“My accountant shook his head at my ambitious plans.
But when he saw my accounts eight months later…
How could a pharmacy in a village of just 2,000 people be making sales of £70,000 per month? I think he found it quite remarkable...
Tom, that’s an increase of at least 40% in monthly sales in less than 8 months. How the hell have you done that?
It felt very, very good. Just eight months ago, in December 2013, he had told me to expect only steady growth, maybe 10% per annum if I really pushed it. Yet then he went on to say something that really surprised me...
If these numbers are right, you should push for the million next year.
It's great when people believe in you, but it's only just really started. When I first told him I wanted to grow sales beyond £1 million in December last year, he said I should be more realistic to avoid disappointment. But I needed to grow fast in order to buy out my business partner. And I’ve always secretly wanted to grow the business beyond £1 million anyway - I mean, isn't that what most of us dream of achieving in business?
My accountant knew that I had already achieved solid growth, but that hitting a plateau in sales is what happens to every business eventually. I was so frustrated by it... I knew I could do better, so I made plans to make big changes. My accountant didn't believe it was possible. But then, he didn't know about my ‘secret weapon’ for growth.
“What You Need Is More Profit, Not More Customers…”
I first decided to work with Lee Duncan in January 2013. But I was nervous. I had approached him once before in 2011, and been concerned about the cost of getting his help - in fact, cost is so important, I'll cover that later on. This time, after reading his book, Double Your Business, I had the confidence to go ahead.
His approach, outlined in his book, is to focus on whatever is the biggest hindrance to your profitable, successful growth. I was convinced that for me, the issue was marketing. I just needed more customers. So when he told me “What you need is more profit, not more customers”, I didn’t immediately want to accept it. In fact, we debated this for some time.
I was so close to it, I couldn’t see it.
I just didn’t believe we could maintain our high service levels and cut costs at the same time. During our sessions, Lee helped me to explore the truth behind this and left no stone unturned. For me, the uncomfortable truth was that I was working very hard, making good sales, but very little profit at all.
Even making a lot more sales would have produced precious little extra profit, despite making me even busier. I reluctantly accepted that my focus must be on margins. Simple enough to say, but complex to put into practice because the business has so much going on.
We discussed lots of ways to increase margins. We looked at the way my business works in detail, staffing levels, types of customer and customer mix, products, pricing and probably other things besides and came up with a series of changes.
These discussions were tough - Lee put me on the spot and made me face up to, and address, the difficult and uncomfortable factors that were holding profits back.
The result was an improvement to margins of 15%, making me an extra £15 for every £100 of sales. This alone more than covered Lee’s costs and justified my confidence in the decision to hire him.
“Have You Worked With A Business Like Mine Before?”After improving the margins, I realised that all businesses are pretty much the same. We need customers, we need to make sales, we need to make a profit and we’ve got to deal with staff and so on. Yes, of course your business may sell different products and services, or have some different quirks and oddball elements, but the principles of smart and successful business remain the same.
It’s why Richard Branson is able to understand his 400-odd businesses. They’re all based on the same principle: serving a need profitability
But at the time I hired Lee, I know how worried I was that he wouldn’t understand all of the intricacies of the way prescriptions are funded, or how we’re strictly regulated.
But since he’s worked successfully with so many sectors of business (financial advice, IT services, various manufacturers, engineers, tradesmen, retailers, restaurants, professional services like accountants and solicitors, marketing agencies, franchisors, other health-care businesses like opticians, call centres, travel agents and many others besides), there really was no cause for concern.
While we all have our own unique foibles, we are just running businesses, after all.
Finally, I Got The Marketing Results The 'Gurus' Always Talk About…
Before meeting Lee, I had tried idea after idea from all the well-known names in marketing. It was a bit like throwing mud at a wall - some stuck, but not very convincingly. There was no stampede of new customers rushing to my door.
I was so frustrated with the huge effort I put into my marketing for such poor results. It genuinely used to feel like wasted time and money, even though I did exactly what the experts were saying I should do.
My first experience of marketing with Lee was very different - first of all, he said we needed to take things back to basics. He explained how to do things properly - things I thought I had already done. It was hard - but so worthwhile. We covered things like making sure I’d got laser-sharp targeting and a clear, powerful message to persuade customers to choose us, not the big high-street brands in local towns.
Once we had these marketing foundations in place, he explained which strategies would be most likely to get fast, profitable results for my business. Instead of having to guess the best approach myself from a list of 101 things on a DVD or from a book, he just applied the expertise he has from marketing with so many businesses to know exactly what would work in my situation. It was a pivotal moment. He explained clearly why several of the strategies I’d tried out were just not good choices for my business.
