I was at an event recently and for the umpteenth time in the space of just a few hours, someone (innocently) said:
“Things look like they are flying for you Raman – great work!”
As much as it’s a huge compliment that people are so interested in my pharmaceutical marketing agency’s journey, I literally wanted to scream, cry and/or find a quiet place to smack my own head against a wall. Now, this has nothing to do with said person or any one of the well-wishers that I am fortunate to have in my life. This was due to my own state of mind. A quote I once read sprang to mind:
“We always compare our behind-the-scenes with others’ highlight reels.”
In this case, people only see my highlight reels – the 1% snippet of good stuff. Not the 99% of blood, sweat and tears behind the outcome. The public glory, not the private sacrifice. The irony for me personally of course is that the key contributor is our own content, social and PR efforts. PR agencies… am I right?!
Before you get your violin out for me, I’m not looking for your sympathy. I am so incredibly lucky and I’m grateful for what I have, every day. But I do know there are people out there that will look at me and/or others in a similar position thinking, I fancy a piece of that. Likewise, there will be many of you in high growth businesses (whether founders or senior management) that will appreciate that the day job is fraught with tough, hidden challenges.
So, in the spirit of most of my posts, I thought I’d dispel any entrepreneurial myths and give you a genuine, real-life insight. So here are five ‘behind-the-scenes’ realities of running a high-growth business…
You have to sack people. And it’s awful.
I like to think of myself as a good person (thanks to wonderful parents) but sometimes you have to be the bad guy. ‘Letting someone go’ is never a nice thing to do. I’ve had sleepless nights thinking about it and I almost passed out once after delivering the news. But, unfortunately if you run a fast-growing firm, you’re going to have to do this. My advice is be honest, authentic and direct. And never make it personal (unless you really dislike them… just kidding)!
You lose big clients. And it hurts.
Anyone that says they have never lost a customer is likely to be lying. I suspect you’ve all been there. I have and it’s so painful. Aside from dealing with the commercial ramifications (lost revenue etc.), it can lead to some reflective soul searching. How could this have happened? What could we have done better? It’s like grieving. Learn from it. Don’t burn bridges. Dust yourself off. Look forward. Move on.
Your reputation gets out of your hands. And it’s hard to swallow.
As you add more people to your team, you add more walking, talking brand representatives. Every phone call, email and personal interaction made with the outside world shapes your reputation. The external world then develops its take on your brand, whether they’ve dealt with you directly or indirectly. Some will think you’re arrogant or rubbish, and that’s hard to take. Focus on keeping your staff and clients happy. That’s 90% of the battle.
You outgrow people. And you can’t deal with it.
I’ve spoken to founders about this one before and it’s one that many (including me) struggle with. The best analogy I’ve heard relates to football (or soccer for my friends across the pond). It’s like we’ve gone from the lowest division (conference team) to the top league (Premiership side). A team that goes on such a journey is unlikely to retain all the same personnel. Some step up and make the grade and others fall by the way side. The particularly challenging aspect is every time one of the old guard leaves, you lose a little spirit that made you special in the first place. Honestly, I’ve got little advice to offer on this one as I’m still working it out!
You’ll have growing pains. And they never go away.
On many occasions where we’ve made a key hire or won a big contract, I felt like I’ve cracked it. The answer to all our prayers has just been delivered. But it tends to be short lived. While one problem is solved, another comes up. I once heard a saying from a Japanese business author that a company breaks every time it trebles in size e.g. from 1 to 3 people, 3 to 9, 9 to 27, 27 to 81 etc. And I think there is real truth in that statement. We are past 27 people now so hopefully I have some respite for a few years!
In summary, growth brings its downsides. Bigger success and bigger problems. I hope some of you can relate to my blog and I’d love to hear any similar learnings you have faced. And, if you’re thinking of running a business or scaling one up, my blog is not intended to scare you off but simply give you an honest view. Despite all the agony, I still do it. And love it. As my wife always says, always keep perspective. As per usual, my good lady is right.