It’s rather cool at the very beginning. Couple of people, lots of fun, lots of work. You are still stress-free, with no long term goals. Somebody has introduced you on the field, air is crispy clear and all you need to do is to run. From time to time, you like to hear the audience, applause and cheering come naturally as well as the pep on the shoulder. You are different, because you are now the one who controls the game. “I cannot ask for anything more”, often you think, everything needs to stay exactly as it is now, or maybe to become just a little bit better. Those are the moments when it is easy to be modest.
But, you can’t fight the nature of things. First, there comes the growth, however people continue to follow the same, there is no strategy and no modification; it seems like you are winning but the harsh truth is that you are losing. What to do:
– First (and most likely the smartest) thing I’ve learned my very first day at university: all the time you are progressing you are actually regressing. Always take your time to further improve your product or service, even if that means you need to abstain from another job. Invest in your company’s marketing, or better yet find a man whose sole job would be that. Unfortunately, I’ve witnessed some catastrophic social media presentations and presence by high profile marketing agencies, selling exactly that. The poor SEO optimization, confusing contact forms, below average responsiveness, lack of customer care, etc.
– Prioritize. When you a small fish, you want to equally divide your time between clients and that’s cool. It’s cool because you are still in a junior league and you are learning. When you overgrow that phase, and in my opinion that is when your team counts more than a dozen, you need to create a categorization that cannot and should not be written in stone. Based on the example of marketing agencies: when categorizing the clients, not all of them can have the same approach when it comes to pitching. You need to set priorities; which client deserves the custom made offer, and which one the template. You cannot pitch three clients simultaneously, pick one and prepare it properly.
– People. At the very beginning you know who are you working with, at least that’s the case in majority of successful companies. As business develops, almost every company makes the same mistake of rapid and impromptu hiring process. There is no time, clients; onboarding means there’s no waiting, everything need to move rapidly and easy. Consequences are not thinking it thoroughly, with ease and with complete lack of following precisely determined criteria regarding employing new people. If it is necessary, work overtime and give yourself enough time to find the right guy for the job. As much as people are important during the company’s first days, the ones that come after you are even more important, because the hardest thing to maintain is growth. Make a database of potential employees, like big companies keep, so you can react promptly if a new position opens. Do not wait for a new client to hire extra staff, because when the new client shows up it can already be too late.
– Six out of ten most famous brands are technological, and as for the other four you can freely say that they own their expansion to technology. Meaning innovation- that can be applied- is crucial. You need a dedicated person in the team (or the whole team) that will be in charge of this. You don’t need daydreamers, you need daydreamers who will write down their ideas, think them trough, mark everything down, compare and at the end of the day implement them with the team. Mostly, a dream comes, stirs things up but it remains just that- a dream. Or, in other case, you just dream too much and then give up, when dreams don’t become a reality.
– As much as, at least during the first days, you would like to have everything inhouse, sometimes it is either impossible or demands a significant investment. Therefore, it is crucial to have a large pool of subcontractors. For example, when you find a really good video animation guy, look further- at the end of the day, they are only humans, and there is a significant demand on the market for them, and your aim is to get as much work as possible. If all other key players are paying their subcontractors 30 days after the work has been done, go an extra mile- shorten a payment deadline or pay in advance. That investment will put you in the position to become a first pick for freelancers and word-of-mouth goes around really fast.
– Do not push “a Google thing”- a relation you had with your “starting lineup” you cannot retain with nor enforce on all your employees. There are people who just want to show up at work, do their job, earn their paycheck, and go home as soon as possible. Those people are not lazy nor introvert, au contraire, they know exactly what they know and they should be appreciated because of that. In other words, create such a working atmosphere in which people will not change a company because of a slightly bigger paycheck, then it is just an alarming red light.
– Procedures are obligatory. It is extremely difficult to change a loose attitude of a small team to an organizational one. By procedures I mean ones that enhance work, not complicate it. If it is necessary that every Tuesday you have an hour-long chat with your boss on various topic, then it is some sort of a procedure but not a dull one, but rather one that will help people to get to know each other. Dule Vujosevic (basketball coach) had a habit of giving homework to the players, like reading a certain book or seeing a play in theatre. Considering that you have time and resources, it is fine to have custom made procedures for some employees; because, from their perspective, a company cannot look like “couple of guys from the hood got together and decided to pursuit their dream” because that doesn’t say “we are stable and reliable company”, which is the impression people like and need to get.
– Finance. In my personal experience, when you are starting a business from scratch, there is no relevant financial knowledge. Deal with that problem as soon as you can. Start with training, get some advices, hire a consultant and start to keep track of finances on weekly and monthly basis. Every move you make is based on a number of determinants, and finances are mostly among those determinants.
– Sales. For a long period of time, I strongly believed that founding partners can also be the sales guys. Oh man, was I wrong! Partners need to bring clients and work, but that’s not what sales is. Just for example: when an inquiry comes, a huge work need to be done. Inquires can be channeled through SEO (it has been proven those can be quality inquiries), SEM, social media, good website, recommendations etc. From that moment, next phase is categorization of inquiry and assigning appropriate level to the client. Afterword – and according to inquiry- you must determine client’s needs. Mostly, client knows what he needs from you but that does not necessary mean they are right. It is a good thing to have some sort of a questionnaire, so you can categorize and realize the needs of your client. You can post questionnaire on your website or send it to client in an email.
After that, comes the job for sales department: they need to make an assessment whether to create custom-made offer or give a template offer. Whether to suggest a meeting or not? The mistake I made was that I’ve always went to meetings, which is ok when you are a beginner but later on it can be a real waste of time, especially for cold leads.
Sales need to manage expectations of potential clients, particularly in the part where client expects to get, along with the offer–and for free, of course- platform, ideas etc. Often, people do not realize how time-consuming that is. With this in mind, it is clear that founding partners should transfer this part of work to someone else, ASAP, while influencing the flow and overseeing the process itself.
– Legal. When starting a business, you need to take “Legal 101” course; to get accustomed with expressions like annex, NDA etc. This is crucial in order to be capable to negotiate on company’s behalf. After that, leave the job to the professionals (meaning leave it to them to define standard contracts and other thing necessary to legally protect your business and your employees)
List of “must do/have” things doesn’t end here but if you pay attention to above mentioned, then everything will go much smoother- which is not a guarantee for success. For that, you would need a pinch of luck.