Instead of rushing out one idea after another in a desperate hurry, we did things properly. He helped me to concentrate my efforts on just one thing at a time and do it well, very successfully, over a period of weeks and months.
He first helped me to develop one approach that would work for our business-to-business customers (like care homes) and then later another for going direct to patients (the normal everyday consumers in my business).
And whenever I create a new piece of marketing, he reviews it for me with his expert eye and fine-tunes it, sometimes completely changing what I first come up with. In one example, Lee helped me with a radically different approach to leaflet drops that produced 32 new customers from a single drop. The best I had ever done was to get less than a handful of responses for the same efforts. And while my leaflet was full-colour, Lee’s was only in black and white!
All this means that I’m learning loads about advanced marketing, while Lee’s influence and feedback make it perform like all the gurus tell you it can. It has been successful far beyond my expectations, so much so that I’ve had to hold back on marketing to make sure we grow within our working capital, which grows stronger and stronger every month.
“I’ve Tried That Before, It Doesn’t Work For Me…”
Early in the relationship with Lee, he suggested that we send letters to some care homes I wanted to win as customers. I told him that I knew it wouldn’t work - I had done it before and it failed miserably. He asked to see the letter I sent, scanned through it and said he knew exactly why it had failed. He persuaded me that it was worth another try, as part of a bigger campaign.
He then helped me to write a completely new letter - a fresh new approach with compelling content, a powerful offer and a strong call to action.
I was nervous when we sent it out, but then the results rolled in. From this campaign we won a lot of business from a big blue-chip pharmacy chain. They must be seething that they've lost out to a small local village shop. A big win for a small business, the kind that makes you feel proud. I know that any good small business can do the same, with Lee helping them play to their strengths.
Unfortunately as we grew, we started to feel some growing pains…
I Needed More Hours, Better Focus, and to Cut the Constant Stream of Questions from my Team…
The best thing about running your own business is the freedom it gives you.
But while I have always worked pretty hard, the growth during this time put a strain on things and all of a sudden I was working long, long hours and still getting nothing done to keep driving business growth.
I was simply too busy to get things done, and getting frustrated and stressed by the lack of progress or time to do stuff.
Lee spotted this right away and we discussed that if things didn’t change, the business would get stuck, with me working stupidly long days and sacrificing weekends to the business, too. He introduced me to his time management method for entrepreneurs, something called Time Zone Management. It's a simple way to help you take control of your time when you run your own business.
Then he showed me how to develop standard methods to get things done so my staff were able to take more of the load without coming to me with questions and clarifications every few minutes. The more time I spent in The Growth Zone, the more efficient the business became.
It was during our regular discussions that I realised just how broadly he helps your business - marketing is really just a small (but vital) part of his contribution to your growth. As a result of coaching, we made other changes too…
- New technology to streamline efficiency in the dispensary area of the business.
- A recruitment strategy that gave me a back-up for a critical role when I thought I'd got a serious problem in the summer months
- Changes to roles and responsibilities that freed up 20 hours a week of my time as business owner.
- And obviously the discussions we'd had on margins early on, transforming the bottom line by a very solid 15%
- There's more, it's just hard to remember it all because we cover so much ground every meeting
If I had to pick one big thing recently for me, it would be those changes that give me back 20 hours of free time. I’ll be spending a fair chunk of that working on faster growth and increasing our profit!
A Sharp Kick To Your Backside…
From time to time I get so wrapped up in the day to day that I forget about the longer-term growth stuff. And that’s when a sharp reminder from Lee serves as a kick to the backside to remember that nothing’s going to change unless I make the change happen.
I see so many local businesses doing the same things day after day, and year after year. Their businesses are stale and stuck in a rut, going nowhere.
A quick kick to move them forwards would do them the world of good, but most are too scared, too set in their ways, or their egos are too fragile to handle the kind of challenge that working with Lee brings. Growth takes real character - it's not for everybody.
My Confidence Has Grown Immensely Over The Past 18 Months…
When I first thought about buying-out my business partner at the end of 2013, I found it hard to believe that it could be possible through growing the business. The only way to pay off his share was through massive growth. My accountant thought this was unlikely, at best. My enthusiasm was high, but I often wavered about whether or not I was thinking straight!
I now feel confident that we can hit annual sales of £1.2 million, a target that I couldn’t never truly imagine when I took over Haydon Bridge Pharmacy in 2007 at barely a fifth of those sales.
