Top 5 things we've done wrong in business (and what you can learn from them!)
We’ve been riding the entrepreneurial wave since 2010 and the one thing we need to remember, is that before we got things right, we made plenty of mistakes. In 2009 and on the back of the global financial crisis, we decided to buy a recruitment and consulting business. Yes, we worked in it as managers at the time so we knew what we were getting into, but the time could not have been worse in terms of market conditions and we also took on the liabilities. So there we were, just the two of us having let all of our employees go, sitting in a 150 sqm office suite in the CBD, thinking about how we can turn the shit around and praying the market would bounce back.
The good news was, it did bounce back. While it never returned to the levels previous to the crash, we got back on track and grew the business out again over 5 years before starting Beyond Billables (a story we will dive into in another post). Many of the lessons learned along the way we have been able to use and improve on with our efforts at Beyond Billables, but like with everything new, we got plenty wrong with Beyond Billables as well. So where did we go wrong in business and what might have we done differently in hindsight? Why are we even labouring on these failures still?
Our recruitment and consulting business was too narrow and niche.
Even though we had global, clients the reality for us with EA was that we had a very limited candidate pool in Australia and New Zealand, and didn't do enough work in the local market for local firms. We had the opportunity to do so, but didn't innovate by broadening our clients when we had the opportunity. Put simply, we got too comfortable doing what was easy in terms of making money and didn’t prepare for market fluctuations.
Broadening our client base and service could have hedged against these fluctuations. The hard lesson for us was to take advantage of opportunities when they are there and don’t get too comfortable. You can’t predict when the market might take a dive, nor when technology will have an impact on your business. However, you can certainly always be on the look out to take advantage of opportunities when they present themselves.
We certainly had plenty of opportunities to do this, but frankly, it was easier to work harder at what we knew and make hay while the sun was shining. The problem is, in business, its gets cloudy and stormy all too often. Having the flexibility to pivot and expand into new areas of opportunities should always be a priority.
2. We didn’t embrace content or new models quickly enough.
For at least four years with EA (and against all our current best advice!!) we were half-pregnant with content marketing and social media. We did blogs, we had a newsletter, and created very high quality guides. However, we never did it consistently and all too often it fell by the wayside.
I am sure many of you have been here before. You decide to up your marketing game and start doing content. Only you get caught up and your business gets in the way, so you sort of half do it, then eventually it all fizzles out.
This was a big one for us as we really enjoyed making great content and completed some very high quality stuff, but the follow up and consistency was never there and so the results never flowed the way they should have. We see this with clients all the time, where they start then stop their content efforts and it usually just boils down to time and resources and more often than not, the content fizzles. Since starting Beyond Billables, we have lead with content, and we can honestly say it’s night and day.
If you don’t have the time or inclination do the content consistently and for the long haul to get the benefits, then outsource it. We did, and it’s been a huge help for us. In just the first month we increased our traffic 15 fold. Try it and see what happens.
3. We didn’t identify our client early enough with Beyond Billables.
After taking the leap into Beyond Billables, we led with content and an industry voice that got massive cut through. Our podcast led the way and continues to grow, and we began to develop a huge following. The question became, who really is our customer?
Early on, we were just trying to be too many things to too many people. We had plenty of good ideas but we had to test, test and test to figure out who our real target client was. We really had to sit back and have a serious think about our messaging and developing a sophisticated client avatar to make things clear. With time, we came closer and closer and now we focus on helping business and firm owners grow their businesses with our content and marketing strategies.
The reality is, you cannot be all things to all people, especially when you have limited time and resources. Think about this and get feedback at every opportunity, so you can refine your client avatar as quickly as possible and get to selling the services and products that the market actually wants and values.
4. We did’t communicate well enough internally.
Communication is key to good teams and client delivery. We have to be constantly working on this. Time and again when working with distributed teams, it became all too easy to let crucial communication slip through the cracks. Small things on their own are no big deal, but over time as this builds up, it becomes a big problem when your team members aren't on the same page any more. During the business building phase, the vision has to be a unified one and all your resources need to be pulling in the same direction. We let this slip too many times, and as a result, had to have some honest conversations about where the business was headed and what or respective roles and responsibilities would be moving forward.
The lesson here is to never assume that everyone is on the same page - make sure of it by having open and honest dialogue between all team members.
5. We took it all too personally.
In business, half the battle is that we take our wins and losses very personally. When things don't work out, it can be crushing. We were always very personally invested in our business, which goes without saying, but we also took things too personally, especially when things went awry. As a result, we all too often carried this forward into our personal lives and it took us time to develop the resilience and thick skin required to go with the flow in business and have a level of detachment from results. This shortfall meant we allowed it to affect our momentum moving forward and was not great at all for our mental health. But the reality in business is that there are too many things beyond your control, no matter how great your product or service might be in the end. The marketplace decides what works and what doesn’t, and it’s not all about you. Detach yourself as much as possible and don’t take things personally - it only makes things worse. Above all else, remember that it’s not personal, it’s just business...so move on.