The Journey to REAL Success: How it begins
Special Guest and successful business owner Michael Alayan tell us his story
with Michael Alayan with Kynan Albassit
There are undoubtedly two sides to every story and that’s no different from the arguments around the merits of formal education vs what you learn outside the classroom. The answer is always going to differ depending on who you speak with, their outlook and of course where they are now. Director of SPS Plumbing in Sydney, NSW, Michael Alayan visited the AiiMS podcast studio to retrace his steps from ambitious but distracted student to successful business owner and family man, leaving breadcrumbs of knowledge, tips and lessons for us to follow along the way…
Two schools of thought shaped who I am today
There’s a fine line between distracted and focused or disinterested and passionate and we’re told that that line separates the successful from the unsuccessful. As is the case with many students, Michael had his favourite subjects at school and those that just seemed to get in the way. Sports was a passion but maths? Not so much.
Regardless, Michael found that there was definitely a difference between “book learning” and the “social” lessons around human interaction, finding your place in the world, learning what you stand for and what you most certainly will not stand for. In some schools, these social lessons are taught gently, the rules are hinted at and missteps are overlooked. In others, mistakes like failing to set boundaries and standing firm on your principles and codes of behaviour do not go unnoticed and are vigorously addressed. From an early age, Michael knew that he had been thrust into the latter in Sydney’s inner and southwest and learned hard lessons that shaped him to be the man he is today.
That’s not where the duality ended though and the question remained: Should you try to pour all your energy into all of your classes or, if you recognise a pathway that you strongly feel you should follow, do you put your focus and energy into that? Again, Michael chose the latter… or vice versa.
Having spent time after school, working at Hungry Jacks, KFC and McDonalds from the age of 14, it was clear that the world of work beckoned more strongly than the call of ATAR and subsequent university life. With ambitions of gaining a trade and running a business, it was soon time to commit to making it happen.
Perception vs reality and the first steps along a 6-year journey
It’s almost a cliché nowadays. A wide-eyed, wet-behind-the-ears kid quickly goes from floor-mopper/dishwasher/sh*t kicker to successful business owner. The movies usually cover this story arc are about 90-120 minutes. Michael’s reality was very different – as you’d expect, after all, this is real life.
So what was real life for Michael like back then?
Basically, a year spent carrying things as a plumber’s apprentice on construction sites coupled with a day a week at TAFE as a formal introduction to the trade, codes and regulations. Year two was spent with a new employer trying to catch up on skills and knowledge that should have been trained in during year one which, again, was spent, essentially labouring. From there, mandatory Cert III and then Cert IV qualifications were worked for and achieved over the following years.
But this was by no means a spartan, one-dimensional existence. Remember, those extracurricular “social” lessons during the school years? Those, coupled with the memories of a childhood home life filled with love and the essentials, even while scarred by the death of his father, the crippling disability of his sister and held together by a tireless mother, Michael had the seeds of true leadership, persistence and drive planted within him. Seeds that would bear fruit as he took the reins of what is now an established and successful plumbing business entering its 11th year, servicing the needs of residents and businesses in and around Sydney.
But as a newly, fully accredited plumber in his early 20s, Michael only knew that he wanted to work for himself. Surely, he had stamped his ticket to financial independence, good times and reaping the rewards of hard work while being his own boss. Yes, Michael had left formal education in the school system far behind him but, as he would find out, there was still a lot to learn.
The tough transition from the back of the van to the front office
Making the transition from driving the van to driving the business is not an easy one and definitely involves more than simply counting the money. Michael was always driven by the desire to help others, solve their problems and make life easier using the skills acquired over years of dedication, focus and application. As many business owners find out, there’s more to running a successful business than that.
Michael said that moving away from the personal contact and communication with clients and customers and into brand/reputation management, logistics and project management was not something he readily embraced at first. But he had to get over that, fast, because there were yet more obstacles to overcome and milestones to surpass:
- lifting the eyes and considering the broader leadership roles and tasks
- establishing how to get the most out of people
- setting operational procedure
- “finding your business’s place in the world, learning what it stands for and what you most certainly will not stand for…”
And then there’s competing in a free market with other suppliers, reputations and the customers’ perceptions across the commercial landscape.
Leading the charge from serviceable reputation to supplier of (first) choice
They say that the only constant is change. You hear that a lot across a number of industries and with the advances in technology and an increasingly complex, knowledgeable and demanding consumer – it comes as no surprise. However, not all changes are good for consumers and one change that caught Michael’s attention a number of years ago was around “Trade Recognition”. As he tells it, most likely due to housing/property booms across both residential and commercial, the demand for trades resulted in players in the plumbing industry being rushed through the licensing process. Some were able to cover Michael’s 6-year journey to become a licensed plumber with just $5k and the completion of a single course.
Michael’s feeling is that you probably only learn 30% of what you need to at TAFE and that does not equip you to handle and solve the myriad problems, issues and challenges that are awaiting you and your client base in the real world. Now, as a result of botched jobs, overpricing for underwhelming results and a general lack of experience, customers and clients are understandably cautious and wary – which makes things tougher for legitimate and highly experienced service providers. Michael sums up by suggesting that it’s up to business owners like him to ensure that:
- Confidence is openly backed up by experience and expertise – so talk about your successes and how your skills helped deliver a superior result
- Social proof is on your side – therefore, pay attention to the reviews you are earning and make sure your social platforms are working harder for you by asking for feedback
- Trust is nurtured at every opportunity – so remember to be transparent and open
As always, looking after your digital footprint can be a demanding task and a difficult one to get right. But it’s essential you do so. Michael’s advice? Find an expert you can trust that specialises in delivering the results you need.
That works for us. Thanks for stopping by Michael.
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