The 7+ Lessons I’ve Learnt in the 7 Years of Running an Agency

By Javan Bramhall 1 week ago
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Over the past seven years, Digital Glue has grown from a business run out of a spare bedroom, a garden office and into our third office expansion as the business and team has grown. We’re proud to work with local, national and international clients across a wide range of marketing disciplines. We’re focussed on helping our clients’ get a return on investment from their marketing.

In the time since founding the business, it’s been a steep learning curve. As the leader of the business I’ve made plenty of good decisions and plenty of bad decisions. 

To be honest, as I thought about this blog I realised I could probably write a book about it, so picking just a few key lessons was harder than I thought it would be.

So I’ve picked out what I think are some of the key lessons I’ve learnt; some feel positive – like they’ve come from good decisions, validated by the results. Others feel negative, like painful lessons. The truth is they are all the same really, just things to remember for the future as we grow, and advice I would give others if anyone was asking. 

Trust your team

Over the past seven years, one of the consistent things we’ve seen at Digital Glue is that when people are trusted, when they are given ownership on a project and asked to deliver, they do two things. Firstly, they very often go beyond what you believed they could or would do, and secondly, their development was accelerated hugely.

In any professional services environment, trusting new team members can be a leap of faith, but with the right processes in place to ‘catch them succeeding’ rather than trying to catch them out, it’s a leap of faith you can’t afford NOT to make. 

Some of the biggest mistakes I’ve made have been waiting too long to give people responsibility, it’s cost me time, and it’s slowed down people’s development.

Develop your own team

This is an interesting one, and I know many people will feel differently about getting in more experienced team members from the start. However, in my time running Digital Glue over the last seven years I look at the growth and development of team members who have joined us early in their career and who have flourished. Either they have grown into leadership roles in the business or they’ve grown into leadership and senior positions elsewhere. Those would be on my list of my most significant achievements.

I also think it’s crucial to company culture. In my experience you need a core team of ‘Digital Gluers’ (replace with your company name), in your business to be the example of how things are done and the standards we set for each other.

Culture of course needs to start with leadership, but when culture is lived and reinforced by the whole team, it really sticks.

Get advice and be held accountable

However you do it, and whatever platform you choose to do it through, get advice. Leading a business can sometimes feel like you’re on an island so finding support and guidance can make all the difference.

For me, I’ve had a business coach (the brilliant Rob Pickering from Action Coach) throughout my time with Digital Glue, and it’s proved valuable time and time again. Whether it’s a new initiative, different thinking, learning, goal setting, accountability, or all the above, you need trusted individuals around you who will challenge you.

I would always recommend a business coach to anyone who asks, but others like mastermind groups, networking groups etc. 

You’re always looking to hold your team to account, you also need someone to hold you to account. 

Values first

Very early on, we established our values for the business. These were things that the team and I believed in. These were standards which we felt were right for running a company.

Setting those values early and finding ways to ensure they are lived every day by the whole business has meant we have constantly had a compass by which to make decisions. 

The sooner these values are in place, and the more ways you can find to make them central to your business on a day to day basis, the stronger the values are.

Our values have helped us to grow over these seven years, by getting the right kind of people on the bus and keeping them, whether that’s staff or clients.

Focus on your key strengths

Don’t get distracted by things which look interesting but aren’t what you do. 

Sometimes an ‘opportunity’ comes along and you think it’s a great chance to add to your business, grow your service and expand.

Nine times out of ten these ‘opportunities’ have proven to be painful lessons. Real, considered evaluation of the opportunity in line with your strengths as a business, your plan for the business and your capacity to focus on making it a success is the only way to know if it’s worthwhile.

My experience over the last seven years tells me that by the time I’ve thought about the work involved in doing the evaluation, I’ve already said no, because if I don’t want to do the evaluation, I clearly don’t believe it’s that good an opportunity.

The key thing here is to stay customer focussed in this decision making. Asking ‘are we the best people to deliver this project for the client?’, will often tell you whether you should be taking a project on.

Thankfully we’ve caught ourselves before it’s too late on most of these, but where we haven’t it’s been a painful price to pay.

As Warren Buffett said: “The most successful people say no to almost everything.”

Treat those two imposters just the same

When things are going really well, don’t believe the hype.

When things are going badly, don’t believe it’s all over.

Whenever I’ve found myself believing we’re winning on all fronts, I’ve been kidding myself, and whenever it has felt like nothing is going our way, it’s not been that bad either.

Take the time to look beyond the immediate issues or successes and be clear on both what you have achieved and what you still want to achieve. 

Have a plan (Duh!)

I’m not going to spend ages on this. But just to say that whenever we’ve slipped away from having a clear plan, (for us that’s having a clear set of 90 day goals, which point towards annual goals, which points to our five year plan), we have drifted and not grown or developed at the pace we could have done.

Trust your gut instinct on people

Whether it’s potential staff, prospects, customers, suppliers, listen to your gut. That doesn’t mean it’s the only thing I would listen to, but you need to take it into account.

Whenever I’ve ignored my gut on matters of people, I’ve regretted it. Whether that’s employing the wrong people, working with the wrong clients or buying the wrong service, I can invariably look back at the past seven years and know that I either ignored, or explained away my gut instinct.

Fail quickly

You are going to make mistakes. I’ve made plenty in the last seven years. 

First, learn from them.

Secondly, stop digging! If you’ve made a mistake, it is invariably costing you time and money. It’s very rarely a good answer to throw more of those precious resources at the issue. Stop, cut your losses and move on.

Feel free to get in touch with me to discuss these lessons and I’d love to hear your own observations! You can connect with me on LinkedIn here

 

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