Working with Lee, I've consistently pushed barriers aside and achieved one breakthrough after another. The business has made huge leaps forward and with each improvement my confidence grows.
How Does Lee Work With You?
I meet with Lee on the phone once every couple of weeks. Many of his clients meet with him every week, but I find I’ve got plenty to do from that one session and I’m very self-motivated, so that’s about right for me.
Friends are surprised to learn that I’ve never actually met him in person, despite the results I’ve experienced. But that just shows how effective phone meetings can be. I originally thought face-to-face would be best, but there’s no way we could travel to meet in person so regularly, plus it would make it far more difficult to rearrange meetings, too. Time is just too valuable to waste it driving around when you've got a business to run - and grow.
During each call, we discuss progress and talk through any significant news since we last spoke. We then dive deep into a specific strategy that is my focus for growth. This might cover anything that’s relevant to growth at the time - for example we’ve discussed margins and cost-cutting, recruitment, all kinds of marketing, buying out my business partner and a multitude of other things besides these - anything that’s relevant right now to drive the business forward.
After about an hour’s discussion, I have a small number of clear goals to get done before my next consultation. This gives me focus and confidence that what I’m doing will actually move the business forwards.
And I suppose we all know how easy it is to become a ‘busy fool’ - working long and hard, but not making any real difference to profits or sales. Working with Lee makes sure I’m always making my business more profitable and bigger.
Is There A Long-Term Contract To Work With Lee?
I was surprised that Lee doesn't lock you into a long-term contract. He just asks that you commit for three months initially so that you give it a fair trial period. After that, it's just 30 days notice to let him know it’s not for you. It would be miserable for him to work with somebody that doesn't fit, so he's not keen on locking you in if it doesn't work out.
I’m confident that he can help anybody in business who is serious about making changes for the better. I would just suggest that you give it 3 months and review after that. If you’re like me, you’ll find it is the best investment in business you’ve ever made.
How Much Does It Cost?
Ask this question to Lee directly and he’ll tell you it’s an investment. While it’s hard not to think that’s a bit of a sales pitch, from my own experience it has been absolutely right.
I first contacted Lee in 2011, but got cold feet and didn't go ahead. That fear cost me over £100,000 in lost profits. And note that I said lost profit, not turnover. That really hurts.
When l I finally plucked up the courage after reading Double Your Business to work with Lee, it was two years later in 2013. The first thing we did was sort out my profit margins. That would have made me over £100,000 extra profit if I'd done it in 2011. Since working with him, I’ve added a further quarter of a million to my sales, on top of the extra profit margin.
He makes your business far more hit and a lot less miss. It actually cost me money not to invest in Lee's coaching. It's definitely money well spent and it's surprisingly affordable - a lot less than you might imagine.
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What To Do Now…
You've read my story. That really is my shop in the picture to the right. The village really does have just 2,000 people (according to Wikipedia) and with Lee's help, I've now got regular customers within around a 15 mile radius who had never heard of us a year ago. Is it any wonder my accountant couldn't believe that we're turning over £70,000 per month now?
I’ve got my sights set on £1.2 million sales as my next big turnover target, set for 2015. That means achieving average sales of £100,000 per month, which will be 42.8% growth from where we are now. It may sound a lot, but with Lee's help I've already largely figured out both where it will come from and how we'll do it.
I’m not going to tell you it has been easy. But business is hard work anyway.
At least this way I know I’m making the most of what I’ve got, and building a business that’s got real substance to it.
If you want to achieve similar results, and you're serious about it, you know what to do. Lee helps all kinds of businesses - in 10 years of doing what he does, I'm the first pharmacy he's ever worked with. It just goes to prove what can be achieved with his help.
Fill out the form below for a strategy session.
Don’t be afraid to bare a little of your soul to him, so he knows where you’re coming from.
Tell him your goals for business, and what you believe is holding you back.
If he thinks there’s a good fit for what you need and his coaching, he’ll schedule a call with you.
Who knows, perhaps in a year’s time it’ll be your story on a page like this.
Owner of Haydon Bridge Pharmacy
Request A Free Strategy Session for Your Business
Simply request an initial 15-minute 'fit or no-fit?' call to get on the phone for a fast-paced call with Lee. During this meeting you'll be grilled with all kinds of questions, from your business goals to things you've already tried, and by the end you'll have a very clear view of what's possible for your business, the major obstacle to achieving it, and whether or not Lee is the right person to help you. Click here to apply for your strategy session.