It’s an unlucky number for some, but I’m celebrating 13 years in business in the same way I did when I officially became a teenager at the ripe young age of 13 – with big plans for the future… and cake!
I say this in jest of course, but when you think about it, there’s really very few differences between turning 13 in business and 13 in age – you feel like you’ve been around long enough to know a thing or two, but you also can’t wait to see what will transpire in the years ahead as you mature and as new doors open.
With reports suggesting the small business failure rate is around 60% within the first three years, sharing my success comes with the hope that it can inspire other businesses and agencies to put the right strategies and systems into play early, so that you too can celebrate your business becoming a teenager in the years to come.
Reflecting on the last 13 years, and trying to pinpoint the lessons that have taken Elevate from infancy (where I was literally up all night and all day nursing both my first born baby and my business baby at the same time!) to its 13th birthday this month, I realise I live – and lead – by three major philosophies: resilience, resources and readiness.
LESSON 1: Don’t sweat the small stuff – or the big stuff
I’ve been in the war rooms as companies collapse, face legal proceedings and get slandered in the media. I’ve made enough poor decisions in my time that have affected clients, staff and my family than I care to dwell on. But I’ve also learned that no matter the small or big stuff you’re faced with, you don’t have to ‘sweat’ it. Have a plan and take risks! Just take calculated risks – and learn from the outcome to make a more informed decision next time.
LESSON 2: Don’t let the learning stop at school
Never stop learning. The more you know, the more you realise you don’t know. Surround yourself with experienced advisors, mentors and experts. Use networking and professional development opportunities to stay across the industry changes. Read, listen and learn all that you can. You need to stay relevant.
LESSON 3: Hold your head high, move forward with confidence
We all have bad days, and I don’t believe in a ‘work life’ and a ‘home life’ attitude where you need to keep the two separate. But I do believe in changing your physiology to change your mindset, and that mindset can change the outcome. Have confidence in yourself and don’t let self-doubt creep in. Focus on your strengths and the strengths of your team to bring out the best of a situation.
LESSON 4: Start with the DNA – the oxygen – of your business
I never say we’re in the business of communications. We’re in the business of people. Every team member is critical to the business DNA and can make or break your brand. It’s important to know the gaps and hire for those roles. Create an organisational structure that is clear with detailed position descriptions, KPIs and a vision for what success looks like. At Elevate, we have two versions – today’s organisational chart that drives the business, and the growth chart for the next 12 months with more titles and more teams.
LESSON 5: Nourish the heart of your business
I invest heavily in our people with training budgets, positive team culture experiences and initiatives, and ongoing development because they are my biggest asset. They are the heartbeat of the business. My biggest compliment as a business owner isn’t the client portfolio or the industry awards (although they’re nice too!), it is the testimonial from a client saying how much they love our team members. That’s what makes Elevate a success.
LESSON 6: Set up the tools and systems so your team can’t fail
If you do something more than once, create a process and free up time to work smarter not harder. This is being touted at every conference or workshop I attend, but it’s with good reason. Not enough business owners are doing it yet! I admittedly had my head buried in the sand for too long because I didn’t want to know about IT. But when we were having more problems than solutions with our IT systems it was time to step into the vortex. And guess what? It wasn’t as daunting as I thought it would be, plus I have happier staff and clients because of these improvements! Invest in smart technology (we use Office 365, SharePoint and Zoho) to help with project management.
LESSON 7: PR is always relevant
PR is crucial to building and maintaining a strong positive reputation and to position yourself as an industry leader. While the media landscape is shrinking, the opportunities to control your own message through owned communication channels has increased the ability to reach your audiences with your own narrative. Enter awards, speak at conferences, join a podcast…. Elevate is PRIA’s Best Small PR Agency winner three years running because we continually work on our own PR.
LESSON 8: Give more, more, more
Be prepared to give. If you are in the business of transactions, then this may serve you for a few years, but it won’t be sustainable. Why? If something is purely transactional-based, then clients will go to someone who will do it cheaper or faster at some stage. Clients are at the centre of everything we do – we invest in long term partnerships built on trust. We seek feedback and evolve with their needs. Remember it is a privilege they have chosen to work with you. Show that gratitude every day by continually adding value.
LESSON 9: Know your numbers
Don’t wait for a monthly meeting to review the P&L, Balance Sheet and overall health of the business. Know your numbers every day or at least every week and use this to guide the important decisions. As the business owner, the buck stops here. It is your responsibility to manage a solvent, financially sustainable business. Set up your business like a corporate company with a robust strategic plan underpinned by a detailed budget with key KPIs to keep you on track, and an advisory board to hold you accountable. The numbers don’t lie. Respect them.
LESSON 10: Lead from vision, mission, values
Any decision we make as a team needs to tick the boxes with our vision, mission and values. Does it challenge old norms? Does it champion excellence? Does it take us forward with our vision? We’ve rejected clients and prospective staff when the answers to these questions are a no, and it’s a good lesson to learn early on. Not every opportunity is a good one.
LESSON 11: Have a champagne budget!
A beer budget is fine too, but whatever dollars are in the kitty, be ready for a party! You can’t work so hard all month, all year, and not reward yourself or your team for the successes along the way. I’ve dipped into the champagne budget for handwritten thank you cards and flower arrangements to staff and clients for birthdays and babies, and I also make sure we have regular off-site celebrations. Recognition helps us thrive as human beings and strive to achieve success.
LESSON 12: Surprise and delight
Being ready at a moment’s notice to surprise and delight has always been important to me. Elevate has a bit of a coffee culture, so for us, taking coffee to client meetings is a small way to show we genuinely care and are invested in not just their business, but their people. You reach a new level of relationship when you know someone’s coffee order!
LESSON 13: Treat others as you wish to be treated
Be a good business that others want to do business with. Pay your suppliers on time. Pay your staff on time. Treat others as you wish to be treated. The world is a small place and bad business practice will always reflect on you poorly – while I’m proud of how we operate at Elevate, I’ve seen others in not such a positive light.
Have any of these resonated with you in your business? Could you find three themes that have shaped your growth?
Elevate Communication, based in Brisbane, is a strategic communication agency that partners with clients to grow their brand and protect their reputation. Elevate’s full suite of services makes the agency a preferred partner for companies that are hungry for a genuine slice of the market share and to be positioned as industry leaders.