to be able to deliver our programs and our products at those clubs didn’t we?
Richard: That started to build the business, didn’t it?
Mark: That’s right. Do you remember in those early days, the reason why we settled on the name inspire2coach was actually because we had ideas that we might actually be more than just tennis. Do you remember we did a tutor’s course for football, didn’t we? What do you remember about that?
Richard: I remember being a little bit concerned. We’re a bit of fish out of water a little bit turning up in our track suits, our tennis tracksuits to run a football course. It was an interesting time. I actually really enjoyed the course and they were nice people. I think we did a really good job. I’ve trained them to beat computers, however we should stick to tennis. That’s what I felt.
Mark: I suppose that’s quite important actually as a first point to come out of this episode is that I think when you’re starting a business your direction evolves and the idea that you had right at the beginning about what the business might look like and the way it shapes up can quite often be quite different. Also that you’ve just got to try things without really knowing necessarily that whether they are going to be a success.
Richard: I still think at the end of that football court we were still having ideas about doing other sports in a way, I think running level ones, level twos at the sports. It didn’t stop the drive to go into other sports. After maybe two years, maybe we’re in the business. I think we stopped that idea, didn’t we?
Mark: The fact that we, although we were established and experienced coach education tutors in tennis like you said, we soon realized that actually we were better off sticking with tennis rather than going off into other sports like football. I think that was an important early lesson for us and it’s probably just as well because we soon realized that there’s a lot of work to do and there still is to this day in tennis isn’t there, there’s a lot of opportunities I think.
Richard: Think of those early years for me. I learned a lot really quickly, so I learned a lot by making mistakes. Actually I think I learned a lot by mistakes, but also learned a lot about how to set up and run a business. When I left the commercial set up, I knew a lot about budgets and marketing, but I realized how little I did know about setting a business up in those first couple of years. I think our first meeting with Dennis, the consultant that we knew then separately, but for many years it was a good friend of ours. We sat down and he said, well, you guys need a vision statements and you need core values and need a website. It was all a little bit like strange to us, wasn’t it at the time. In hindsight we’re still use the mission statement. We still use the core values and we’ve hopefully got better website than when we first started.
Mark: Definitely. There’s several things in what you’ve just said that I think we ought to unpick and go through in a little bit more detail. Let’s just talk about consultants. You’re right. We used the guy who you’d known from your previous work. What would you advise to people who are listening in terms of using consultants, because consultants can be quite expensive, can’t they? You can spend a lot of money on them. What advice would you think that we could share about the use of consultants in business?
Richard: I think you’ve got to be very clear from the outset what you want them for. Rather than shaping your whole business, I think you should bring in consultants in areas where you’re not so sure about. We weren’t sure about the, about how to setup all the marketing and the missions statement and how to launch the business. Then Dennis in the early days helped us launch the business. That was our job there. I think over the years we’ve used consultants, but for many different things, for funding for marketing. The biggest lesson is let’s try and get a consultant that understands the business before you start with them. Because we’ve spent a lot of time explaining to people how our business works. Having a business consultant from tennis or knows tennis, I think actually would be a good value.
Mark: The other thing is that sometimes, the idea of taking on a consultant is because they’re a specialist in a certain area and sometimes they may talk about things that make you feel a bit uncomfortable cause it’s your business. If you’re going to take on a consultant, you’ve got to be prepared to listen to them and you’ve got to be prepared to be a bit uncomfortable about some of the things that they think you should do. Would you agree with that?
Richard: A hundred percent. You can’t pay the money and bring an expert in and then not listen to them, that’s expensive.
Mark: Let’s just talk about the you talked about the mission statement and about the core values. What is a mission statement as far as you’re concerned?
Richard: It pretty much sets out what the business is about. It gives you an overarching view of what you’re trying to achieve. We spent a lot of time on a mission statement over the years. I think it’s been good to stay focused being there was attention, should I read it, or say out to inspire tennis players and coaches to be the best they can be by showing up excellent expertise and experience. That’s changed I think. I think that’s our third mission statement, which has been it’s been slightly changed over the years. Hasn’t it?
