#LeadershipLessons Beating the odds – how we made it to our 5th birthday

Around 60% of businesses never make it to their fifth birthday. As we reach this important milestone, Rin looks back on some of the important factors she believes have helped us to beat the odds.

This month RH&Co turns five. I say this month because I can’t remember the exact day. I can’t remember an awful lot from that period in my life, to be honest. I was single-parenting 9-month-old twins at the time, so I spent most days in a fog of feeding and changing and bashing out the odd email or blog post in between.

If you’d have walked down my street around then, you may well have seen me in the front passenger seat of my car, tapping away at my laptop while the babies slept in the back. Or I might have been asleep too, my head lolling against the window. Goodness knows what my neighbours must have thought.

Things have come a long way since then. We’re now a team of six with two more starting in September and job ads out for two more. We have clients around the world, we’ve won awards, attended events at Number 10 Downing Street and the House of Lords…

If you’d predicted any of those things when we got started, I would have laughed in your face. I know you’re supposed to start a business with a strategy and a vision and a plan of some sort, but honestly I started mine with little more than bullheaded determination to make it work.

Luckily, I’ve learned a lot along the way….

Surround yourself with people who understand

About a month or two before I launched RH&Co, I was invited to a networking group called Freelance Mum where you could (and still can) bring your kids along. Bored of baby groups full of mums on mat leave talking about the benefits of baby led weaning and whether or not to try sleep training, I gave it a go.

Being surrounded by other mums juggling kids and running a business was both encouraging and inspiring. These women got it! They loved their children but they had other passions to follow too. They made me feel normal and they became my cheerleaders as well. I’m still friends with them today.

My business has changed since then though. So now I have a monthly Zoom catch up with a small group of female founders who all have teams of between 5 and 15 people and who are dealing with many of the same issues as I am. Again, our meetings inspire and encourage me, helping me to see that it’s not just me.

Running a business can be so lonely at times. It really does pay to have people around who understand.

Actively pursue knowledge

One of the best things that happened to me as a new business owner was hearing about what was then called Entrepreneurial Spark and is now the Natwest Accelerator. I started on the programme when the agency was just six months old and was thrown headfirst into one of the steepest learning curves of my life.

I learned from my mentor (thank you, Andy!). I learned from other business owners on the programme. I learned from the many experts they brought in to talk us through the first steps (and next steps) in everything from recruitment and finance to growth mindset and resilience.

I’ve continued to learn since, devouring books, podcasts and webinars, attending conferences and simply talking to other people. I genuinely believe that everyone has something to teach me – even if it’s what not to do.

I think a lot of founders feel a pressure to know everything, but to me there’s nothing as important as being teachable and prioritising your own development. 

“Don’t try to be all things to all people. Understand what you do best and keep getting better at it. ”

Understand what your zone of genius is 

This is something that works at both an individual and a business level. Just as we need to remember that we don’t always know everything, it’s also important to admit where your weaknesses lie. 

I am not an especially organised person. I’m more about creative ideas and enthusiasm than Gantt charts and forecasts. While we should always be developing ourselves, there are times when we need to stay within our ‘zone of genius’ and let others operate in theirs. 

Learning to delegate has been one of the most important lessons I’ve learned in business and I’m so pleased to have incredibly talented people in my team who are far better at their role than I would be.

The business equivalent of this philosophy of staying in your zone of genius is strong positioning – check out the amazing work of David C Baker for everything you need to know on that subject. 

As a copywriting agency, we could write anything for anyone. But we don’t. We don’t write advertising copy or press releases or leaflets or tenders. Instead, we help expert-led businesses to clarify and communicate their message and establish their expertise through content.

Don’t try to be all things to all people. Understand what you do best and keep getting better at it. 

Trust the marketing process

There is so much content out there promising a quick fix for generating leads. But the truth is that there is no rushing business development.

We ramped up our content marketing efforts around the middle of 2019, increasing our blog frequency (from fortnightly to weekly), social media presence (from posting ad hoc to three times a week) and newsletter output (from monthly to fortnightly). 

For six months, although engagement was good, we didn’t see much in the way of that translating into leads.

As 2020 started, however, things began to shift. And with the exception of the first couple of months of lockdown, our revenue has increased steadily month on month ever since. In the last financial year turnover was up 55% on the year before, and we’re on track to significantly better that this year.

Overnight successes are rare. Create a solid marketing strategy and then give it time to work. Tweak your tactics, by all means, but don’t chuck the baby out with the bathwater just because you don’t see overnight results.

Don’t be afraid to fire a client

When we were first starting out, I was so grateful to anyone who wanted to use our services that I didn’t stop to think too hard about whether I enjoyed working with them. As a result, I was involved with a fair few projects that caused way more stress than they were worth.

In a creative services business like ours, bad clients usually fall into one of three categories. 

There are those who simply don’t value you and who expect you to jump when they say so. There are those who say all the right things but then disregard your advice and insist on doing things their own way. 

And then there are the really sweet and lovely clients who are nevertheless so needy that they end up taking far more time than you’d budgeted for – something the authors of Content Fortress refer to as the ‘damsel in distress’ client.

While we’re making an effort to not include any of these in our client base, it is the first group that is an absolute no-no for me. If a client treats anyone in my team with anything other than the respect they deserve, I won’t hesitate to walk away, no matter how much they contribute to my bottom line.

Running a business is hard. Surely one upside should be getting to choose who you work with?

Never stop dreaming

When I started this business, I didn’t have a vision or a mission. Five years later, I have finally articulated both.

VISION To help individuals and organisations achieve their dreams using the power of words.

MISSION To build a market-leading agency that demonstrates the highest business practices, delivers tangible results for our clients, and is a great place to work.

It’s not all that complicated when you look at it like that. But one thing the last five years have taught me is that just because something isn’t complicated, doesn’t make it easy to achieve. These are big dreams.

Luckily, I still have that same bullheaded determination to make it work. And I think maybe that’s another thing to add to the list of things you need in order to succeed in business. A belief in yourself that you can do it.

And you know what? I think you can.

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