Building an industry-leading business based on digital innovation and then sustainably scaling it up to 70 employees in just five years is something I’m immensely proud of.
Impress!ve is now Australia’s fastest-growing digital agency with offices in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, and one in the USA, and we’re expecting turnover of around $16 million this financial year.
Yet standing Impress!ve on its feet is also the most challenging thing I’ve ever done. Many times – over the past 12 months, in particular – I’ve questioned if we’d even reach five years in business.
During the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic and a series of lockdowns in Melbourne, where I live, I’ve forced myself to rethink pretty much everything – from assumptions about how to grow the business and look after my team, to some frank conversations about how my own work ethic and beliefs were playing out in the workplace and at home.
The five-year anniversary of Impress!ve seems an appropriate time to reflect on important learnings from life in the hot seat of scaling a business idea on a sheet of paper and developing it into a multi-national, award-winning agency. Among the many lessons I’ve learned, here are five key takeaways.
Always watch the cash
Not managing your finances correctly by neglecting your balance sheet is the easiest and quickest way to lose track of what’s really going on in your business. As an owner, you should know your numbers like the back of your hand. Not only is this key to recognising when something is off, but in meetings it’s crucial to have them for quick reference.
Play to your strengths
As the owner of a business, especially a startup, you feel pressure to do everything, but this can set you up for larger problems down the track. If you don’t know how to sort out your P&L, find someone who can. By outsourcing not only does the job get done properly, increasing efficiency and profitability, but you’re free to focus on the core skills you’re good at, which were probably why you started the business in the first place.
Stay ahead of your customer’s needs
I’m a believer that if you just jump into the deep end, you’ll probably drown. Read books, listen to podcasts, talk to people and get an intimate understanding of the space you plan to operate in. There’s no substitute for hard work and good research. That way, you can foster meaningful industry relationships based on mutual respect, fine-tune your business model from a position of knowledge, and anticipate what the next trend or big hit will be. That’s how you nurture customer loyalty and develop a world-class reputation for your service that will be critical to defining your value to customers.
For years I was the “always on guy”, proudly proclaiming that I’ll work twice as hard as my competitor if that’s what it takes to succeed. But during the past year when we’ve all had to change the way we do business, I started to ask myself “Why am I running and what am I running towards?”, and also to understand the ramifications of my actions on my team and especially on my wife and son. Learning the art of mindfulness, I’ve reshaped my habits so that I now exercise, meditate and journal as part of my day. I only check emails twice a day, and when I get home, my phone is put away in a cupboard on silent, and untouched until the next morning. The same principle applies in meetings, when I aim to be totally present to my team. This has given back some badly-needed balance in my life, and that makes me a much more effective leader.
Know your ‘why’
The ‘what’ and ‘how’ of what you’re trying to achieve are typically less important than asking why. Being clear about why you are doing what you’re doing and what you are working towards, helps to maintain your motivation to stay on course. Set clear goals and check in on them regularly. Confront yourself by asking, and honestly answering, questions such as: “What do I want to be known for? What is my legacy? What am I leaving behind?” The answers will help illuminate the road ahead.
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