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Co-founder and CEO of Milan Direct shares advice on starting, growing and staying competitive

Dean J Ramler 2 - MD

From humble beginnings, Dean Ramler has turned his startup, Milan Direct, into Australia’s number one online furniture retailer. He shares his expert opinion and advice around starting, growing and staying competitive in the market.

When you start a business, you’re so focused on the day to day that it’s difficult to step back and look at the business and its future strategic plans. But this is exactly what an owner needs to do because without strategy, real growth will be hampered by a lack of vision.

The process of moving away from the hands-on management of the business to a more strategic overview role is not an easy one for a business owner, so setting aside a day a month to simply sit and plan out the transition is the first step.

Building a business plan and committing it to paper is a useful way to kick-start this transition. Make it simple, genuine and ask basic questions like: What do you want the business to do, where will it be in five years and how do we get there? Then drive the plan through the organisation so everyone is working towards that goal.

Use this time to plan out processes so you can start delegating management. For owners who’ve built the business from scratch, this is a difficult step, but it’s impossible for one person to cover everything and see real growth.

With a strategy in place, it’s time to focus on growing your business. Many organisations suffer from growing pains due to an inability to scale readily. Once you have the basics right you can scale in line with your resources.

Be process driven

Many entrepreneurs begin with an idea and a map of where they want to go in their mind but don’t document it. You need documented systems and processes that your team can refer to. In the early days of Milan Direct we didn’t document all our processes and while we were doing well, we found our growth grew significantly once we had processes in place.

Invest in technology

When Milan Direct began we manually uploaded products and it took a huge amount of time and resources. So we invested in technology that enabled us to do bulk uploading. Now, we have 15,000+ products on our Australia site alone and have sold over 1 million products to over 40 countries. When considering technology investments, think about where it will sit in the business and if it doesn’t help you scale, knock it back.

Hire and support great managers

Invest time upfront to identify exactly what you want from your managers and support your decision by giving them the resources to run their departments well. Running a meritocratic business means focusing on the value an employee brings, which not only rewards people for the right behaviour—the improvements they make—but also drives a culture of high achievers.

Once you have an established and successful business, you’ll start to see competition on the scene and standing out in a crowded marketplace takes skill and strategy. So what’s the secret to staying competitive?

Build your narrative

The most unique thing about any business is its story, so find the narrative that makes your business compelling to potential customers and lifts you above the humdrum of the others. This is a way a way to distinguish your brand and communicate your expertise to the market.

Foster innovation

Distinguish your business by creating a culture that encourages innovation and pushing the boundaries. Get the whole team to challenge status quo and find business improvements by questioning processes. Don’t discourage innovation, its key to staying competitive.

Don’t get boxed in

At Milan Direct we don’t look at other furniture stores for product ideas, we look at trends to figure out what could be big in the coming year. Similarly, we don’t look at our competitors for leadership on ecommerce, but we do check out other online sites in different industries and countries to see how they create a good shopping experience.

About the author:

This article was written by Dean Ramler, co-founder and CEO, Milan Direct.