Six things I have learnt in six years of having my own business

Six things I have learnt in six years of having my own business

LinkedIn has kindly informed me that we have been going for six years now. When you step out of the blanket of security of working for someone else, nothing quite prepares you for the ups and downs and the rapid learning curve ahead of you. All of which is invigorating but also never lets up. In no particular order, here are six observations:

Be careful what you pitch for

Be Careful What you Pitch For

So, an email arrives a week ago and it asks you to pitch. As an agency, your philosophy isn’t to. So, what do you do? 

As a big fan of Blair Enns, you try and derail the process. You try to push ‘the battle for control’ in your favour. So, after signing the non-disclosure agreement, and receiving a brief, the only way to try and influence or even find out what the full situation is is to have a meeting, which we had this afternoon.

So, you arrive, and the person you are due to meet walks out and says, I’m in a meeting. Now first impressions count. Will this client always be late? Will they always make you wait? Do they value your time? However, the polite thing to do is give the benefit of the doubt. So, you sit, patiently.

Five minutes go by. 10 minutes go by. 15 minutes go by. And there are you and two others from the agency sitting there. You’ve already spent 6 hours doing as much desktop research about the company as you can, it’s competitive landscape, the market, honing your thoughts into an angle. And the clock ticks.

So, you tell the receptionist you’re going. And as you reach the lift, he appears, He’s a bit flustered and asking if you have another meeting. No, is your reply, but we have a lot to do. However, he says he’s ready and back we go in for the meeting. If we started at 9/10. It’s now 6/10.

So, we lob up a gentle opener. The brief, you said it was evolving, is there any more that’s been added? The truth is there is no guiding thought for the company (but that’s ok), worse there’s no budget, timeline and there’s a figure in there that is hugely misleading. So, nothing has changed on the brief, so I ask about the figure. The answer is that it is inflated but is kind of true. It’s now 5/10.

I ask again about detail on the brief. The answer worries me. Well it’s kind of up to you. The CEO has an idea. But I want you to use your creativity, come back with 3, 4, 5 ideas and we can pick one. And strategy too.

It’s now 4/10.

It’s time to get a bit more pointy. How many other agencies are pitching? Four but we got rid of two. And, hey, we saw one this morning, loads of strategy, and ideas we really like, well some them. 4 or 5 different ideas. Oh no. ‘Got rid of,’ it’s 2/10.

Time to cut to the chase. So, I say, I realise it’s a pitch, but as an agency viewpoint, we don’t do work for free. It’s like going to a restaurant, eating a meal and saying maybe I’ll come back. Is this a deal breaker for you?

The prospect asks how much we would you charge. I name the number. 

I’m not paying that. What if I pay you and you present 4 ideas and I go shit, shit, ok, shit? At this point, for me, it’s 0/10.

I ask why should I give you anything for free?

But the size of the spend is going to be much bigger in the longer term for you…

I’m sure, I reply, what is your budget?

Well it’s still being worked out… 

I leave that hanging in the air for what seems like too long, and reply, so, paying us to pitch is a deal breaker?

Yes, he replies.

And the whole team was relieved. 

As Blair points out, let’s get to No because while we’re eager to please, when you know it’s wrong, it betrays a business principle or the alignment of values aren’t there, it’s better to say no and walk away. No also defines boundaries and builds equality, and provides depth and character in a world of yes. And the karma? The phone rings one hour later: a new piece of business. No pitch.

Do marketers and brands need to be braver?

No need for bravery when there’s “direction and trust”

“Yes, in the respect a brand platform is set that provides a clear tone of voice, reason for being, ambition for where they want to go, and measurable business targets to achieve, so filling the sales funnel for years ahead.

“No, for doing work that is crass, ‘look at me’, doesn’t push the brand story, or build sales.

“Clients don’t need to be brave when there is clear direction and trust. It’s that simple.”

When you’re selective, better things happen to you.

I’ve written a bit about awards before. The fact is, having built a career winning more and more and more, it became a self-defeating prophecy, where you couldn’t keep doubling the amount you won every year. 

At thedylanagency, we have taken a different tack. We only enter when we think we have a significant chance of winning. So far our success rate is tracking at 100%. What’s led us to this reasoning? Specialisation.

Once again, I am indebted to Blair Enns, who has articulated this far better than anyone else I have read on the matter. When you become more focused on what you do, it’s easier for everyone to know what you stand for. When it comes to awards, we have only been looking at entering work that is effective, or for financial services. With that in mind, there are few awards around the place that fit our criteria.

Having won at the AREAs for the most effective work, we took another look at the MIDAS Awards. It’s the only award show that celebrates the best financial services work globally. 

Fortunately, I have managed to judge it for the last two years and have a pretty clear insight into what the judges were looking for, what sort of work may win, and how to present our argument in the best possible light. 

With that in mind, our careful selection has meant we have a 100% success on our award entries, and doubling of awards on last year’s Midas effort with two finalists from two entries. It has also born out our hypothesis: specialisation improves results.