Lessons from the dark days.

I recently read on elitebusinessmagazine.co.uk an excellent interview with Ed Reeves, co-founder of Moneypenny, in which he quoted one of his friends, (who advised him during a tough period), “If you think growing a business is hard, you should try reducing one.”

Having been in that position I can say from firsthand experience how true that statement is and more, how you would never want to repeat it, indeed would do almost anything not to go through the pain and heartache. That said, there are powerful lessons I learned from downsizing one of my businesses 15 years ago that have helped me to both rebuild and start new ventures with a more solid foundation. Here are the big three lessons I learned.

  1. Stick to your knitting. One big mistake was to be distracted by too many new initiatives and to take my eyes off the core business. To be fair, the internet was taking over the world and I was excited by all it promised but with hindsight it was a massive distraction. Of course, there comes a time when not to diversify could also be seriously damaging but in my experience too many businesses, (make that business owners), get bored with their principal activity and go off in search of new shiny things.
  2. Remove the wrong ‘uns ASAP. When the business was small and fast growing I picked the team pretty well. But when we got bigger I allowed myself to be more impressed with an applicant’s experience rather than their character. I remember thinking “wow, this person works for XYZ, (a household name company), he/she must be good.” Of course, I can see now that XYZ might have been incredibly successful but that didn’t stop them employing some bad people, or indeed allowing them to leave to join my business! It’s not so much about hiring the wrong people as not admitting the mistake to yourself and taking fast action to remove them – that was where I went wrong.
  3. Bad profits. I remember waking up one day and for the first time in my life didn’t want to go to work. It was awful and I realised that I’d taken on projects solely for the financial return. I didn’t like the work we were doing and worse couldn’t stand some of the clients we worked with. Our creative agency had become a factory churning out work that we would never have done when we started out but because it was high volume and made a profit we took it on. I created three rules:
    A. Do I like them (the client and the company)?
    B. Are they big enough or potentially big enough to make it worthwhile working with them?
    C. Can we do work we’ll be proud of?

I admit that I compromised C. a few times when a giant order was placed with us. I compromised B. far more often though, particularly when excited about a new initiative a client was pursuing. But I’ve never compromised A. since. I now only work with people I like and respect.

Looking back, the dark days did me a favour in many respects. I’ve been a lot happier since having learned the hard way. Of course, I do wonder if I could have avoided making these (and many more) mistakes but accept that life isn’t always plain sailing and the dark days serve to teach us new things – so long as we do learn from them.

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