June 2022 marked Pro Steel Engineering’s 10th anniversary. Here director and co-founder Richard Selby shares his top learnings to help inspire any entrepreneurs out there to take the bull by the horns and start up that business if the passion is there.
I lost my way aged 16, flunked my A-levels and scraped my way through university. I could easily have taken a different path, but my parents were role models who set the standards and expectations I knew I needed to achieve.
Having a young family, mortgage, no savings and giving up a well-paid job aren’t normal ingredients to starting a business back in 2012, but I had belief in delivering solutions for clients.
I co-founded Pro Steel with nothing and created something. To reflect on the past 10 years and note the prestigious contracts we’ve won, nearly £100m of contracts , the manufacturing facilities we’ve built and the high-quality team of people we’ve surrounded ourselves with is hard to believe sometimes. It’s easy to keep looking forward but it’s equally as important to take small moments and soak it all in and not take anything for granted.
Here are some of my learnings from that time:
1. Think beyond your perceived limits
When we started the company, yes we wanted to do things differently and grow it into a financially viable business, but we also had ambitions to see the unexpected and be surprised by what we could achieve. We won dream client work including the Olympic Stadium, and even went international and now export to nine countries!
2. Do what you do well, and the business will grow
We knew we could deliver incredible work on time, and within budgets to clients, while providing the highest level of team delivery. By maintaining those standards, word of mouth quickly spread, and work came flooding in. We were awarded the fastest growing firm in Manufacturing and Engineering at the 2016 Fast Growth 50 awards, and were pipped at the post by Aerfin by just 6% of growth to almost take home the title of fastest growing business overall too. Those standards are still as high today, we’ve just added a lot more to them!
3. Surround yourself with good people who can do things you can’t do
I can’t do everything, and I knew that from day one. What I didn’t appreciate was how much stuff I didn’t know, that I would soon find out I didn’t know. I knew I needed to outsource financing to an accountant, PR and marketing to an agency, but I didn’t back then appreciate things like employment law. Find the best people you can afford and let them manage what they know best, as this gives you the breathing space to look ahead, as well as managing the present. I have also made a point to surround myself with people who have more experience than me outside of the sector and used my memberships of the Institute of Directors and CBI Wales over the years to make new contacts and start long-lasting friendships.
4. Don’t compare yourself to others, focus on your own business
We’ve all done it haven’t we? We’ve seen something from a competitor on social media or in the press and thought, we could do that right? It might be good for us to explore, but right now focus on your own journey and don’t get distracted by those of others. You’ve entrusted the best people to work with and guide you, so don’t let one small thing you see take your focus in a different direction by a split-second decision as it could be a costly one long-term.
5. Position yourself well for opportunities
You can’t sit back and just expect the ride to take you forward. You have to make things happen, so even when things are going well, look out for those new opportunities and new people to meet. I’ve been extremely fortunate to have a strong team here at Pro Steel to enable me to do find roles outside of the core business, that long-term have the potential to see a positive impact on our prospective work. I proactively followed up (*almost all) opportunities that arose including, among others, becoming the first Welsh resident to be named on The Prince’s Trust Enterprise Fellowship list, and being named Institute of Directors Wales’ Chair.
6. Follow your instincts. Don’t do things you don’t really want to do
*I said almost all opportunities were seized in the last point, but you have to say no to some things, even if they feel like the best of opportunities at the time. Your gut instinct is one of the most powerful feelings you get as a business owner, and is one never to ignore. In hindsight, yes there will have been some things I said no to that I could have done and enjoyed, but there are far more that I’m glad I said no to. Reasons for saying no at the time could have been down to workload, or work/life balance but never feel compelled to say yes, simply because they are put across to you as amazing opportunities. Weigh up the costs of committing to something (time, money etc) and what benefits you get from it.
7. Have fear, but stare it down
Fear is a normal feeling, and one that was there when registering the company on Companies House all those years ago, hiring our first employee, and even present today looking at how we continue to grow as a business. Complement fear with rationale thinking. Fear makes you think about all eventualities, so don’t ignore it, instead embrace it and see what brilliant decisions you can make from it. Without fear, you could be winging it, and that isn’t how I make the best decisions.
8. Balance your time appropriately between the short term and long-term goals
It’s very easy to see the here and now, what we often call the quick wins. Celebrate them of course, but don’t lose sight of the overall plan for the organisation. Take time out of the day-to-day office life now and again, and with a different surrounding and some good coffee, measure how you’re doing against the long-term goals, and use the time to put things in place to steer back in the right direction if needed, or push your foot harder to the floor to drive more of the same success you’re seeing if you’re on the right track.
9. Trust in your team
Put simply, I wouldn’t be writing this 10-year anniversary piece if I didn’t have a team in place that I’ve trusted over the years. I’ve hired people because I know they’re great at what their expertise is, or I’ve hired those trainees because they’ve demonstrated skill and enthusiasm for the sector, they don’t want or need me to micro-manage them. They need to make those mistakes early and learn from them, mentor our new recruits and grow together as a team to deliver the best service for clients. They also need to enjoy working for us, otherwise you lose good people so get the balance right of trusting them, providing them with opportunities to develop, and be there when they need you to guide them in the right direction when they face something new.
10. Be kind, and do good
Being a successful business brings with it security and financial gain yes, but we as directors must always consider how we can help the lives of others and our planet. What can we do today, big or small, that could have a positive impact on others? This has always been incredibly important to me, and I’d say the driving force to me getting involved as a Patron for Prince’s Trust as well as Pro Steel receiving the first Gwent Corporate Shrievalty Award, delivered in conjunction with Gwent Police for exceptional contribution to the communities of Gwent where we are located, and where I grew up. I urge every director to have a passion about something, and see what great things can come from going that extra mile for others. So far, we have supported over 100 young people through Prince’s Trust programmes helping them into positive outcomes such as training or employment.
So, to anyone reading this, who has worked for us, with us, and generally supported us over the last 10 years, thank you so much/diolch yn fawr. It has been a rollercoaster of a journey for us, let alone with the addition of Brexit and Coronavirus which definitely weren’t in the risk register all those years ago! Here’s to the next 10 years of Pro Steel Engineering, and if you’d like to catch up and celebrate with us, the coffee/beer is on me.