Ping. Ping. Ping. My LinkedIn inbox recently – amidst a farcical number of messages from recruitment agencies, I’ve received lots of lovely messages congratulating me on nine years running ramarketing.
Nine years. A quarter of my life. Over half of my professional life. What started out as a part time side project has turned into a global, pharmaceutical marketing agency. I would never have predicted that. How on earth did that happen? God knows.
Even though I never look at myself as an entrepreneur, I am very lucky that some things just come naturally. I get on with (almost) everyone. I rarely burn bridges. I’m annoyingly energetic. And customer service has been ingrained in me since I worked in my parent’s shop aged nine.
Reflecting on nine years got me thinking – what do I wish I’d known about setting-up, growing and running a business back in the summer of 2009? Whether you’re at the start of your career, setting up a business, or even at the end of your working life – hopefully you can learn from or relate to some of these…
1. Don’t chase the money
In the early days of running a business, it’s hard to turn down cash. But once you have a firm handle on who your ideal client is and how to wow them, don’t get distracted by the other 99% of the opportunities… especially if it’s just for money. Not all clients will be good clients. And if it doesn’t feel right, it’s probably not.
2. But, don’t get reliant on one client either
I learnt this one the hard way. Our biggest client was 30% of revenues at one point. I thought we’d have them forever and grow old together. But overnight, they were gone. Today, rarely is a client worth more than 12% at ramarketing. And my job is to get that below 10%. If you have one huge client that accounts for a big chunk of business, then don’t get complacent – go out and find some more.
3. Learn how to sell
When we lost that big client – I had to learn how to prospect, develop a competitive differential and sell overnight – otherwise we may never have survived. Today I am still learning about business development (as I’m not a natural salesperson) but I wish I’d started perfecting this craft on day one.
4. Get a stand-up desk
OK, this one is a bit random. But millions of people around the world sit down and work at a desk for hours on end every day. Humans were not designed to sit all day. For me personally, having a stand-up desk has alleviated back pain and eliminated hip troubles. It also gave me more energy and core strength. It takes a wee while to get used to but it’s something you’ll never regret.
5. Kill the notifications
I’ve read, listened to and practised pretty much everything to do with productivity. While in the early days, it seemed ‘cool’ to have multiple devices beeping, switching between tasks and feeling busy – this was so amateur. Multi-tasking is literally the daftest thing I was taught at school. Eliminate distractions. Block your time for important tasks. And attack your biggest priorities first thing in the morning. In my view – focused, single-tasking is the most valuable skill you can develop.
But I’m amazing at everything. And better than everyone else. Erm, no you’re not. More resource is the key to more income. Every time we’ve stepped up and added more resource, our revenue has followed suit. I had little assistance in the first two years, opting to ‘cash in’ rather than outsource. And in hindsight, this short-term thinking simply limited growth and prevented me from spending time on (not in) the business.
7. Learn every single day
Rather cliched I know, but I can directly correlate ramarketing’s growth with the point in my life (about four years ago) that I decided to get up before 6am every day and read a book. I read for just 10mins a day, listen to one useful podcast (on my commute or running) and read at least one helpful article every day. And this habit has literally changed my life and massively benefited the business. Like I say to my wonderful colleagues – be better than yesterday.
8. Watch your mouth
Once you become a manager and/or leader, this one gets very important. Those that know me personally know I like to talk! But there’s a reason we have two ears and one mouth. When people (like your team) take what you say as gospel, then use your words carefully and don’t just blurt out the next thing that comes to mind. Also, listening is learning. I work on this every day and it’s not easy to master!
9. Think big
It took me about seven years to shake off the constant insecurity of thinking I could lose everything I’ve built any day. Since then, I’ve exchanged this for a more confident, think big attitude. When you think big, you make bolder decisions and take more risk. As scary as it is, the journey simply gets more exciting and interesting. Yes, there’s more riding on it and it brings bigger challenges. But life is short, and I don’t want to look back with any regrets. As Sir Richard Branson says: “Screw it – let’s do it.”
Thank you all for your love, support and wishes for ramarketing’s first nine years. Hopefully we’ll still be around in nine years’ time for me to add nine new learnings to the list!