If you can’t run a business without money, you won’t be able to run a business with money.
This month’s customer spotlight is much more than just a ‘rags to riches’ tale of someone arriving in a foreign land seeking to make his fortune; this is a story about powerful personal change, discovering inner strength and purpose, and the realisation that true riches live along the journey, rather than the destination.
Attila grew up in a small village in Hungary with very little in the way of possessions or prospects. Life was tough and he, like many with similar upbringings anywhere in the world, was quick to fall into the default setting of blaming the government and his surroundings. A glimmer of hope presented itself in the form of an au pair placement in the UK, together with his partner. So in 2001, with a firm belief that riches and a new life awaited, they set off for England’s green and pleasant land of opportunity.
The family they worked for were wonderful, inspirational people, and Attila was keen to learn from their success, while working hard and proving his worth. Over the next three years he settled into this new environment, made new friends, and began to get a feel for the country: its politics, economy, and social structures. What he discovered surprised him. The country was undoubtedly richer than home; there seemed to be opportunities everywhere (even in a recession), and the general standard of living was much higher than he’d experienced in Hungary. But despite that, most people still seemed to adopt the same negative ‘blame the government and the state of the country’ approach. He began to suspect that people were the same the world over.
A whole new perspective!
In 2004, when the family he was working for moved to the US, Attila returned to Hungary with a whirlwind of thoughts and emotions in his head. He had lost his job, his relationship fell apart shortly afterwards, and his dream of a new life in England had been stolen away. But, looking at his homeland with a new perspective, he saw that there were opportunities there, too! All it took was a positive attitude and the application of his work ethic.
Over the next six years Attila started building a career in sales; working for various firms, topping sales charts wherever he went, and growing in confidence as a businessman. He had become very successful by most Hungarian standards and, having fallen in love again, he now had a young daughter to consider. But there was still something inside him that just wasn’t satisfied. He still felt he was thinking too small, and Attila was a man with big dreams. So in 2011, with his daughter just six months old, the family moved back to England where he intended to apply himself to its bigger opportunities.
After landing a pizza delivery job in Harrow he tried all manner of entrepreneurial ventures, including web development and marketing, and eventually settled on importing Hungarian food. This business really took off and, before he knew it, the orders were flying in so fast that soon his small team couldn’t keep up with the demand.
His ‘great idea’ had become an all-consuming nightmare, albeit one that taught Atilla a massive lesson. To add to the hopelessness of his situation he had committed the common ‘new business’ mistake of growing too fast and creating a high turnover generating low profits, with all his cash tied up in the warehouse. Eventually, he made the brave decision to stop and do something else.
Attila still had big dreams and his passion for reaching them hadn’t been diminished by the obstacles or his entrepreneurial naivety. If anything, he was happy to take the lessons and even more determined to find his purpose.
Always handy with a paintbrush and with a lot of experience back in Hungary doing odd jobs, he set about advertising for handyman work. His first venture was washing a sizeable domestic patio. Having bought a jet cleaner on the way to the job, he applied his diligence to the clean and the customer was so delighted that he asked if he could undertake a large painting project for him. This meant bringing in an electrician friend and, after another five-star result, word soon got around that a new maintenance firm was on the block, setting the standard in the area.
The business, like Attila’s reputation, grew over the next few years and soon he had a small army of reliable contractors ready to support his own team of competent and diligent maintenance people. For the first time, he felt a sense of pride in his achievements, the feedback he received supported this (and he was even making enough to pay himself a reasonable salary at the end of each month). The only issue was that his accountant didn’t seem to care as much as him about his business or treat his ambition with the same belief or respect that he had for it.
Meades joins the team and embraces the vision …
An online search led to numerous meetings with grey-suited, dull and unambitious accountants sitting behind tables piled up with paperwork. This image didn’t inspire Attila, any more than their refusal to buy into his vision or their slow (often absent) ability to follow up.
When he met Paul Meades, however, his initial impression was, ’this guy thinks like me’. He made up his mind to use Meades & Co even before discussing fees, simply because he wanted someone who was prepared to believe in his dreams (both as a practical accountant and a big-thinking entrepreneur). From that moment everything changed for the business. Attila says, ‘Paul encouraged me to make some bold changes, especially when it came to pricing my work,’ and he also learned how to take a step back from actually doing the work himself so he could focus on strengthening the service and building the business.
For Attila, the focus has now become about operational excellence, service perfection (the company has 100% positive customer feedback), and building a team of contractors and employees who share his values. The result has been a successful, healthy and growing business with an exciting future.
As one of Atilla’s role models, the late great Hungarian entrepreneur Klapka György used to say, ‘If you can’t run a business without money, you won’t be able to run a business with money.’ In other words, the idea is to run a great business; the rewards of doing that are a consequence.