Mark: It’s pretty much, although some of the wording has changed a little bit. It’s something that we’ve tried to live by with all the decisions that we make and the way that we run the business and we wanted to communicate the fact that we felt experts in our field and that we had experience and we were able to share some of that with players and with parents and with coaches and anybody else we work with. Then we had the core values. What are the differences between a mission statement and core values?
Richard: I think core business values, it drills down to another level below that. It’s how are you going to operate the business and what you actually believe in and what are your true beliefs about how you should run the business and that will help you deliver your mission statement. Our core values, so our work to be exciting and challenging, to be innovative, to be committed, to be well-paid, to be trusted, to have fun, to recognize quality in everyone, to respect everyone, absolute honesty, and we want the best team. I like that because I think that’s what we’re about, and I think we have been true to those as best as we can over the years.
Mark: Just going through those in a little bit more detail, are there any that stand out to you, and that you think are worthy of a little bit more explanation or a bit more discussion out of the ones that you’ve just listed?
Richard: I think we’ve built the business around good people, and that’s what I would recommend to anyone who starts a business, just get the right people around you because if you make the wrong decisions, you get the wrong people, it could be an absolute disaster. When I look at the core business values about to recognize quality in everyone, to be trusted, to have honesty, to respect everyone. A lot of that is about people, and I feel that we’ve done that really well, and I’m proud of that, but one thing that I would say if any one says to me, “What’s the one thing?” I would say, “To me, it’s about the people that we’ve got in the business.”
Mark: If we rewind to the first episode of this chat, we talked about how it’s important that the people that you work with are not the same as you, and we gave you and I as examples of how we’re very different people. I think it’s important to build a people a team of people who aren’t all like-minded, who aren’t all the same character and the same personality because as the business grows, you want a range of skill sets, don’t you? And a range of different experiences.
Richard: Yes, 100%. I think if you sit in a meeting, everyone’s the same. You might be in a meeting where everyone’s got a lot of ideas and nothing ever gets done, then you’ve got other people that are so much into the detail, but then things don’t get done. For me, it’s like having a mixture of blue sky thinking, complete your finishers, detail people, just having a whole lot of different personalities around you, that bit of skill sets are critical. Especially as we’ve grown in the business as you say, that’s become very critical.
Mark: To me one of the core values that’s almost like the elephant in the room a little bit, is the one about being well paid because I think especially in the UK, we’re sometimes I think a bit embarrassed to talk about money. I think it’s all right to say that we want to be well-paid, we’ve worked hard to set the business up, and we’re still working hard. Actually interestingly, I know you’ve said on regular occasions that you feel like you’re probably earning less money now than you were in your job before we started inspire2coach. What are your thoughts on that particular value, to be well-paid?
Richard: I think if the others are followed through, I think you’ve got a really good chance to make money if you’ve got all the other stuff around that. If you work hard, you’re honest, you’re innovative and all of those, I think money just tends to come in. I think for us, we made a lot of mistakes, early gores which affected how much we earned. I do think that people who look at us, people that work for us, and maybe people outside inspire2coach that think actually it’s a relatively big business for tennis and you get to make a lot of money. We haven’t done that, we’ve made decent money, but it’s never been a cash cow for us as individuals, has it? Which has been quite interesting, I think that’s maybe not always a deception.
Mark: Absolutely. We’re certainly not sailing around the Mediterranean in yachts, are we? I think it’s okay to have that as an ambition because we’re putting in the risk, we’re putting in our credibility, our reputation, a lot of hours, a lot of sleepless nights, and a lot of stress into it. I think for people listening, there are different reasons why you might set up a business, but we have to remind ourselves that in the end, ultimately, there are bills to pay, mortgages and families, and all the rest of it. It is our job it’s, not a hobby, and I think sometimes that means that we have to take on the work that pays well, even though it might not necessarily be the favorite thing to do. Sometimes we have to be a bit selective about which work we take on because we have to be well-paid at the end of it, don’t we?
Richard: Yes, we’ve gotten better at that. As the years have gone on, we’re definitely more selective what business we take now compared to the early days, but also as an industry, if you look at personal training at golf coaches, I think in those industries, people are paid a bit more money. I think it’s really quite transparent what people earn in tennis. As tutors, I think our tutor rate has stayed very similar for many years, and coaching rates haven’t been going up at the same rate as a lot of other things. It’s not a easy business to make money in especially with the small incremental payments we’re getting for coaching programs in particular. It’s about volume, not about the ticket price.
