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5 Years of Grow - 5 Years of Learning, 5 of the Biggest Things I’ve Learned Running My Own Business

I’m proud to say that Grow turned 5 last week, and what a journey it has been. It has been a labour of love, determination and a lot of hard work, and we are delighted to be here today. Helping businesses and people grow is what we love doing, and both James and I have learned a lot along the way. Here are some of the key insights and learnings from my 5 years of “Growing Grow”.

1) Put Automated Software and Processes In Place Early

This is a must, invest in software that integrates seamlessly into your business and ultimately save you time. We were late adopting a few and looking back, I would have purchased them on day 1! Don’t waste time trying to sort out basic accounting when there are professional tools out there that can that do it all for you. Freshbooks is highly recommended for start-ups because it simplifies accounting and makes sure you never miss an invoice.

Invest in a good CRM, this will be crucial for you to manage your sales. Pipedrive and amoCRM are easy to use and low cost. They have helped us efficiently manage our sales pipeline and maintain relationships with our clients.

Once we had a few employees in place, a project management system became essential. Asana was our first love - it increased the productivity of the team and ensured that all tasks were dealt with and deadlines were met. We tried a wealth of different systems but have now gone back to Asana as it solves a lot of our problems. We realised that no project management system is perfect however it was the one that best fitted our needs. Don’t forget your marketing tools such as MailcChimp & Hootsuite etc which can assist your inbound marketing needs. Another crucial stepping stone which will need its own unique strategy.

Make sure to also integrate internal processes into your organisation. These ensure that work is consistent. For example, does your entire team fully understand how a project progresses from start to finish? Who is responsible for what and what phase should be initiated? Document these processes so there's always a reference and no excuses. Ensure that your team live and breathe your processes and you’ll soon be running a well- oiled machine. It also means you can step out a bit so that you’re no longer a bottleneck in any decision making.

2) Delegate and Hire Early On

With the 1001 tasks that are on your to-do list, it will be impossible to tackle them all in an efficient or timely manner. Prioritise, prioritise, prioritise and then after that, delegate whatever you can. Spending time training a PA, (or even Virtual PA), trainee or intern could save heap loads of hours in the long run. Remember having an extra pair of hands on the table means that you’ll be able to accomplish double. I found delegating difficult in the early days, as I had always done things in a certain way, and I knew I could depend on myself to get the job done on time. Handing over control to someone I didn’t really know well enough at that stage was a difficult and daunting prospect. However, I soon learned that doing so it became a very symbiotic relationship. By handing over the reigns, you allow someone to learn your trade, and to become equally as passionate about your business. You provide that person with a sense of empowerment and satisfaction when they are in learning mode and a set goal has been achieved.

Delegating will allow you to work “on the business, rather than in the business” a lot of people have heard this term, but may not fully understand its importance. You need to constantly be looking at your overall business goal and strategy for growth rather than being buried in the sand with the constant drudge of a full inbox, menial tasks and being contactable 100% of the time.

 “You’ll have multiple hats, being a multitasker and taking on several roles in the early days. Practice taking off a hat one by one, slowly and gently so you’ll eventually have some headspace to work on the business”

A lot of people have always asked me, who should be the first hire. I think the person who can “eat your frog” and get your most daunting but important tasks ticked off. Always hire someone who is better than you. A multi-talented hire who can perhaps tackle your inbox, who is quite savvy at your social media and someone who you’d trust to answer your phone would be my first bet.

The last thought on employees:; “There’s no such thing as a bad employee”.

We’ve been exceptionally lucky in the fact that we’ve had a very high retention rate for employees. Many of them staying for longer that 2-3 years which is above average for the UAE. We have also had some employees leave for other companies only then to return to Grow. We all have our faults and flaws, our strengths and weaknesses and no matter the reason, we have always wished our ex-growers well on their new journey. One major learning is that perhaps your first few employees who helped you build up your empire now do not fit into the criteria of the new workplace you have sculpted. It does not, and never will, reflect the ability of the employee; some will thrive in a much smaller set- up, enjoying “start- up” mode, while others prefer a larger team. Employee engagement is crucial for maintaining their faith in your company. Keep reiterating the “why we are here” and regular appraisals are a must. This is something that can be overlooked when you’re growing your agency. Communicate. Always strive for strong communication and touch base with your employees on a regular basis, you never know what new learnings you’ll discover from an impromptu chat.

3) Obsess Over Your Clients, Not Your Competitors

Never underestimate the power of relationships, or take any of your clients for granted. It is nurturing your existing clients and putting your energy into them that will prove fruitful rather than constantly be looking over your shoulder. Competitors do and always will exist, however, keep doing what you love, are doing well, strive for excellence and you’ll have the rest looking to follow in your footsteps. Of course, you should have an awareness of what your competitors are doing, however, we’ve found sharing our knowledge with them rather than putting up steel barriers has actually helped both parties.

Always ask your clients for their feedback on your services, the top reason for a client to leave you is not for your competitor but perhaps they felt neglected or didn’t have their voices heard. Obsess over your clients and make sure they are well looked after while they are in the company of your organisation.

4) Be In It for The Long Run and Notice Burnout for What It Is.

When you decide to start your own business, realise that you have to be in it for the long game...The average employee will have a 2-3 year lifespan at a company, however, be prepared to be working at your new business for a minimum of 10 years, as that’s how long it can take for it to be successful. It really isn’t for the faint- hearted and you’ll rarely get “quick wins”. The Instagrams of this world are anomalies, not the norm. That's why they're called unicorns.

