Rob Littlewood is an experienced Risk Manager with a demonstrated history of working in human resources and industrial relations. His passion is about helping employers, particularly those running small to medium enterprises. Rob says that, in many cases. employers lack time, resources and money and are deficient in their knowledge and understanding of workplace related matters. Often so afraid of getting it wrong, business owners feel disenfranchised and powerless within their own businesses. This was a huge concern for Rob and ‘Clearwater Workplace Solutions’ is his solution.
It was a true pleasure talking with Rob and learning about the growth in his business. He and I share a passion for the small business employer and the problems they face. It is also my pleasure to introduce Rob to other members of Engine Room Hub.
How did you come up with your business idea?
For me it was a natural transition as I had been working as a consultant/advisor in the HR and Risk Management area around employment issues. Like most people, I came to a crossroad in my life and found myself wondering what the hell I was doing and what I wanted to do going forward.
I really enjoyed advising small and medium-sized business owners and wanted to continue doing it but, in all honesty, I had probably reached my use-by date with my former employer. I came to frequently ask myself why I was working for someone else when I could be doing this for myself. I knew I could ‘shape’ the service delivery in the way I felt customers would benefit from it most effectively, especially in this very difficult environment employers operate in these days in terms of IR and Employment Laws.
I started the business a couple of years ago with a zero database of clients and I now work with 100+ clients. The other benefit of working for yourself is that you can choose who you do business with and you can choose the length of time you do it for.
What hopes do you have for your business and your customers?
OK, well it was always in the back of my mind that I could build the business to a sustainable level without getting too big. I have no ambitions whatsoever to engage employees of my own. This way I can make sure clients only get the very best advice and by staying as a single-operator Consultant, I can concentrate on each of my clients’ businesses without being distracted by managing an office full of staff.
For my clients I want to provide a service which is affordable and acceptable, built on mutual trust and where relationships will move forward and build as time goes by. Businesses need a risk-management service that is working to reduce the amount of risk surrounding an employer.
I often use this quote “It’s what you don’t know that turns around and bites you”. So, I want to ensure my clients are aware of the risk and that, if they take action, then they do so with the full knowledge of the consequences and hopefully providing them as many options as possible and available to them.
So really, I am providing knowledge and I am quite happy to have conversations over the telephone without the meter running. I have found this is a great way to grow trust. There are many HR organisations that offer very comprehensive annual subscriptions/membership but I don’t do memberships. Rather I offer a Retainer Service which is priced at a very nominal figure.
My business model seems to be working very well and has been very well accepted by my clients. In fact, in the last 2 weeks I have picked up 7 new clients – all via referral, so I think I must be doing something right.
What start-up challenges have you faced?
Well, bearing in mind that I started with no clients, all I needed was a laptop and I could work from anywhere. In fact, I did quite a bit of my early work while I was travelling overseas.
But, like most start-ups, the number of people who know you and know of the service you are providing, is vastly outweighed by the number of people who don’t know you. So, getting exposure for myself and my business was a big challenge…… hence my association with Engine Room Hub which I think is a marvelous platform to be part of as another way to let people know you are out there. I use Google reviews in conjunction with my website which I set up very early on. Visits to it are increasing so those were the obvious challenges I faced not having started a business before.
As I said in my earlier response, the vast majority of new clients are now coming from referral and that is by far the best source of customers for any start-up. A referral gives you a proverbial ‘foot-in-the-door’ because of a prior recommendation, you can pick up the phone and I use a very-low pressure process when talking to prospective clients. I don’t charge for the first 20 minutes of advice and people can choose to become a retainer client with me or not but most of the time they do. Exposure and promotion are the biggest challenge and that is a constant I think.
In my particular industry the challenge for business owners is that they may do a lot of research into the machinery or business they set up but, inevitably as a business grows they usually need to take on employees and they often don't factor in the need for advice prior to doing so.
What has been your biggest achievement in your business so far?
I have always backed myself and I have had the confidence that I could make a success out of whatever I decided I would do. Bearing in mind I am 62 and I decided to start my business at 60 still floors some people. But to me, not counting chronic illness, age is a state of mind. So for me it was a no brainer to “YES I’m going to do this” and “yes I can make a good go of it” so that was a really big thing for me.
Coupled with that of course is going from zero clients in February 2018 to over 100 in 18 months. To quote a current ad on the telly “to me that’s big!”
As you know I have started to get involved in Professional and Business Award-Writing as another string and that has been an exciting aspect of my work this year that I have really enjoyed.
Which other entrepreneur inspires you and why?
Off the top of my head I could think of several people that inspire me, you’re one of them Angie. Your stick-to-it-ness with Engine Room Hub and your determination to build a platform to support business around Australia is inspiring and let’s face it neither of us are spring chickens!
In terms of a global entrepreneur that inspires me, I guess it is difficult to go past Richard Branson. Such an engaging person with a great mind who is constantly thinking of new things. Apart from his obvious multiple successes, it appears that everything he has made money from has been driven by his own passion and determination, that is very inspiring to me.
What are your three top tips for business success?
Surround yourself with positive people. Don't deal with people who discourage you or tell you it's not going to work. Find people with knowledge and expertise who are prepared to share that with you and can offer you encouragement.
Find your niche and point of difference and make sure you communicate that clearly in everything you do in terms of marketing.
Make sure you have a plan or roadmap to where you want to go.
Is there anything else you would people to know about you – the person behind Clearwater Workplace Solutions?
I am a person that believes strongly in relationship building and naturally everybody in business wants to make money. But making squillions of dollars isn’t my prime focus, mine is to deliver the very best advice and support I can to clients. I truly believe that when our clients are our focus, success and financial rewards all fall out from that. If any business owner goes out there with the intention of screwing people then, yes, they can find a level of success from a monetary perspective, but that isn’t a true measure of success in my book and they invariably fail to hang on to those people in the longer term.
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