According to the BBC, 4 out of 5 start ups fail. I’ve got through my first year at The IT Marketing Agency and it’s great that now ‘I’ is ‘we’. It’s truly been a rollercoaster ride at breakneck speed, but now the team and I feel like we’ve crossed the first set of hurdles, luckily not fallen at any fences and the next stage is underway. So I thought now would be a great time as a business owner to share what’s helped me, and got me not just through it, but to where we are today.
1. Take a risk (alternatively titled ‘take a calculated risk’)
I guess without my first tip, I wouldn’t even be here. Sometimes it takes someone else believing in you to give you enough belief in yourself. Particularly if your confidence has taken a battering, or you’ve been working somewhere else where perhaps you weren’t appreciated, or given space to grow. For me, it was literally a toss-up between another / a different full time role, or taking a risk and setting up on my own. The first option was safe, really well paid and for a well known and established channel business. I was recommended for the role and there were a lot of benefits that were clear if I took it. On the other side of the scales was uncertainty, and plenty of it. However, there were also people – past clients, and channel friends who really supported and encouraged me. They believed not only could I do it, but that I’d be mad not to give it a go. So, I took a deep breath and……and I decided I could always revert to plan B and a ‘proper job’ if it didn’t work out.
2. Have a plan (and keep reviewing it)
I kind of started The IT Marketing Agency without a really firm plan – beyond earning enough money to live, eat and support my family. I was working with one, really fantastic client and it was a bit of a revelation that I could really help them shape their EMEA marketing strategy and help them deliver it. Suddenly I wasn’t stuck delivering restrictive programmes anymore – we could do anything! In the last 12 months I’ve done more design, video, strategy, social and real added value content marketing that I’d ever been able to do before – and it was brilliant! Then came the plan part. I went to watch a local business coach,Stuart Warwick, from igrow and signed up to the Growth Accelerator programme, a national, government backed programme designed to help small businesses grow. Meeting Stuart was a ‘eureka’ moment for me. He helped me go back to point 1, but also made me realise that by having in place a plan of what I wanted the business to look like, I could start to make it happen. And in fact, the opposite – without a plan, how did I know what I wanted to happen? So, a 3 year plan was created that looked at every aspect of the business – turnover, profit, people, technology, premises, literally, everything. Then Stuart helped me to see that by taking small steps, but in the right direction, you can only help but eventually get there. If you’re a small business, I can’t recommend the Growth Accelerator programme highly enough – and I hope you find your Stuart, too! As we’ve continued to grow, we’ve worked as a team to keep checking back on our plan, adjusting and adapting it, and making sure we’re keeping ourselves on track. It’s been invaluable. Without a map, you can’t plot a course.
3. Get great people (recruiting your team)
I’m a people person, first and foremost. I want to work with great people, inside my business, and as my customers and suppliers and all of these are just as important. Much of my personal success has come about as a result of my personal relationships. The people I’ve got on my team make a massive difference. People are the face of your business, so if they’re not happy, then your business won’t look happy or feel happy to customers. You can see my earlier blog about this here, too. So, I got some great people. Step up, Joss, Ben, Simon, Simon, Chris and Teresa (so far!) Some of the team are people I’ve worked with before, some have been recommended, some have come to me, others I’ve sought out or come across in a whole variety of situations! One of my customers is a previous supplier, and I met him in a coffee shop! (Those of you that know me even slightly well won’t be surprised to hear that as I spend half my life in coffee shops!)
4. Support your supporters (and they’ll support you)
This is kind of like the point above. But actually it’s also more altruistic than that. I’m believer in altruism, giving back, karma, all of the above. Sometimes you do good things because there’s a payback. Sometimes there isn’t a payback – at least, certainly not a financial one. But actually, the payback you get from giving is pretty good, I find. It’s one of the reasons for example, that as a team, we’re supporting Byte Night this year, and we’ll be sleeping out to raise money for homeless kids in the UK. You can actually support us directly, by making a donation here. So what do I mean by support your supporters? It means always recommending people who are great, a positive presence or who improve the life or businesses of others. Here, without wanting to sound like an Oscar speech, I’d like to say a big thank you to some of the supporters who have really helped me in the last year – Nick, Karine, James, Adam, Richard, Mike, Simon, Keith, Stuart, Dave, Carl, Mark – take a bow. Plus also Bill, Ella and Luca who deserve a pretty special mention.
Some of my supporters have given practical help, some advice, some time, and some business! They’ve all really helped and I hope I’ve given support back to them. Sometimes in the form of going the extra mile on a project, some in being more flexible, some in being a nice person (I hope) to do business with. And of course, back to point 3, my team – they’ve been a massive support to me, literally, and I hope I’m supporting them – with their careers, their goals and their dreams. Plus, we have fun and you can’t support each other more than helping everyone enjoy work, surely! (Except if you help them enjoy work with coffee, perhaps! ;))
5. Manage the details (or get someone to help you manage them)
I’ve discovered in my first year in business that while I can do details on a project really well, I can’t do all the details on all the projects for all the clients and manage all the details for all the business…at the same time. So two important things have come out of this realisation – one, get great people (think I covered that!) and get them to help you with the details. If you’re a creative spirit like me, the finances, cashflow, VAT returns, book-keeping, sales forecasts, excel spreadsheets (need I go on? This is hurting!) are the details I’ve needed help with. A clear head, a no-nonsense approach and just getting them done are what helped me. The other area is technology. Getting the right tools for the job has required a big investment in money and time, but now we use Adestra, the best B2B email platform, and we’re a Platinum Hubspot partner, the best B2B marketing automation tool. For managing our workloads and projects we’ve tried a few things, including a whiteboard, but our client, (watch our for the shameless plug!), Allthings actually has a massively helpful tool for managing workloads, collaborating online and simplifying how you work with your teams too. Anything that cuts down your emails has to be a good thing, right?
So, there’s been quite a few things to get right over the last 12 months! I’d like to think that some of the comments we’ve got, clients we’ve won, and recognition that has come our way (we’ve been shortlisted for the CRN Sales & Marketing Awards as Best Channel Marketing Agency and shortlisted as a Rising Star in the national Growth Accelerator Awards, The Brave and the Bold) in the last year proves we’ve got a lot right!
We’ve still got to keep getting it right, and continue to get even more things right, and not too many things wrong to get to where we want to go (and do what our plan reminds us we want to do), but I for one am loving the ride.
I hope you’ve found my thoughts interesting, useful, helpful, or a mixture of those! I’d love to hear yours, or any important tips that helped you that I can learn from! 🙂