My family and I fled Egypt following the 1967 Six Day War. With barely a cent in our pocket, we settled in Western Sydney to start a new life.
When I was 21, I grew tired of working for other people. I wanted to control my own destiny. With a wife and a child on the way, I knew that failing was not an option for me, so I sold my most precious asset; my car for $2,000 which I then used to start up a typewriting ribbon sales business.
It was an enormous risk, and initially I wasn’t certain that it would pay off. The early years of the company were slow. Instead of following the entrepreneur mentality of winning big, I was stuck in an employee mindset, where I was merely hoping to make more money than the year prior.
I knew this had to change, and so in the mid 1980s I set out on a personal development journey. I went to as many seminars and workshops as I could, and I undertook training to improve myself too. During this time, I was lucky enough to meet Robert Kiyosaki, who is the author of the Rich Dad Poor Dad series of finance books.
With Robert’s inspiration, I realised I needed start playing a bigger game. I learned to focus on working ‘ON’ the business rather than ‘IN’ the business.
Using an entrepreneur mindset I progressed in leaps and bounds. I learned how to effectively run my business, but that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t faced with my fair share of challenges that shaped the company into what it is now.
As the company grew, it felt there was never enough money to handle it properly. I realised I needed to set my ego aside to handle my cash flow problems, so I asked others for help. For instance, I would request an early payment from the larger companies that I was working with. I believe that business is a people game. If you develop good relationships with your partners, they will be more willing to help you out, it is human instinct after all.
I also made my fair share of mistakes over the years as well. For a while I chose not to hire people that were better than me out of fear they would copy my idea. What I failed to realise is that not everyone wants to have a business, some are more comfortable with the safety of a salary.
Across this 50-year journey, there are many lessons that I have learned about running and growing a business.
When I started the business, I realised it’s better to focus on one aspect of the business instead of trying to over-diversify, so I focussed on being recognised as an expert in office supplies. Just because your business spans across multiple areas, it doesn’t mean you can provide the best service in every one of them.
Adding value to my customers was also an area of high importance. You need to be able to communicate the worth of your product so they can see the value for themselves and make the decision to use your service.
Building COS over the years has been a rollercoaster of emotions, learning lessons, successes and losses, but I’m proud of what it has become. If you are a small business owner, don’t be afraid of the difficult periods in the lifecycle of your business. Instead, use them as opportunities to learn and adapt for the future.
Dominique Lyone is the Founder and Managing Director of Complete Office Supplies (COS) –Australia’s largest privately owned office products distributor.