Richard Selby, director of Pro Steel Engineering: ‘Believe in your instincts no matter what'
Posted January 29th, 17:00
5 min read
Richard Selby and his business partner were laughed at by bank managers when they asked for a business loan.
Four years later, Pro Steel Engineering are the second fastest growing company in Wales according to Fast Growth 50 – in the last financial year the specialist firm increased turnover by more than £11m, up from £3.6m to £15.5m.
A former Institute of Welsh Affairs (IWA) Start Up of the Year and SME of the year at the Constructing Excellence in Wales awards, Richard has been instrumental in securing high-profile railway projects, including Crossrail. Their greatest achievement to date is securing and delivering roof-strengthening work to London’s Olympic Stadium.
Richard tells us about growing fast within Wales and why outsourcing elements of your business is essential if you want to succeed.
What’s your USP?
We’re a service-based specialist engineering business focused on providing whole-project solutions. We work with clients to add value to their projects while ensuring they are completed on time and within budget. These qualities win us repeat business.
What challenges did you face when starting PSE?
Starting a business from zero, with no cash input, was a big challenge. We relied heavily on our reputation as individuals within the sector to bring in new business through existing contacts and that also played a big part in us persuading suppliers to give us credit.
What have the highs and lows been since you started?
The lows within the sector always relate to poor payment or administration by clients.
The highs are winning large, notable projects. A lot of time and effort often goes into the bidding process so when we come out successfully it makes the hard work worth it.
How has the business changed since you started?
We started off primarily as a steel-specialist engineering firm and in recent years saw a trend in the need for off-site fabrication services.
Instead of relying on a separate supplier, we decided to create and build our own fabrication unit at our Caldicot-based headquarters so that clients can work with one contact and we can guarantee the quality of the material.
How have you adapted and stayed agile in a busy market?
We’ve kept an eye on what our clients want and have adapted to ensure we provide a high-quality service.
We’ve heavily invested in training our employees given the ever-increasing skills shortage we experience, particularly in Wales. In total, we’ve spent over £50k putting them through various NVQs. This not only benefits the firm as we have highly skilled workers, but it also enhances our employees’ confidence.
We continue our commitment to listening to what training the team thinks would benefit them, which means we have a workforce that is committed to working with us long-term.
What are your tips for SMEs on getting clients?
Spend some valuable time targeting clients and building relationships with people who want to work with you.
Avoid the hard sell initially; people buy from people they trust. There is no point spending time, money and effort tendering for projects on electronic portals when the buyer hasn’t even spoken to you.
Do you have any advice on how to make your business stand out in a crowded market?
Appreciate that as a business owner you might not have all the necessary skills to stand out, so outsource your communications activity.
You were recently named Wales’ second fastest growing company – how do you think you achieved that?
It’s a combination of things. We focus on building key relationships with our contacts, think carefully about what projects we work on in terms of resource and our ability to deliver the work to a high standard. We also outsource key elements like finance and branding, which allows us to focus on what we know best and the important day-to-day running.
Do you think there’s enough encouragement and support for fast growth firms in Wales/the UK?
No, it’s poor. While we worked closely with Finance Wales at the start, it came after we approached them. I don’t feel other support agencies are specialist enough for fast growth businesses.
Getting a partnership with some of the agencies requires a lot of administrative work before you gain any real value. It would be good if we had a network of entrepreneurs to help start ups within their specialist fields.
I understand that you’ve taken finance to help the business – how did you find that experience? What advice would you give to other businesses looking for finance?
A proactive accountant will be invaluable to support you. By them knowing where you want to get to, they can advise you accordingly. The whole finance process usually takes longer than anticipated so start those conversations as early as you can.
Did you always want to work for yourself?
Yes – but I didn’t know how to unlock the opportunity. Having a business partner with a skill that complemented my own made Pro Steel Engineering stronger and we enjoyed the startup process.
How do you balance work and life?
I’m a married father of two so work-life balance is really important. Through training our staff and employing the right people, I’m now able to work from home if needed.
I also advocate the ‘work smarter’ approach. When I know there are a lot of meetings coming up in London, I will arrange them to take place on one day. It requires a lot of forward planning, but ultimately means less time away from home.
How to you stay productive?
I go to the gym, which releases any frustrations so that when I’m in office-mode I can focus solely on the work at hand.
What advice do you wish you’d gotten when you started, and what advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs now?
To believe in your instincts no matter what advice you are given.
What do you think the future holds for PSE?
By building on the strong order book, we hope to reshape the definition of a steelwork contractor.
Traditionally steelwork contractors in the UK are primarily manufacturers, but we hope to buck the trend with manufacturing being just a part of the overall specialist construction services offering.
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