Derek Mason runs an award-winning structural engineering company regularly featured in RiverTribe Magazine. He’s an interesting and impressive man. Besides running a successful business he’s an ultra-runner – having completed more than 100 marathons and the Two Oceans ultra-marathon in South Africa not once but 13 times. Yet, what really makes him stand out is his mindset – a mindset which is congruent across his business and fitness goals.
Derek always says a marathon is completed one step at a time. Likewise, in business he adds, you need to break down your targets into the required steps to achieve success and achieve the relevant goals. He often says, “It is mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it does not matter.” Do not let people tell you that you cannot do something. As long as you believe that you can do it, get the help you need, be adaptable and do it one step at a time.”
Derek and his company not only survived Lockdown but managed to set the pace too. Super Structure Associates recorded their highest revenue earning month – bar none – this August and at the end of their financial year in September achieved their second highest financial year in the history of the company.
They did not provide a new service, Lockdown did not especially favour their sector – after all they weren’t Amazon nor were they selling scented candles like Liberty who recorded a huge rise in home products. They just prepared well, focused on the best way of delivering value and found ways to build better relationships with their clients. It was just like winning a race.
Here’s how Derek puts it.
Small businesses can adapt quickly and should learn to prepare for anything that they think may affect them. I watched the news and I gathered as much information as I could in the lead up to lockdown and identified what could be potential problems for my business.
One problem I identified was remote working and I spoke to my IT supplier and we had software installed on our computers early. Everyone tested the system from home in the evenings to ensure that it could work properly in the weeks leading up to lockdown. We moved seamlessly over to home working without having any delays to our processes or project delivery.
As a firm of consulting structural engineers, we also had to be adaptable in other ways. We could not do site visits in the first month of lockdown as everyone was very wary of allowing people into their homes. We therefore worked out how we could adapt the site visit requirements and contacted our clients and asked them to take photographs and to do some relevant site measurements that enabled us to progress their projects without delay. This also had the added benefit that the client felt really involved with their project and they were excited about contributing to the success of their projects.
After the first month or so I started doing some of the additional site visits that were required when they were Covid 19 safe and it also enabled us to continue working on our projects. This meant all our engineers continued working throughout lockdown and they were not furloughed either. This was very important to me as I always want to look after my staff and I thought it was important for them to be able to continue working as much as possible during lockdown not only for the benefit of the business and their jobs but also for their own mental health. We had regular zoom meetings amongst the staff to keep everybody up to date and informed on progress on projects. We also did this with emails and I spoke to the relevant staff members by telephone. We regularly kept our clients up to date on the progress of their projects which they really appreciated. Company culture and values are very strong in Super Structures Associates (SSA) and this definitely paid dividends during lockdown as it meant we were an effective unit and we could work together and understand each other’s needs.
I continued to do a lot of marketing during lockdown. In fact, I increased my marketing efforts as I knew that a lot of my competitors and other businesses would actually reduce their marketing efforts during this time and wait until lockdown ended before they continued their normal business. Due to this increased marketing activity we attained some of the highest levels of fee quotes for March, April and May this year. The total value of our fee proposals from January to June 2020 went up 40% for the same period compared to those of 2019 which showed that this increased marketing effort had paid dividends. I also worked on raising our profile during lockdown by doing talks on my book, “Will It Stand Up?” to an international audience to help them with their continued professional development. I was also on a panel for a property group to “Ask the Expert” as well as doing regular blogs and posts on social networking sites etc. We re-launched our website and achieved triple ISO certification during lockdown. This all helped keep us front of mind for potential clients.
We did have some challenges during lockdown as did other businesses as well and one of our challenges was that we lost one of our members of staff in August due to personal reasons and therefore had to look for a replacement. We advertised for this position and had over 80 applicants within the first 2 weeks when we suspended the advert and then proceeded to finalise candidates for the interviews and chose our successful applicant. We returned to the office in July and all the staff were really keen to get back to the office as they missed the camaraderie and the help that they get from each other by interacting on their projects. In August we had another vacancy and had to look for another replacement engineer. We placed an advert and had over 100 applicants within the first 2 weeks.
I developed a very strong mindset from a very early age. I grew up in a poor family in South Africa and you had to be tough to survive. I used a strong mindset in my athletics career where I not only set school records in the middle distances but carried on to complete over 100 marathons and 13 number 35mile ultramarathons in a running career spanning over 40 years. It is a strong mindset that I also used in my business to keep it adaptable inflexible so I can adapt to any situation. This is what I used to enable the company to work through the lockdown and to be able to continue to be a viable business throughout.
This just goes to show if you have a strong mindset and are determined and are focused on your goals you can still be successful despite problems and challenges that come your way.
I appreciate there are various businesses and sectors that have been really hard hit by COVID-19 and the lockdown and my thoughts and sympathies are with them as I know that even though they may want to do certain things, unfortunately they have been restricted by government and regulations. All we can do is to the best we can within the limitations that we have to look at ways of achieving the best results despite these issues. Looking after our staff and our clients was our focus and ultimately led to our success.