At the end of 2012 – after 17 years at the helm of a web design agency – I moved on to new adventures.
With the benefit of hindsight, so many things seem blindingly obvious. I look back and cringe at some of the decisions I made. But as someone once said to me: "If you're not failing, you're not trying"... which is some consolation I suppose!
One area I got consistently wrong over the years was new business.
Looking back we lurched from either too much work to not enough. When the pipeline dried up (because we'd been too busy doing the work) we pressed the panic button. We hit the phones, went to every networking event going, and finally got round to sending an email newsletter.
And then, when the work did roll in again, we'd panic that we didn't have enough staff to deliver. So we would end up hiring... and of course increasing the number of mouths to feed once the cycle hit another low.
I'm pretty sure that this roller coaster took a few years off my life!
We were perfectly aware of the problem. However, the solution always seemed to be the same: "we need to hire a new biz person". Someone to get out there and bring home the bacon leaving us free to do the work and run the agency.
Perhaps we were unlucky, but we never found a salesperson who lived up to their promises. Somehow the 'brilliant opportunities' that they dazzled us with never converted to work. We'd end up cutting our losses and concluding that my business partner and I were the best people to do the selling.
So, now that I can see the wood for the trees, what would I do differently?
Quite simply, two things.
First, I would make sure that my agency had a clear strategy. The 'strategy' word can sound scary. But if you can describe where you want to be in 2-3 years time (your goal), who your customers are, why they should buy from you and what capabilities you need to develop, then you have a strategy.
Now stick to it.
And then I would use the moment when times are good to prioritise employing a marketing manager rather than another designer.
Their job wouldn't be sales. I think we were right when we concluded that the best sales people are the founders/partners. No, they would be responsible for getting the word out. These days it's called 'inbound marketing'. I'd get them to make sure we wrote at least one useful and well targeted blog every week, were active on Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram etc, sent out a regular email newsletter to clients, submitted our work for awards and got speaking gigs. Get these things right and good quality potential clients will start to contact you.
It's then down to you to win the work – but trust me, you're good at that, or else you wouldn't be running your own show.
Not rocket science. And I'm sure you already know that this stuff needs doing. But somehow it doesn't get done.
So make it someone's job, and – if they are any good – it will.
Be patient, hold your nerve, stick to the strategy and the rewards will flow.
And then you can finally get off the roller coaster. Go and buy yourself an ice-cream. You've earned it!
Written by Chris Thurling. Chris is an adviser on digital strategy, innovation and marketing. Non-executive director, coach and mentor.
Image by Adrian Barclay.