I’ve never really seen myself as an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs talk in acronyms, talk to banks and investors to convince them about their next project and aim to build something that can be sold for profit.
My Dad was an entrepreneur. He started a business that eventually had a global supply chain and employed a huge team in Scotland.
Although I don’t feel like an entrepreneur, along with my wife and co-founder, we do own a business and we have seen it grow (and some years not grow!) over the last nine years. We have taken risks, we have seen new opportunities present themselves and we do love the thrill of growing something meaningful.
As we mark our ninth year in business, here are nine lessons we have learned in building a business:
Build YOUR business
I think there is a sense, when you start a business, that you think everyone else who has started a business knows exactly what they are doing and they are all building businesses the same way - and that’s different to how you are building it. But let’s dispel that myth - we are all out of our depth, it’s just how comfortable you are being out of control that matters. There is an unnecessary pressure you put on yourself if you are focused on other people’s businesses. Yes, you can learn from their experience and yes you can pick up a nugget or two of wisdom - but you are not meant to build someone else’s business, you are meant to build your business. Your business will reflect your values, your motivations, your passions.
Trust your gut
No matter whether you have an MBA or not, gut instinct is one of the most underrated business tools available. We have had a number of experiences where we have been offered big money contracts with potential clients, but after consideration (and consultation with our gut) we have turned it down. That has always been the right decision. Building your business means you should build with people you want to build with. If those employees, clients or suppliers don't subscribe to your values or vision you need to walk away.
Vision can evolve
Vision is a much used, and often misunderstood word. Every organisation is told they need a vision statement. And at the start of a business, it can be a daunting process to think, “what is my vision?”. Over the years I have learned that vision is not stationary. It evolves. What you start journeying towards may just help you reach a moment of greater clarity a few years into the process that helps you understand what it is you want to do with your business and the influence and services it offers. If you don’t have a vision yet, keep going. It will come, sometimes it just needs time to bring clarity.
Don’t be scared of focus
When we started Jersey Road we were just delighted that anyone wanted us to invoice for anything. So we took on sales jobs, marketing jobs, business development jobs and even some PR jobs! Many businesses start the same way, and that’s ok. As an entrepreneur (if you are comfortable being called that!) you need to be comfortable with the hustle. Doing whatever is necessary to grow, keep afloat, and build your network. However, you can’t stay there. We were challenged a few years back to specialise. Our biggest fear was that, in specialising, we would be forced to say no to potential clients who fell outside of that filter. It was the best thing we ever did. Focusing meant our clients and potential clients knew who we were, where our strengths lie and what we can do to serve them. Don’t fear focus, it will allow you to build depth, not just breadth in your client base.
Generosity has always been important to us. Generosity in words, in actions and in finance. We can often be cautious about generosity in business because we might not get anything back. But that’s exactly the point. Generosity is not about what you get back. It’s about giving for the sake of giving. We want to be generous with our clients, giving them as much time as possible. We want to encourage those we work with, we want people to enjoy their interactions with Jersey Road because they experienced some form of generosity. We have found that by prioritising generosity, we have built trust and open doors that would not have been there otherwise.
There was a season in the Naughties and Nineties where bravado was a common currency in business. Look bigger than you are - that’s the way to build a great business. We just don’t agree. We are not trying to be the biggest PR agency on the planet. We are also not flawless. We make mistakes. However, we do value relationship over transactions and we surround ourselves with individuals and organisations who are better than we are in various disciplines. That means clients don’t just rely on our abilities but have a network of specialist experience available to them. Humility means recognising your strengths and being honest in your weaknesses, not ignoring them.
We are thankful for every client who has ever done business with Jersey Road. We are also thankful to every journalist who has supported us with a story or campaign. And we tell them. Media can be an intense and thankless environment. We take time to thank those who help us do what we do. Thanking your staff, your clients, your suppliers and your stakeholders adds value to your business - because people want to work with a company who recognises them and is grateful for the part they play.
When you send out as many press releases, media pitches and photo calls as we do - the process could quite easily become transactional. But we want to not only thank those who support us, but value anyone who comes into contact with us. That means understanding their schedules, deadlines, time pressures - and communicating in ways that are helpful to them. That means sending a note to those who have gone above and beyond to help you meet your objectives. It means paying people at a level that values their contribution. Yes, it may have a short term impact on the expenses of the organisation, but long term it generates loyalty, motivation and output on a whole other level.
There have been so many moments in the last nine years where we have had a choice to either play it safe, or to take a risk. Whether it be expanding into Australia, or Northern Ireland, or whether it be employing our first staff member. These have all cost us something. But here’s the thing, if we were not bold in those moments, we would not just risk staying still - we would have gone backwards. Not every risk pays off, but if you are convinced by your reason for existence, it needs you to be bold to become something of significance.
We love this business. We love the people on our team, we love the clients we work with day in, day out and we love working with our friends across media who support us in sharing the incredible stories of impact.
Your business doesn’t need to cost you everything: prioritise your family, make sure you rest, but if you love what you do, you’ll find it gives you an energy that very few other jobs will.