10 things I’ve learned in 10 years of business
Happy 10th Birthday Cubeworks!
Today it is 10 years since I migrated along the South coast to Brighton and founded Cubeworks, and what a journey it has been. Inevitably, there have been ups and, of course, there have been downs, but one thing’s for certain, there’s never been a dull moment.
The Cubeworks gang have been asking me today how I feel about it all, 10 years on. Well, in a nutshell, I can honestly say I feel proud; proud to still be going strong in a rapidly-changing global economy, proud to be a good employer in Brighton, proud to have built a great team around me and, most importantly, proud of the work that we do.
Yesterday, I was reflecting on the past decade, and thought to myself: “What’s the main thing I take away from the journey?”. Well, I’d say it’s how little I knew about running a business back in 2002! But on the flip side, it is also the realisation of how much I’ve needed to be open to listening, to learning, and to change, in order to be an effective leader.
10 things I’ve learned along the way
This led me onto thinking it would perhaps be worthwhile noting the top 10 things I’ve learned over those 10 years, so here goes:
1. Get peer support - I can’t stress how crucial this has been to my personal growth. By peers, I mean, in particular, fellow business owners. Whilst industry networking is important of course, until you have run a business, you can never fully appreciate what it feels like to have it spinning around your mind all day long. Nattering with your peers is wonderful therapy: you get to see problems from new angles and even just knowing people have to deal with similar problems to you can be very calming. A big hat tip must go to the MDHub in Brighton, which connected me to other MDs and contributed greatly to the MD I am today. Nowadays, I work with a couple of great consultants, who’ve “been there and done it”, who challenge our strategy and, critically, who give me deadlines to hit. I am quite lazy at heart and I can’t imagine not having someone telling me when to do stuff – I’d never get anything done.
2. Sales, sales, sales – To survive as a business, you need to sell. It’s as simple as that. Particularly in a service-based business like Cubeworks, a visible MD is key to its success. You need to be closely involved in sales, you need to network, you need to talk at events, you need to be known in your industry. Quite simply, people want to deal with the MD, people want to hear your passion. So I make sure I’m out and about several times a week.
3. Your team is everything – As a young buck just starting out, I guess I probably didn’t value this one enough in the early days, but I certainly do now. Making sure you build a team of people that can work really well and effectively together is crucial. Sure, skills are important, but even if someone is maybe lacking experience in certain areas, if they’re bright, you can teach them anything. So, rather than focus exclusively on experience, instead, now we recruit primarily on attitude and personality. For the past few years or example, amongst other things, we’ve been using Belbin personality profiling when recruiting any new candidates, and which has proved invaluable in building the right balance of people.
4. Your team are constantly analysing you – As a leader, I’ve found that the team might analyse things in detail that you’ve said or done (or not said or not done) that you thought were innocuous. I remember, for example, 5 or 6 years ago when we were a team of about 7 people, I bought an office toy, which I thought would be a fun thing for everyone to enjoy. Months later however, it transpired that someone thought the team should have had a higher bonus than the company ’squandering’ money on toys (it was about £30!). So, something done with all the best intentions had pissed someone right off. A tough lesson but, to this day, I regularly recall this story as a note to self.
5. Grow people within – I am a massive fan of recruiting junior staff and nurturing them within the business – they are keen, willing to learn (and are less likely to have picked up bad habits along the way!). We try to follow this policy whenever we can and we’ve had some notable successes on this front in the past few years.
6. Recruit better people than you – It’s an old adage, but a great one. Stick to your strengths – mainly being the face of the business & leader in my case – and grow a management team of experienced specialists around you. I have grown a fantastic management team around me now who add ideas, give me different angles, challenge my constant stream of crazy ideas, tell me to shut up and who are just there to support me when the chips are down. If anything, I just wish I’d grown our management team sooner.
7. Partnerships are crucial to growth – Sales are critical, so take full advantage of every opportunity where others can do it all for you. Another approach I wish I’d exploited more rapidly, but one which is critical to our continuing growth.
8. Be prepared - If you were a boy scout, then this won’t be news to you but, preparation is crucial. Whether it’s before a pitch, a team meeting, an event – whatever – time to review and practice is never time wasted. In particular, I try never to leave anything until the morning before to finish off, as people always need more time than they think… and if it’s all done and dusted I can sleep more soundly too.
9. Learn to switch off – I say “learn”, as it can be hard. I am constantly thinking about how I can tweak and improve the business, but even I need a holiday sometimes. Personally I find I can’t switch off immediately, it takes me 2-3 days to wind down, so I tend to phase out the email checking at the beginning of a holiday and gradually I find I can properly relax. I think knowing what works for you is key. I know several MDs who have had their “most stressful holiday ever” purely because they had tried to switch off immediately, which had stressed them out even more. I have to say, I can sympathise.
10. Have a clear vision – Arguably, I’ve saved the most important thing until last. If you know what you want to achieve both personally and as a business, then all your strategies and goals flow from that big fat objective. As Lewis Carroll once said, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there”. I wish I’d realised sooner how critical this is to long term success, but at least I do now, and it’s reaping dividends.
So, once again, Happy Birthday Cubeworks!
Here’s to the next 10 years of success and hopefully 10 more important things I will learn to do better.
I’d love to hear what things other leaders have learned!