Mark: Yes, absolutely. I’d agree with that. Just two other things I think we just need to pick up on to do with people. You mentioned the website, do you remember the first website we had? It was a guy who as far as I can tell, only worked during the night, so we always had a bit of a nightmare trying to get in touch with him, he just used to disappear. We had a website, the first website was just unbelievably bad, wasn’t it? Do you remember that?
Richard: Yes, we spent quite a bit of money on absolute rubbish. I think to do your research, early doors about where you’re going to go for that sort of advice for building websites and the IT support, it’s critical that’s right because you can’t get that wrong, and we definitely got that wrong in the early days. I remember him sitting there, doing a logo for us as well, and when I look back, it is just a terrible logo. It’s like a squiggle of a pen on paper, it is just terrible. What we were thinking, I don’t know.
Mark: Yes, it’s quite funny to look back 13, 14 years on and to see just how bad that first website was, and how bad the logo was. Again, we’re coming back to a bit of a recurring theme for this episode which is that, choosing the right people to work with them. The quality of people is really important, isn’t it, to help your business grow and fly? Just on that as well, I think we should maybe talk about some VAT as well. I think we should make it clear before we go any further with this, if anybody from the Inland Revenue is listening, we did pay the VAT, but there was a bit of a story behind that. Do you just want to share that one?
Richard: Yes. Our first accountant, we were busy off doing all sorts of things like getting clubs and coachification contracts, a few things abroad, and all the stuff we really wanted to do. I don’t think we paid enough attention on the finance of the business, I think we had a little report, didn’t we? Once a month from the accountant, and he’s like, “Let’s know how this all go.” We thought, “Oh that’s fine, it’s all in safe hands.” Then we then we had a meeting with him, we had a bill, VAT bill, and we said, “What about this VAT bill?” He went I think, red in the face and just said he’d forgotten to pay it. We felt we were in good shape, but the reality was that half of our money in the bank was actually owed to someone else. That was an absolute disaster, wasn’t it?
Mark: Absolutely. Just to summarize what we’ve talked about so far, just pick me up on anything if I’ve missed anything here. I think it’s fair to say that when you’re starting your business, I think you have to try things and see what direction the business might evolve, and it might go off in a slightly different direction to the one you intended. I think that’s the first thing. I think if we look at the business, inspire2coach as it is now compared to when we started, I think you have to start small and be prepared to grow organically. We never took on a lot of debt and never had an overdraft, we grew the business bit by bit, organically, and I think that’s good advice for people.
Early on, we had good help from a business consultant to help us see the way through how to set the business up, and we’ve continued to use good consultants for different aspects of our business. We set up a mission statement, and some core values which are things that we still follow now and try to run our business by. I think as well just to finally summarize, that it’s important to pick the right people and to make sure like the example you’ve just given with the VAT, that we’re really close to the important things up in the business, and that we pay attention to the things which really matter, and that we have the right people, good people to help us run the business. Would you say that’s an accurate summary?
Richard: Yes, it’s accurate summary for definite. I think you’ll spend a lot of time on things you want to spend time, and you’ve got to sometimes spend time on things you don’t like. I think for us, the finance were one of those that we should have spent more time understanding those.
Mark: I think it became quite clear that we started inspire2coach as tennis coaches and tutors, and that’s how people knew us. It soon started to Dawn on us that actually we had an awful lot to learn about running a business. That being a tennis coach and being a businessman are very different. I think we had to learn very quickly, didn’t we? How to actually run a business cause it was not as easy as we thought.
Richard: No, I think we’re still learning today aren’t we. I think that’s the great thing about it is that you are definitely put into an area that you’re not that sure about. Even now we know we’re making mistakes and learning and doing some good things. I think when you have a business, there are so many things that are changing or so HR, tax contract, all sorts of things change. That’s why you go to be on your toes the whole time. We learned the whole time.
Mark: Absolutely. That I think is a perfect link to episode three in which we’ll talk about how we really managed to grow the business. Some of the challenges that we faced in growing the business that we now know and run. We look forward to welcoming you to episode three and thank you for listening.
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