Here’s a scary statistic: Only 20% of start-ups reach their fifth year, and only 20% of those reach their tenth. That means only 4% of start-ups succeed beyond 10 years. Given this knowledge, would you risk everything on a 1 in 25 chance? Either spread your bets or be 100% sure in your product.

As a fresh entrepreneur, starting out a new business, you’ll have tonnes of invigorating new energy, you’ll have all the right intentions and you’ll be pouring in at least a 10-14 hours a day daily —- more than you ever did when you were employed. With all of this fire, be careful not to burn out. In all honestly, it will happen several times during your entrepreneurial journey.

Instead of fighting burnout, accept it and take a break. Do not be hard on yourself! I realised this and felt guilty when at times I felt my mind had completely lost the plot. I went on “media diets”, switched off my phone, unplugged my laptop and had a break with James - perhaps it was a long weekend or simply just a day off at home to relax. By taking a break, I felt a lot healthier mentally and found myself itching to get back to my desk once refreshed. The new headspace gave me a new lease of energy. Make sure you “ground yourself” once in awhile when the pace gets a bit too much. It’ll ensure that you regain your perspective on what’s important.

“The moment you start your own business is the moment when you’ll have the most respect for your previous employer”

I now understand both sides of the coin, and truly appreciate what a business owner has to go through. We all live in our own bubbles and it’s important to appreciate both sides. Appreciate that your employees will never truly understand what you’re going through and vice versa. Have empathy.

Also, appreciate that your business is not your only identity. Especially if you’re a husband and wife duo, Some friends may not find the same enthusiasm when all you can talk about is your business. It is easy to get drowned in your passion and to be very self- consumed. I have appreciated this even more so now that I have become a mother and having to give up many of my hats to this most important role.

5) Find Mentors

Find people who can mentor you. People who have been through the same struggles and can share their knowledge to inspire and motivate you. Early on, we met several seasoned business owners who met with us and gave us a wealth of information; the obstacles we were likely to face, money saving tips, and partners who could assist us. Our “wealth bank” has filled up because of these people, to whom we thank greatly.

It is impossible to be an expert on every topic. Find people who already have many years of experience in a field and allow them to “add on” and partner with your business. I realised one of Grow’s major weaknesses was HR - we didn’t have processes for appraisals, regular reviews or systems in place to properly facilitate a strong HR system. This is when I partnered up with Caron Jones of CaronJonesHR. Whenever I need a level headed opinion I can easily call on Caron for some friendly, unbiased advice. As a business owner and having in the past been employed herself, she is the perfect match for advising us and has since stepped up our HR initiatives.

Get a business coach you trust. James and I regularly have business coaching sessions with Murtaza from Actioncoach which help get us back on track and identify the areas that are most important. These sessions help strengthen our weaknesses and help us refocus. We regularly have 90- day plans and prioritise what’s important through using “goal” lists instead of “to do” lists.

Peter, from Maxsale Solutions is also a partner and mentor. He regularly coaches our sales team and consults us on the best strategies moving forward. He can identify weaknesses in the sales process and comes up with a tailored plan to ensure that our sales team reach their goals. This has been crucial for us to forecast our workload and cash flow.

We also have online mentors and, thought leaders who we regularly follow and converse with online. Jason Swenk is one of them, he ran and sold his digital agency and he now helps other digital agency owners to achieve their goals. His podcasts, online videos and blogs are a constant source of motivation. We are also part of a digital agency owners community where we can converse with other digital agency owners, ask questions and help each other out.

Find your pillars of strength and inspiration. Do not spend time with negative people or those who tend to drain your energy. The right people are those who are willing to join you on your journey. Seek them out and nurture them.

In the same vein, be your own mentor. Invest time in yourself -— self- learning is the greatest way to grow. Read books and lots of them. Take advice from other successful business owners who have been through all of the highs and lows. Look at yourself in the mirror. Are you the person you truly envisage yourself to be?

Give Back & Appreciate the Journey

Now that we have the experience of 5 years running Grow, we feel we are now in the position of “giving back” and can pay it forward.

Be encouraging to all budding entrepreneurs and new business owners, share your experiences with them and be open to answering any questions that they may have. It feels amazing to give back generously with no expectation for anything in return. It feels amazing.

You’ll have the toughest days and have to ride out plenty of storms, this comes as part and parcel of running any business, but do appreciate the highs. There will be times when you’ll feel elated once you’ve launched a major project, or won over the dream client. Appreciate all of the people who got you to where you are today. Appreciate your clients, and most of all, appreciate your team.

Finally, journal the journey! Write down all of your key moments. What did you achieve today? What did you learn? How did you give back? Write it down and you’ll have an incredible journal of memories to look back on. These notes can give you strength and keep you focused during hard times.

Here is just a small snapshot of our learnings. I’m sure we’ll learn a vast wealth of new knowledge within the next 5 years. I can’t wait to see what the next 5 years brings myself, James, and Grow. Please do feel free to contact us with any questions you may have regarding anything contained within this article, we’ll be happy to help.

If you would like an award-winning website that generates ROI for your business, then contact Grow. Give them a call now on 04 456 0220 or email: we-can-help@grow.ae.

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