With January out if the way, many of us are thinking about what we want from 2013 and how we can improve our careers. If you’re planning on making changes to your job, especially when faced with barriers, Johnathan Wade’s tips are sure to set you on the right path.
When thinking about the world of business, I tend to mull over with my own experiences as a disabled employee and entrepreneur, as well as pooling on the words of wisdom from great minds such as Richard Branson. After 25 years of senior management in some of the country’s most challenging health and social care environments, and being the creator of several successful companies, I am keen to pass my knowledge on to the next generation.
As such, I do a lot of work with universities, and have two main items on my agenda: to support students with disabilities, so they can get the most out their experience at university, and also to prepare them for employment. It’s unbelievable how energised they can be, and in every group there are one or two rough diamonds that you can see will create global companies if mentored, guided, supported and fashioned into brilliant gems of commerce.
When lecturing, I tend to base the first talks on key messages – top tips if you will – and this is where I have drawn the following from. All these 10 tips are based on the experiences I have had, and those of the people I admire, all important in business, disabled or not.
1. Make it clear what your needs are
If you have a disability, make it clear what equipment you need, what services you need and what these provisions and resources can help resolve. All too often people with a disability are trying to do a job, whether employee or employer, without communicating what they need support with. But your colleagues and those around you can’t read your mind, so be open and you will be impressed with how they rally round to help create an environment that lives the social model of disability.
Then, engage with the statutory services, such as Access to Work, who can supply equipment and support workers to ensure you can do your job and build your business. Be open, be honest, engage with those around you, and engage with Access to Work. Stick stubbornness and stupidity of doing it alone in a, tightly shut and double locked, draw.
2. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes
In business, whether disabled or not, we all do it, and if you have the right attitude you will have learnt something from these experiences and your knowledge will have increased. Often, in business, you realise that the destination is only 10% of the gain. It is all the experiences along the creative and innovative road that matter. All the pit stops you make and the number of spin-offs you have can be quite remarkable.
I was working on a new project with a university professor, and during the development we ended up forming 3 new companies from what we discovered. The original idea ended up being a bust, but I would do it over and over again, even if the results were the same. So don’t be afraid of mistakes, be honest about them and be honest about what you have learnt and gained from it.
3. Enjoy your work
Enjoy what you do in your job and you will, too, in your life. As an employee you need to have enthusiasm. What do you gain from being morose?
In your own business, if you are not passionate about what you are doing or your product, if you are not obsessively ranting in jubilation, then it will be seen a mile off and you will not win service users or customers. Enjoy what you do for goodness sake; it will make your whole life better.
4. Quality is everything
This is important whether you’re an employee or an employer, and regardless of disability. Your customers or service users don’t want excuses, they want quality. Poor quality is just not acceptable and a sure way of destroying your own reputation, company reputation and future sales.
5. Keep things simple
Life is complicated enough, so try to look for simple processes, solutions, plans and targets. I have read business plans with this target, that outcome, multiple quality statements, and umpteen aims. Keep it simple so that people you are working with can keep up and know what you want from them. Nice and simple is nearly always best.
6. Be face to face
Face to face is always best, even in this technological era of instant communication and faceless social media engagement. Emails, instant messaging, texting, tweeting, LinkedIn (and the list goes on), is all well and good. For business it has revolutionised the way we work, and it keeps changing, yes, for the better.
However, if I am investing in someone, employing someone, convincing someone, selling to someone, I want to see them face to face. I want to understand the look on their face.
Although I say face to face, this can be through systems such as Skype. It means I can work with and communicate face to face with anyone, anywhere in the world. I can have board meetings, supervision, financial meetings and never leave my home, which is invaluable with my disability and condition, as some days I am not well enough to leave home. But now I can still be in the office with my people via Skype and high speed broadband.
7. Listen to the voices
I like that old saying “God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason: to listen twice as much as we talk.” In business, this is a definite top tip. Listen to, and engage with, those you work with, those you work for, those you serve, those you sell to, those you buy from, your network, your colleagues, your peers, your family and your friends.
Do not pretend to know all the answers, it is much better to ask the right questions and then listen. When it comes to customers, go and find them and engage with them. Listen to what they have to say and use this information to improve the product, service or business generally. You should also be just as keen to listen to your employees and colleagues and elicit their opinions too for the very same reason, to improve their experience, their environment, their hours at work, as this will only go to improve every aspect of your business and staff morale.
8. All in it together
This is an important strategy for a new, or a growing business, in particular. When one of my companies reached a size where we just needed more room, I chose a big open-plan office, which admittedly did have several offices surrounding it. I had all the offices knocked into a large training/conference room and only left 3 rooms kitted out as comfortable meeting rooms.
I absolutely believe that managers, directors and managing directors sitting with their teams. Management must be part of every process, supporting their staff, delivering their part of the process with quality at its heart.
9. Adapt, diversify and survive
Any company, business or organisation, that does not change as market changes is destined to fail. Hundreds of businesses go bust every year, laying off thousands of people, because they were just turning out the same old same old. These businesses didn’t look up and around to see what was actually happening, to identify the customers’ needs.
So, it pays to be on your toes and not looking down at them, but constantly monitoring and engaging, adapting and diversifying ones products and services as our society changes. Ignore this tip at your own peril.
10. Watch your cash flow!
Cash flow is everything, so make sure you look after it. When you expend a huge amount of money it can take some time for money to start flowing in. Even if you can afford to wait, in this time keep stocks and overheads to an absolute minimum and put aside 20% of any profit for the lean times ahead.
Of course, this is the most important thing in business, but there is a secondary no. 10 tip. For those with a disability, it’s vitally important you make sure that those around you see you for what you can offer and not for the disability, for your contribution and not for your wheelchair, for your positive problem solving skills and not for your white stick.
I pride myself that, within a few minutes of meeting me, people have forgotten the hunk of tubular metal with wheels fixed to my bottom, because I am always positive about business, always positive about other people’s ideas and always positive about finding solutions. It’s too easy to be morose, especially in this environment. But whether an employee or employer, disabled or not, be positive as it carries you far further than negativity.
I believe all the above tips are relevant regardless of disability; in business, disability just shouldn’t be a factor. I hope these are of benefit and I would go a lot further than just the above tips if I wanted to change things for the better for those who find that just getting to work means they have already faced challenges.
I would start by ensuring every disabled person wanting to work is judged on their business idea or work ethic, and not on their disability. Then, I would transform the Two Ticks Scheme (the scheme put in place by the government to ensure fair employment rights for disabled people).
I hope you have found this useful. My regards to you and hoping for a brighter future to you all.
By Johnathan Wade
You can read more tips and advice from Jonathan on his website, Disability in Business.
Got some work tips, or a success story, to tell Disability Horizons readers? If so, then get in touch by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org, messaging us on Facebook, tweeting us @DHorizons or leaving your comments below.