Why ‘Doing the Opposite’ could make you a millionaire
Doing the opposite has been a theme throughout my life. It was actually my dad who taught me the importance of the concept – every time he was faced with a problem, he wouldn’t opt for the obvious solution but find his own answer. For example, when I was a young lad and was caught stealing from my parents so I could go to the pub with my mates, dad didn’t punish me – far from it. Instead, his approach was to spend time with me, to invest in me and together we worked on a variety of projects, such as fixing up an old boat. Not only did this give me a love and passion for engineering, but I actually preferred spending time with my old man than heading down Crooked Billet pub.
Dad’s approach to “doing the opposite” has stayed with me throughout my career and life and it’s a quality I recognise in many successful business people and entrepreneurs who have forged their own path to disrupt entire industries and make change happen. It is a frame of mind and a character trait that I wholly attribute to the success of my own business, Cloudfm, which we’ve grew from £1m to £70m turnover in four years.
Most entrepreneurs do the same thing and focus on the money, the profit, the EBITDA. They will find a niche element of a market, or create a new market, but typically, they will chase the cash. As an entrepreneur, there is nothing wrong with this approach, but I wanted to do something different.
Here are a few of the ‘unconventional’ examples of how doing the opposite paid off for us and can pay off for you.
1. Pushing against the status quo and challenge industry practice
The facilities management industry is worth £200 billion. It’s huge and is arguably the engine room that allows well-known brands – from restaurants to clothing stores – to operate on a day-to-day basis. Take it away and suddenly the wheels would come off many a high street stores and commercial enterprises that pride themselves of their slick operations and ability to create safe, clean and pleasant consumer environments.
But while the FM industry is full of great people, I’ve always been aware there is a systemic issue with the industry that results in bad behaviour. For instance, the Market has applied aggressive procurement strategies for the last 40 years, and the industry has reluctantly agreed to accept work they simply cannot deliver in order to make a profit to survive.
It’s a vicious cycle. FM companies win work, lose work and then win work from other FM companies who have lost work. I knew this had to change!
2. Not putting money first
We all know that sales drive businesses. You can have a great website, killer brand, fantastic systems and processes in place – but ultimately you need to make money to be sustainable. Despite this, right from the early days we decided our driving force wouldn’t be money, but to focus on how we could solve our client’s biggest problems. By focussing on these issues we realised we could create “win, win” scenarios where we’d win work, build relationships and most importantly avoid the boom bust issues facing competitors.
Doing a great job ultimately became our purpose. I didn’t care about the money or the profit. I cared about the customer and their challenges, more than myself or my business. During the journey with them I would help them realise that it was important to achieve a ‘win win’ outcome and a sustainable future for both parties.
Before I knew it, by demonstrating that we cared more about the client than ourselves, the client began to worry about us. Next thing I knew, we were trusted, and this is very difficult to achieve when most businesses openly admit that all they care about is their own situation.
3. Putting someone else’s business first
Any business owner or founder knows that having a business is like having a baby. You obsess, worry and fret over it – it’s all consuming. The issue is that the minute you say to a client ‘what about me’, you create concern – they see your self interest even if it’s their subconscious that’s operating.
My thought process was can we flip that on its head and genuinely, authentically put the client’s interests before our own?
One of our largest restaurant Clients in the UK (a household name) had to close all their sites during the pandemic, owing us around £3 million. We focussed on keeping their sites ready for opening despite them owing us so much money. This was recognised by the C-suite who managed to secure further investment, part of which was to pay us at a time of great need.
The point is when a client feels that you are genuine and authentic, that you are putting them first, they will begin to put you first.
Having kids is a good analogy. Think about it, if you are a parent why does your son or daughter trust you? Because they know that you will take a bullet for them. They know that you will put them before you. Therefore, their natural reaction is to look after you. They won’t hear a bad word said about you. They become your protector.
So, I decided that I would treat my clients in the same way. After all, why would a human behave differently in a work environment to a family environment?
4. Not being afraid to be open and vulnerable
Sometimes being a business leader can mean putting up barriers. It can mean creating a veneer of total and utter self-confidence and self-assurance. But while that’s important, one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that far from being a weakness, showing vulnerability is the ultimate strength.
Whether thinking about employees, clients or wider members of the team, when you have a real relationship with someone then you shouldn’t be afraid to be yourself. When people relate to you and see that you are just as vulnerable as they are, the human spirit will always jump in to help someone in need.
In summary – don’t be obvious
The above are just a few examples of how, when it comes to business, I’ve tried to take the less trodden path. While some of these tips may be directly applicable to you, the chances are your business will face different challenges and problems that need different solutions. Don’t get me wrong there are tried, tested and proven responses to most issues that can help propel you forward. However, if you really do want to make a dent, if you really do want to change things, my advice is don’t walk the easy route, walk in the opposite direction.
Jeff Dewing is the CEO of Cloudfm, a facilities management company, and author of Doing the Opposite - a bestselling book following his incredible journey from owning a successful business (and football club) to losing it all and having only £7.60 in his bank account. Despite this Jeff, who started his career as a fridge and air-conditioning engineer, managed to turn his life around and build a new business from £1m to £70m turnover within four years.