As we steam towards OME's 4th anniversary (May 2010) i thought i would jot down my thoughts on the lessons i have learned along the way.
NB this mail is written in warm glow of a good first quarter and a certainty that we have survived the recession and are in a position to flourish so more positive than i sometimes feel. But we have made and continue to make plenty of mistakes - so this is not - "how clever am I" - its more "have a look at some of the pitfalls and also things that went well"
1. Pick your Partner/key personnel carefully
Most people go into business with a partner for lots of different reason but primarily as it can be pretty lonely, scary and occasionally miserable when you start out. I admire those who go completely alone - but know that i could not possibly have done it. It is a form of marriage and the same fault lines will appear as in any close personal relationship. The same things you initially liked about them - may well be the things that make you want to smash their face in after a few years (its an analogy - not a real example...i think). I should take this opportunity to thank my business partner Mr Sean Paterson - who is better than me at most things but quieter about it. We have sort of complimentary skills which is cool but essentially i trust him completely which is good as he looks after the money (that decision took about 5 seconds)
2. Get your idea and execute it violently
Inspiration probably won't come - you won't come up with such an amazing idea that will have people flocking to your door.(if you do come up with something new - it will be copied by 5 people very very quickly). So just work out what your product/service is - check that some people may want to buy it - and then just do it. talk any one and everyone through what you do - once you have done that - find more people or same people again and repeat the sales pitch. Try to never stop doing this.
3. Be brilliant at what you do (or at least try very hard to be)
Your best source of business will be recommendation - so don't be a bullshit artist who does all the above in point 2 and then fails to deliver. It will kill you stone dead. People bought into us in first 2 years as they believed as a small business we would work hard for them and they believed in us as individuals that we knew our stuff and would apply our expertise to help them. I believe we repaid that in spades.
4. Core Business or Diversification
I fundamentally believe that you need to be focused on your core business - but my advice is to be flexible about the definition of that core business. I would say in Years 1 and 2 - we were digital media agency and now we are a digital recruitment business. Not a quantum leap - merely a natural evolution.
5. Focus on stuff that clients will actually pay for
this is very much linked to digital recruitment media world - there have always been fascinating developments in the last 4 years and it has always been possible to have 2.5 hour conversations with clients and suppliers about them but ultimately most of the proposals which resulted were never and would never get signed off. Social engagement stuff in 2008 did not get signed off, Myspace + Secondlife proposals never got off the flip chart.
If your business model depends on the cutting edge make sure your pricing model reflects the time put in. Or concentrate your efforts on things that can and will deliver quantifiable results/business.
6. Take time off - don't work too many weekends - be nice to your family
Launching and running a biz is incredibly important but its also not as important as life. You probably went alone to free yourself from being in the grip of the corporate world - shite bosses etc - and hopefully earning better ££. Don't just recreate that corp world in your own business and if the work is taking all your free time too - you are either doing it wrong or pricing it wrong. Go and do something else.
Anyway - Part 2 to follow soon - would love to have any comments on any of this