Publisher point of view

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By Mark Buckshon

Publisher, Ottawa Construction News

Sometimes it is helpful to look back on our business successes and failures. Since I’m an optimist at heart, I tend to reflect more on the decisions (and luck) that went right and allow the blunders to fade into distant memories.

I suppose there is some justification for the “rose colored glasses” perception – after all, Ottawa Construction News has been published for more than 35 years (with the first issue printed in 1989). We’ve survived plenty of changes, some serious recessions, a pandemic, and technological changes that have reshaped the publishing (and construction) industries.

However, the optimism understates the near-misses and several existential crises that I’ve lived through since starting the business in 1988. I over-expanded, poured money and way too much time into diversions, clung onto sinking projects and made countless hiring and contracting errors.

Fortunately, I missed a few of the biggest business killers around, which include:

Allowing excessive personal liability debt

The saddest stories I’ve seen in business are owners who signed personal guarantees on their business loans and then lost everything when things crashed. I realize for some businesses debt cannot be avoided and, if you need to obtain surety bonding for projects, especially in the public sector, almost no bonding organization will allow you to get away without signing over a claim on your personal resources. Still, you really should think carefully about the risks here because things go wrong and when they do, it can be painful.

Relying on a single customer

It’s great to have good and profitable customers – and if you have some major purchasers, they can influence your growth and expansion strategies. But what happens if they fail?  Have you matched your commitments and obligations to the possibility of a severe and sudden contraction in your revenue (or discovering you are an unsecured creditor when the client fails.) The cliche: “Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket” applies in business.

Failing to know your customers and market trends

In the early years, I discovered a relationship-based advertising sales technique that works wonders in moderation.  However, I took it all the way, pushing revenues to astronomical levels – until the customers rebelled. In hindsight, I realize I failed to really understand how the customers perceived their “investment” in advertising; with our methods, they probably thought it more as extortion. When I finally got around to changing my ways, this business was beyond being on life support – in fact, I think it is a miracle that we survived.

Yeah, I can look at the good decisions. I learned a fair bit, had the perception (or plain luck) to see serious problems before they became totally critical, and learned how to bring an incredibly competent group of employees and contractors together in a cohesive organization. Next month, we’ll transition the enterprise to an employee-ownership model, and hopefully the staff will avoid some of my errors going forward.

            Mark Buckshon is president of the Construction News and Report Group of Companies, which publishes Ottawa Construction News. He can be reached by email at buckshon@cnrgp.com.

 

 

 

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