Neil Murphy’s career-changing moment came in 2004, at a time when the burgeoning world of telecommunications offered many opportunities for astute small business-minded people.
Murphy moved from his media role in electronic radio to work for Optus SingTel, when the telco giant was in the early stages of working with small to medium businesses (SMBs) to provide technology solutions.
After helping build Optus’ NSW and Central Coast channels, Murphy rapidly worked his way through the ranks to become a state manager within Optus SMB division.
“They were exciting times,” says Murphy. “Our focus was ‘let’s go out and see the customer in their premises and let’s provide solutions for them that are both cost-effective and also innovative’.”
At that time Murphy was newly married and living in Sydney, but looking for opportunities to move back to his hometown of Newcastle. When the Optus Business Direct Channel in Newcastle became available, Murphy jumped at the chance to apply. Despite a “long and arduous” tender application process, he was successful in taking it over four years ago.
The local response to the service was immediate. “We could actually bring services like account management, someone to do your bill checks, someone to come in and quote your solutions for you, down to a level of business with 10 employees, so it really started to revolutionise the small business market.”
Later, Murphy acquired the Optus Business Centre on the Central Coast. With 13 employees, his role as director is continually evolving. “My role really these days has gone from looking after customers (which I still do today), to developing a team of good people under me.”
Working more on the business is a priority. “I guess I’ve had to do that. I was always working in every part. I still clean the toilets though,” he laughs.
Taking advantage of opportunities is a key area that Murphy has capitalised on to date. “[The GFC] was one of our most active times, because we were in there talking to our customers about cost-saving solutions, new technologies that might increase productivity and trying to safeguard some of those things – so we really have that working relationship with them.”
Murphy says every six months, there has been a dramatic change in operations. “That has come about from our strategy of improvement, but also our growth in being able to get out there and actually win more business and provide more solutions.”
In order to facilitate this growth, marketing has played a prominent role and is high on the agenda. “There’s not many things I haven’t done,” he says. “From radio campaigns to press and electronic-direct mail. Having the power brand of Optus behind me, these days I’m really focusing on web-based marketing, via electronic direct mail.
Retaining his staff has been a key factor in this success. “My whole career I’ve been in sales and I believe that people need to be rewarded constantly for the efforts they do – that’s why obviously we work under not only commission structures, but we have some things that we call ‘qualitative goals’ to make sure people get paid for doing the right sort of behaviours that we want in a company.”
The best thing his business can do, Murphy says, is to be in front of customers and “make sure we’re professional and really use the word of mouth”.
Murphy is part business leader, part entrepreneur – and although he says he’s sometimes prone to over-analysing decisions, he’s not adverse to taking a risk to help grow his business. With systems being so crucial to his business, Murphy made the big decision to write his own software.
“That change was quite expensive and quite risky to do, but instead of going to a vendor and writing our own software with a programmer, we actually cut a lot of expense in our business because it’s perfectly designed for our business.”
His advice for other business operators is sage. “If you want to grow, instead of focusing on competitors or things outside your control, you need to focus on what you can control internally and go for it!”
A focus on the future is on the radar with the business accelerating into the growth fast lane.
“It’s about making sure that we can provide more assistance to our current customers by bringing in specialists so we’re looking currently at those kind of relationships and partnerships that we can bring in to make sure we can provide even newer and better solutions.”