A day with Sharon Devlin

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1- How did you get your idea or concept for the business?
We started out on our own in 1995 when Shane asked his boss at TNL Print if it was possible to contract from home. Shane at that time was working 2 jobs – a graphic designer by day and by night he helped get the newspapers ready for delivery in the early hours of the morning.  I was developing a small business at home while looking after our 5 year old daughter and 3 year old son. Shane felt he was missing out on everything that was happening in our lives. I think that was the real incentive to go into business.

2- What made you choose this type of business?
Shane has been in print since he left school and followed his brother in to working for the local newspaper and commercial print office. His claim to fame is that he was the very last typography apprentice to be trained in New Zealand. After learning the keys on the old linotype that produced letters in lead, he had to train himself on the qwerty keyboard. He took a WITT typing course and by the end had the fastest typing speed in the class.

3- What was your mission at the outset?
I don’t think we called it a mission back then. But from the very start we had a mantra of trying to do the very best for our clients.  We had a great relationship with the team and management at TNL Print, and for over 10 years, Shane could walk around the building like he owned it. As our business grew, we prided ourselves on never trying to steal any of their clients, even when asked, that relationship taught us the importance of honesty and integrity in business.

4- What are your responsibilities as the business owner?
Early on, Shane and I split up the main functions of the business, and put each other in charge of different areas, to take advantage of each of our strengths. Even though it’s tempting to put in your 2 cents into each other’s areas at times, it lets us trust that the other has that covered, and a ‘must do’ I think for husband and wife teams.  I’m in charge of finance and marketing and Shane in production. We have an amazing team that help us out in all areas of the business, and again, we play to their strengths and move tasks around to what each one is best at and enjoys doing.

5- How did you build your team?
Over the 25 years, we have had people come and go, as you can imagine, through businesses that we have bought along the way, and from advertising and going through the recruitment process. We have never had to let anyone go, and most of our staff have been with us for a long time. At one stage we had half of our staff that had been with us for over ten years. Our manager of 17 years retired this year. We put real importance on team fit, as important as skills. We introduce prospective employees to our team briefly through the recruitment process and they rate who’s their favourite. Most times we have all agreed on the final person.

6- What is the most challenging part of your job?
Fitting everything in, I think that’s a common theme around the office at the moment. We probably have the leanest team we’ve ever had, and the most productive. It takes a long time to get the perfect team, and I think we’ve done it. Now it’s about getting the right work at the right price point so as not to have anyone stressed about getting through their day. We have a lot of new clients, and we like to think we do a great job looking after our existing clients, so all is good at the moment.

7- How do you plan on growing your business?
Through the years we have always sort knowledge, and been ok with the fact that we don’t know what we don’t know. Through many courses and business advisors we have learnt how to short term and long term plan and include our team in that process. It’s invaluable to constantly work on yourself as well as your business. As valuable as planning is, being open to opportunity is just as valuable. We could never have guessed what our business would look like now when we started. Having purchased 5 businesses along the way and moved into offering many different product lines. There is still plenty of room to expand what we are already doing, and you never know what’s around the corner. The future is exciting.

8- How do you handle adversity and doubt?
Me, not well at times. Thank goodness nothing fazes Shane and he does his best to keep me positive during trying times. I’m the over thinker, the devils advocate and the perfectionist. Shane, even though he is incredible detailed when he is producing product, he doesn’t get stressed with the day to day. We complement each other really well. We have regular team meetings, management, marketing and entire team meetings. To brainstorm and keep everyone informed. I think being able to talk through adversity and doubt with your team helps with achieving the right outcome for the business and for your own confidence.

9- What are you reading/watching at the moment?
I’m reading my girlfriend’s book that she self-published a little while ago called Magda.  A period drama, that’s awesome so far. I read a lot to do with work, print magazines, what’s new in marketing, health and safety and the like. I’m half way through for the second time a book called Built To Sell by John Warrillow. Not a big book but a must read for all business owners on how to create a business that can thrive without you. I like lots of different genres of film and TV. I like movies that are true stories. On TV I’ve watched all of Suits, Grace and Frankie, Orange is the New Black. Shane and I have watched Outlander, Breaking Bad, The Last Kingdom and Ozark.

10- If you had 1 piece of advice to someone just starting out, what would it be?
This tip is also for anyone thinking about getting into business. You’ve got to be prepared to get out there and meet people, step out of your comfort zone to start with, it does get easier and after 25 years, I can say it’s now fun. People do business with people, not buildings or websites. Unless you’re one of the lucky ones that has a product to sell that everyone wants and will just go to your website and buy. Most of your business will come from the people you meet and after a little while, word of mouth. Go along to networking events, The Chamber of Commerce is a given in any area, we have The Network, a women’s networking group, Taranaki Young Professionals, BNI and there’s lots more. It is one of the most cost effective ways to advertise when starting out, as it only takes a bit of your time. Business can sometimes be lonely, when networking you meet some really interesting people, who are more than happy to help a new business get off the ground, with advice or collaboration. Then it becomes humbling to be able to help others out after a while.

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