BBT turned three this year. That’s three years of proud business in a rapidly growing digital agency. That’s also three years of extreme highs and extreme lows; great success, failures, frustrations, learning curves and roadblocks. Along the way, I received some advice I’m glad I listened to, and some I probably should have ignored. I can’t tell you how to run your business, but I would like to share with you what three years running mine has taught me.
You can’t be in control of everything
BBT started with two staff members. In three years, we have grown that to sixteen and our workload often feels like we could do with quite a few more. As a new business owner, you determine its success, and with that comes an overwhelming responsibility to control everything. In the early stages, I felt uncomfortable to pass the baton to allow other ideas, techniques and working styles that may or may not translate to success. Not because I thought I could do everything better, I just felt like I need to be in control. Think of it like handing over your prized new car over to a friend for a test drive, you’re not in doubt of their driving abilities, but you still feel uncomfortable watching from the sideline. In my first year I soon realised that the company could not progress without letting go of that control.
I can do things great, but others can do them better
As a relatively small team, our employees are specialised in their area of work. We all have an understanding of all things digital but we wouldn’t be asking our coder to write a blog and the design team wouldn’t be scanning the systems for bugs. As a proud leader of great staff, early acceptance of letting go of the control came from identifying my own strengths and weaknesses and letting others step up to the challenge. With that comes accepting just because it’s not your way doesn’t mean it’s the wrong way.
Team culture is very important
Team culture and goals are buzz words permeated into every HR practice. As a small team, the importance of these notions could not ring truer. There are people who will come and go but what I wasn’t aware of was the impact of a new arrival or loss of a member of staff would have on the office dynamic. With a new arrival comes a new personality which has a huge impact on a team who work in close knit and regularly brainstorm and bounce off each other for ideas. Digital agencies are not regimented. We have a system but that system needs to be flexible to meet the demands of our clients and there is never a linear approach from A to B. It became very apparent that hiring went beyond a stellar CV. A good hire would be one that was skilled but above all flexible and would fit in with the dynamics of BBT.
The most important lesson from this was creating a team culture that was not only accepted by but accepting of all staff. The company goals became a fundamental driver of the team culture. As the team changed and grew, it was important to reinforce the goals so they never became fragmented.
As our team and client base grew, staff project managed their own work and employees would loose grasp of who was working on what and when, what clients we have just signed and what contracts we had completed. I realised that for the team to value and work towards the same goals, they would need full transparency over what was going on in the office, especially when it came to sharing success and achievements and equally, mistakes. It was evident that if people were just working towards their own targets and celebrating in their own success, the value and goals of the company were lost. For every client I went to meet, I ensured I announced to the team who they were and what they could bring to each individual workload. Our team meetings exposed everyone’s working schedule so everyone has a holistic idea of their expectations and the company as a whole.
The 9-5 is illusive so make it work
I was aware that starting a new business was not so I could conform to the hours of 9 -5 but I had to appreciate that not all my employees shared the same vision of a Friday night lock in to complete the workload. In a digital agency, there are deadlines to hit and eagerly waiting clients to please. No matter how much planning, and slogging go into the initial stages to hit the deadlines, something WILL come up. There are always unforeseen circumstances that can arise at any point and the only thing you can take from this is prepare for the unexpected and appreciate and reward your employees. It has been known for a few team members to pull more than one all-nighter to ensure a site went live or to hit a deadline. If I was to expect an irregular working day, I had to be flexible in allowing for irregular hours to suit my employees. A 70 hour working week should be rewarded with a day off, or at the very least a sleep in.
Don’t overlook the small things
The early days were about signing the clients and following through with great work. There may have been times that the importance of maintaining that relationship was overlooked. Our success is only determined by the happiness of our clients and employees. As your business grows, along with your client base, you learn the importance of small gestures that go a long way. Delivering great work is one thing, following up to ask about their son’s football match reaffirms why they do business with you over the local competition.
You must change to keep up
Digital technology is forever changing and as an industry, we need to modify to not only keep up but remain at the front of the game. You cannot be stuck in antiquated ways and what may have worked well for one client may not necessarily be the best option for another. And if there is no great option that we’re familiar with, we will learn a new system or build a new one.