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Small business diary with Duffy Boxing: Conditioning your business

Ciaran Duffy is a former light middleweight boxing champion who has set up Duffy Boxing, a boxing gym for all abilities based in Stratford’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, East London.

Duffy Boxing is backed by our very own CEO: Stubben Edge founder, Chris Kenning.

It’s our mission to help people start and run their businesses better. Now, we’re getting to live that experience through a connection with a brand new business. This three-part series has been created to shine a light on what it actually takes to start and run a small business.

In the second part of the series, Duffy discusses what’s worked and what he’s learned in the early days of running the business.

Word of mouth is still powerful

Of course, there are the everyday things that you have to stay on top of, such as keeping the place clean, but that’s been far from Duffy’s greatest challenge: I would say the main challenges at this early stage in my business is just getting the numbers,” he says.

We all know about the digital platforms that can help you get your business and its message out there. But just as it’s important to use the right social media platform for your audience, it’s also crucial to know where your audience are – and that might be in the real world. “I find what works best in this area [East London] is when I speak to people face-to-face, when I have some sort of conversation and a personal relationship with people. You get to know them,” said Duffy. “People say, ‘I had a good session, let’s come back, I like that place.’”

Consistency means a lot for a fledgling small business in attracting regular clientele. “Tomorrow, I might be tired, I might not be tired. But I want to provide quality service. I want the same service we provide every time. If I can do that, people can be guaranteed a certain quality when they come in, and that’s what I’m going for here,” he said. “This gym is small, boutique, with real fighters.”

Top tip: Consistency in service and communication are key.

Keep reminding yourself of the excitement…

Duffy beams as he talks about his boxing gym. “I can’t advise anyone on how I keep up the energy, because I love it. I love training people – as soon as I engage with people, I come to life.” But what advice would he give to others? “I would say, ‘Why are you doing it?’ If you’re excited about it, keep reverting to it. I remind myself that I’ve had a lot of hard jobs. Now I’m in the gym every day. Even if I’m a bit tired, I’m happy.”

Try and stay positive where you can. “Look at what you’ve got going for you – you’ve got your own business. Times are good. You know, a lot of people don’t have what we’ve got. You’ve got an opportunity,” he says.

Top tip: Remember your why.

But don’t forget the dull stuff

As we all know, there are elements of running a business that we’re altogether less passionate about, such as accounting.

Boring, boring, boring. I’m just joking!” he laughs. “Look, it’s just one page at time. Like the boxing ring one round at a time, one man at a time. Get it done. Simple as that.

“You want the fun stuff, you have got to do the hard stuff, you’ve got to stay on top of it, you’ve got to be consistent. Those areas can make you or break you. If you do not stay on top of it, then all of the fun stuff will disappear.”

Duffy talks about his fear of failure and how it drives him to succeed: “Failing because I didn’t stay on top of it won’t be something I do,” he adds.

Top tip: Keep showing up.

Avoid the needlessly negative

Having balance in your network keeps things in perspective, but sometimes you know when someone’s being overly critical, as Duffy knows: “I try to avoid people that are that bringing me down. I’m hard to bring down, believe it or not. If they’re negative people, I try to walk away.”

It’s worth noting who the feedback is coming from. “It’s usually people that haven’t achieved much that give you a hard time, you know? People higher than you give you encouragement,” says Duffy. “You very rarely see a boxer giving another boxer a hard time for losing the fight because we’ve all been there and it’s the same business.

“I guess there are some entrepreneurs who have succeeded straight away and did brilliant things but I say most of them have had a hard time coming up, so it’s the same thing.”

It’s more about realism than being surrounded by ‘yes’ people, though. “That doesn’t mean that all I want to hear is rainbows and fuzziness. I’m saying I’m a realist,” he adds. “I understand you have good days and bad days. I’m a fighter. I’ll come back. I’ve got a lot of reasons to fight hard.”

Trust takes time to build, but it is absolutely worth it. When you get to know people over a period of time, you value their information. You don’t always take it, you don’t always have to agree. If you surround yourself with people that want the best for you in the business, then you usually get genuine good advice. And if you understand your industry, then you should be able to put it into place and see if it works.”

Top tip: Build trust with people over time.

A strong partnership helps

Duffy has his family to get him through the challenging times of running a business. “I have a lovely wife, two lovely children. I’m lucky enough to have my wife that can take control on one side while I try and get [the business] off. She’s got great ideas, and she’s just a great help to me. We’re a partnership, so I’m blessed.”

Like many business owners, Duffy misses out on certain things. “My little boys don’t see as much of their dad, but at the end of the day it’s going to be worth it. If I make this business pay for them, hopefully they’ll have benefits. And you know, they get to see that both myself and their mother have a strong work ethic,” he says.

Top tip: Lean on your loved ones.

Maintain a boxing mentality

Resilience is an admirable trait in anyone, but it’s an essential for athletes. “I came from a sporting background, so you get more haters than enough. There was a phrase that I heard recently, it said: ‘A winner is only a loser that tried one more time.’ I’ve failed in plenty of things. I understand from doing this in my industry. I’ve been around it my whole life.

“And I’m not stupid. I can look at the big picture and say, ‘This area that may work this works, this fits the bill and my heart’s in it and I’m going to go for it no matter what people say. I trust my own opinion, as much as I trust anybody else’s, I listen to them. And I take that all into account but I mean, who says anybody knows more than me? Yeah, I can take their advice, but if you don’t believe in yourself in anything, it’s very hard.”

Ultimately, it all comes back to you, as Duffy acknowledges: “Be true to yourself. Hopefully, the good things come from there, if you work hard.

Top tip: Listen to others, but trust your gut.

Duffy Boxing Elite Training Centre is open now. Find out more about training and classes, all the way from beginner to advanced, here. You can also follow Duffy Boxing on Instagram @duffyboxing_

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Small business diary with Duffy Boxing: Learning the basics – Small Business catches up with Ciaran Duffy, former professional boxer and founder, for a series on starting a small business

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