This week, Nic and Nathalie sit down to talk about the challenges of starting, running and growing a service business. Well… that was the plan, but they found themselves going over the many positive aspects of building an agency, from the opportunities you can offer to potential employees, to sharing the successes of your clients. We think that can only be a good thing!
This is the second episode in our Behind the Screens series. Read below for some of the key learnings from this Tough Cookies episode, or if you want to listen to the whole podcast you can on Spotify, Apple podcasts or on our website here.
When you run an agency, you’re nothing without your team…
When you start an agency, a service based business, as the founder, you’re passionate about it. It’s something you really want to do, therefore you do it well. However, I found that finding the right team members and actually finding people who understand what you’re trying to do in all aspects, that are actually as passionate to provide a good service as you are, is sometimes quite tricky. It’s not just about doing the work. It’s about doing it for the client. That doesn’t mean that the client is allowed to ask for absolutely anything, but it’s the relationship that’s important. And I think everyone in the team has to understand the relationship, and really make sure that they do everything they can and they’re proud of their work. And they do provide that level of service that you’re expecting from them.
One of our main challenges is growing the team before we can grow the business…
But it’s a good challenge. And I guess it’s just a mindset. Well, not just, but it is a mindset as in what you want to achieve. And when we decided to grow quicker, to actually push the growth a couple of years ago, we knew that it would be between three and five years of really hard work. As you said we had a nice little business, we were comfortable and we were profitable. We had a nice team. Obviously we were doing the work and sort of working hard, but we added this extra job on top of it, which was growing it. As far as I’m concerned, I think a couple of years ago, it was just too samey for me. I needed an extra challenge.
I just needed this extra work challenge of wanting this business to be bigger, better, and to have bigger, better clients and to have more clients. To be able to somehow spread what we do, and the way we do it to more people. So that more people could benefit from it and we could also hire more people and train them, because I find it really rewarding to be able to hire someone who really wants to do a job, but hasn’t had the opportunity yet, because I don’t know – they haven’t got the right degree or because they haven’t got the right connections. Whatever the reason, we can actually give them that chance. We’ve had quite a few developers in the past whose first proper commercial experience was with us.
And we’ve been able to see their potential, and train them from their very first job. Some of them are still with us and it’s great to see all of that. To be able to do that is very rewarding.
If we have listeners that are thinking about starting their own agency what kind of advice would you give them?
The advice is quite tricky because it obviously depends on their situation. For me, the two key things are: 1) Sit down and have a look at your plan and your vision, what you want to do and how you want to do it. And trust yourself on this because no matter what other people are doing, there’s no one that knows better what you want to achieve. Sometimes it’s really hard to sort of stay in your lanes, be like really strong on your opinions when you see that so and so are doing it this way, and so and so are doing this way. You’re always tempted to say, “Oh, you know, they’re doing this way and they’re really successful. Maybe we should do it that way too.”
But no – because you know what you’re doing. And I think for us, we’ve had that… We’ve made that mistake a couple of times in the past nine years, where we’ve tried to do something that wasn’t us, just because we thought we should, because someone else was doing it. And we’ve always come back to who we truly were, but it’s hard. It’s really hard.
And the other one is: You need to know your numbers inside out. I mean, you don’t have to be doing everything in your business. And there’s a lot of things that you can outsource, there’s a lot of things you can get advice on. However, as a basic, you need to know where the money goes, how the money is coming into the business, and really understand all of these basic numbers, your profit margins and all of that.
So then you can make informed decisions about when you are ready to hire, how much risk you can take and what the future is going to look like. And I’m not talking, making plans for the next 3-5 years. Because that’s way too much in advance for such a young business. It’s making plans over the next 3, 6, 12 months. And that’s always really good at that point. I mean, I’m not even sure we were doing that at that point! These would be my two bits of advice – being strong on the vision and being really quite knowledgeable on the figures.