FOR the past 18 years, Stephen Liu has focused so much attention on his company that it came to a point when he realised he had to sit back and take stock, or else it would run his life entirely.
At 19, he had begun a career in pest control and had opened his own business five years later. The company, called Ridpest, had enjoyed a gradual but steady growth since its inception in 1985, mainly due to the method they used. It is a baiting system that does not use poisons or vapours and thus does not cause much inconvenience to customers compared to the conventional methods of pest removal.
Being his own boss, Liu had hoped that as the company matured, he would allow himself more free time to spend with his family and on other activities.
Unfortunately, he discovered the opposite to be true – he felt tied down instead.
“The fact here is, the more you work on the business, you actually find that you do not have time,” he relates. “There are a thousand and one problems to deal with as a businessman.”
Then he met Yow Feng Hing, a business coach with Action International, a business coaching and consultation firm, which has regional offices all over the world including the United States, Mexico, Canada and New Zealand.
Yow had stopped by the Ridpest booth during an exhibition.
“After the exhibition, I wrote thank you cards to all those who had come to our booth,” recalls Liu, who reads the business cards that visitors leave behind.
When he received Liu’s card, Yow got back to him to explain his line of work.
“Normally I don’t entertain sales calls but the way Yow approached me was really, really professional. It was something very different,” says Liu.
From their first meeting, Liu was impressed with what Yow had to say. “Yow said that a business is a commercial, profitable enterprise that works without you,” says Liu.
At that point, Liu remembers, he had remarked to himself that what Yow said sounded too good to be true. Liu was captivated by the concept of having the business run without his personal, continuous presence and input.
“That (the concept) was mind-boggling because I felt that I needed to be there all the time, I needed to be hands-on.”
It was then that Liu realised he was very tied to the business.
“I couldn't detach myself from it. I was working in the business and not on the business.”
Within a month of their first meeting, Liu had signed on with Yow’s coaching programme.
His technical knowledge of the business was beyond doubt, but what he needed to improve on was the marketing, observes Yow.
“Every business is in the marketing business,” he says.
“Stephen is in the business of marketing pest control services, a restaurant is in the business of marketing food and a newspaper is in the business of marketing information.
“But many business owners do not make marketing a priority. The mechanics of marketing is something that all business owners must know in order to expand and improve.”
As for a company running smoothly with or without the owner at hand, Yow says it is totally possible.
“A business has to be system dependant and not people dependant.”
Yow knows very well the mistakes that many entrepreneurs make in the course of building up their business, and he has experienced some of them himself.
An accountant by training, Yow worked for 10 years in this profession. “After a while I knew that accounting was not my cup of tea and decided to call it quits.”
He then decided to become an entrepreneur. During this period, he tried his hand at various kinds of businesses, from selling non-slip floor and tile liquid to printing.
Much like Liu, Yow eventually realised that his business was absorbing too much of his time and energy.
“One day I asked myself, is business all about busy-ness?” he relates.
This prompted him to look for answers through seminars and books written by well-known motivators like Stephen Covey and Anthony Robbins.
“I found out that there are some universal truths in life. If you can understand them and apply them to your business and your life, then you will find the going a little easier, which is what I did.”
It was during this phase of discovery that Yow happened to attend a seminar by Brad Sugars, the chairman and founder of Action International.
“He blew me away with his concepts of business and marketing. He made it all sound so simple, which in fact it is,” says Yow, who kept in touch with Sugars after the seminar.
Three years ago, Action International asked Yow to be a business coach and be part of its team, and he accepted without hesitation.
“I have travelled the path of trial and error and it is a painful path. I feel that this system helps people do away with the learning curve altogether,” he says.
For his commitment and success in business coaching, Yow received the Coach of the Year 2003 in Asia Award from Action International.
As for Liu, it is clear that he is thrilled with the improvements he sees in the two short years since he joined the coaching programme.
Armed with newfound knowledge from his coaching sessions, Liu has worked up new strategies for Ridpest that, he says, are now expanding the company’s customer base. He has even learned to word his advertisements differently and this has brought in added revenue.
Best of all, he says, a better and more systematic approach to running the company has given him more energy, drive and time.
He is also involved in charity projects. In 2002, Ridpest 'rescued' the Community Service Centre for the Deaf in Jalan Ampang from total collapse because the building was almost completely eaten away by termites. It took Ridpest nearly two months to completely destroy the termites and the service was worth RM20,000.
But Liu did it for free. “I was glad to help the children. I was sure that my method of removing termites would definitely work. Before that, they had tried all kinds of methods and failed.”
It was this combination of business acumen and compassion for the less fortunate that won Liu Action International’s Honour award for a Remarkable and Socially Responsible Business in April of this year.
His story is featured in a book called ACTION Speaks Louder Than Words, by Brad Sugars.
Liu has big plans for Ridpest, and he is currently meticulously documenting and systemising the company.
“We are looking at the possibility of franchising,” he says, adding that he hopes it will become a reality next year.
“Initially it will be nationwide, then our neighbouring countries and, who knows, maybe even globally.”
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