Tony Goodwin founded his management and recruitment business, Antal International, with just £10k. Twenty years later, he’s turning over £16m and operating 110 offices in 35 countries. These are his seven business lessons
# 1. Be prepared to lose money from bad hires…
For any business owner, handing over the management of a new office or part of your business can be terrifying. But for Tony Goodwin, it’s a risk you must take.
“Some of the earliest mistakes I made when setting up Antal were based on trusting the wrong people – but these were mistakes I had to make in order to grow the business,” says Tony.
“What keeps most service businesses small is a lack of trust in people. When expanding your business, you must take the risk that comes with trusting people to carry out your business model and ideas the way you want them to. That’s the risk I ran and was prepared to run. Be prepared to lose money on people.”
# 2 … and don’t blame yourself
When growing a business, making mistakes in the early days is one thing, but even 22 years on, Tony says he still can’t guarantee who is going to be successful.
“I don’t think I’ve improved my percentage hit rate by very much! In the beginning I was probably correct between 33-40% of the time, and I’m not much above 50% now.
“The key individuals, the movers and shakers, the rainmakers – they’re the people who will grow your business and these are the people who are difficult to judge. But the reasons why they are difficult to judge are largely out of your control. Their personal circumstances might change, or their working approaches may evolve, or they may decide to leave and start their own business – it’s an ever-moving target.”
# 3. Don’t be unique, be different
“Very few businesses are wholly unique,” says Tony. “As an entrepreneur or budding entrepreneur, you shouldn’t have to wait to do something entirely unique – you just need to do something better or modify an existing model. After all, there were plenty of coffee bars before Starbucks and Costa came along.”
It’s precisely this approach that Tony applied to Antal when he expanded into new markets. “Rather than do a variation of recruitment as a service, I went to a different geographic. I chose to go to new, developing markets before most people realised you could. I even gave my company a Hungarian name!
“Don’t labour under misapprehensions that your business has to be unique, it doesn’t.”
# 4. Always take no for an answer…
The old adage, ‘Never take no for an answer’ is not one that resonates with Tony.
“You should always take no for an answer, but ask the question ‘why?’ There’s nothing worse than someone trying to sell something that a person doesn’t want. It gives good salespeople a bad name.
“Take no for an answer and then improve your product and service – don’t give up, but don’t carry on doing the thing that doesn’t work. Listen and respond. “
# 5 … but remember that the customer isn’t always right
When it comes to customer related services, a frequently quoted maxim is: ‘the customer is always right’. Not true, says Tony. “You as the entrepreneur have to think ahead of the market, not just with the market.
“When I went to Moscow in 1993, potential clients turned down my services, saying they didn’t need a recruitment company to expand as they would hire friends or relatives. At that point, I could have decided that recruitment wouldn’t work in Russia and left. Instead, my response was ‘you’re going to expand too quickly and run out of friends. You’re going to need our services’ – and I was right.”
# 6. Make your business model paramount
While you might recognise Tony as the ‘face’ of Antal (he’s won various Entrepreneur of the Year accolades and been profiled in the Sunday Times,among other media), Tony believes firmly that a business must work in the leader and senior managers’ absence.
“The value of a business comes down to how much it doesn’t depend on one or two people and the senior management team. So it has to work in your absence – it’s all about the business model. The model has to work.”
#7. Have a personality behind the brand
While the core business model might be fundamental to the success of a business, having a ‘face’ or personality behind a brand is no bad thing either, says Tony.
“There is something to be gained by having a personality behind the brand – and this is especially true for a franchise business like Antal. So it’s a combination is what I’m saying.
“It helps that I quite like the process that comes with it – I’m a business nerd so I like having a chat about business, and that’s worked in my favour I think.”
We think so too.