I want to earn money
Chris McMail was more interested in working hard than doing well in school. From a young age he had a great work ethic, learning from his first jobs. Working as a market trader, he learned how to sell, how to build relationships, no matter what the weather, or what he was asked to do, he worked hard.
Chris actually left school with 7 ‘O’ Levels and 4 Highers and then he came to our college to study Computer Data Processes. Full of confidence, drive and ambition, he left college and set up his own business with a £3000 grant, selling computers. Microtech was born. Fast forward 30 years later, and Microtech has a turnover of £6m employing over 60 staff. Here’s how he did it.
I was 21, living at home with my mum and dad, with minimum living costs to consider and therefore starting my own business was a low-risk opportunity. Whilst my parents couldn’t give me much practical help, they provided lots of moral support. My biggest challenge in the early days was getting a bank loan for £3000 to get started. I stayed in Ardrossan, approached the local bank and was turned down. I moved on to the next town, and the next, until I was eventually approved for a loan in Ayr! That was my first lesson in resilience – to have confidence in myself, positive thinking and just refuse to take no for an answer.
Add value to your product
I stood out from other businesses because I didn’t just sell computers – I offered technical support, adding value to the hardware and software products.
In the early 1990s, NHS Ayrshire and Arran tendered a contract to provide a professional computer support service for every GP practice in Ayrshire. It was the first time I had gone through a procurement process. It was a long-convoluted process, and I was determined to not give up and see it through. We won the 3-year contract but this partnership actually lasted 7 years. It was a huge turning point for the business and it cemented our relationship within the healthcare sector.
Deal or no deal
We then became a distributor for a product called Docman – a document management system which enabled practices to go paperless – initially we sold 50 to GP practices. Then NHS Scotland offered a tender to supply the whole of Scotland. It took a year to go through the procurement process. The Final Offer meeting was probably one of the most challenging experiences of my business journey. We were faced with a very difficult choice at the meeting which could have resulted in us walking away with nothing. It was a terrifying moment when the call eventually came in from the procurement team. I stood up to take the call, hoping to feel more self-assured, more assertive! I even stood on my desk – hoping this would help! We did it – we got the deal and overnight the business grew by £200K per month!
Teamwork makes the dream work
Now I had a different kind of problem! I only had four staff and I needed to quadruple my team of programmers as quickly as possible! I surrounded myself with a great team, and together we supplied 1000 GP practices with the document management system. The total contract value was circa £8m by 2008 and by then, we had saturated the market. While we would still support these customers, we needed to diversify to sustain growth.
Understand customer needs
We now had a good understanding of the IT requirements within the healthcare sector, so we decided to grow organically by offering new products and services for our existing customers. A good example of this that most people will recognise is, the Patient Call Systems and Check-in Systems you find in doctors waiting rooms.
We also grew our business by acquisition. We took over Paligap Ltd – a full service design agency that had got into financial difficulties, so we safeguarded six jobs and created Microtech Digital. Microtech Digital offers website design and development. We also bought a company called Telehealth Solutions, which helps patients to manage their long-term health conditions.
You can read more about the full range of our services on our website https://www.microtech-group.co.uk/
Today, we continue to explore new opportunities, we have a turnover of £6m and the future continues to look bright.
Our main challenge continues to be finding the right staff. We are looking for staff from all disciplines including, computing, design, business, customer service, sales, marketing, telecoms and more!
Your road to business success
- Work hard – develop a work ethic – put in the hours
- Believe in the power of positive thinking
- Find a role model – mine is Tony Robins “The Power of Positive Thinking”
- Learn to deal with your challenges by putting them into perspective
- Never take no for an answer
- Take every opportunity
- Understand your market and always be thinking ahead
- What can you do to support your customers and help them grow?
- When you have a difficult call to make – stand up! J
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