From start-up to Google global partner: growing pains and lessons learned

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Reaching for the sky can lead to a fall or two on the way, according to Push. / Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash.

Since it was founded in 2007, Push has grown from a tiny loft above an accountants’ office to a team of over 50 employees managing over £50 million of digital advertising spend for literally hundreds of businesses. And even despite all that, we could never have imagined how difficult the journey would prove to be when we started out.

Here are some of the key lessons we learned on the way in the hope they will help with the pain points you will inevitably suffer in your pursuit of agency growth.

Have enough capital

Not only did we have very little capital in the early days but, a year after we founded Push, the recession hit. Many businesses were left starved of cash — or they fizzled out of existence entirely. We made — in hindsight — some dreadful decisions in our quest to secure more capital. We ended up working with a number of customers who were okay for surface-level cash flow but, in the long run, proved poor for profitability.

Establish your core values from the beginning

In the early days, we worked with a few customers whose business ethics transpired to, let’s say, conflict with ours. This wasn’t because we hadn’t had a bad impression from the start — we had — but because we wrongly believed that our inexperience negated our gut instinct.

Knowing your business’s core values is paramount because this guides and helps develop insight and we get to better understand ourselves as business people. Values enable us to clarify our intentions, choose the working relationships we pursue and galvanise a solid bridge between us and the outside world.

Ascertain exactly what you’re best at

In our first five years at Push, there’s no denying that we were a jack of all trades. Need a website for your AdWords campaign? No sweat. Want a little email marketing? Sure. Gutters need clearing? Absolutely — we will fetch our ladder.

Over time, we came to realise that, whilst we did occasionally lose customers, more often than not our AdWords management and PPC were what kept clients coming back. This was where we truly came into our own. Rather than concentrating on those jobs that inherently we just weren’t excellent at, we focused on building a business that thrived off our strengths.

Get a coach

2012 was a turning point: we employed our first coach. Paul Thomas engaged us in identifying what we were best at and understanding the importance of effective team-building. Two years later, Push began working with Shirlaws who were invaluable in shaping us into the company we are today. Shirlaws helped us understand how to find our own unique culture, fortify our relationships with our customer base and increase our capacity.

Nowadays we find ourselves collaborating with Robert Craven, a coach at Google who specialises in growing agencies as fast as possible. Robert has also been of major assistance in helping develop our senior team. We are passionate about training the future digital leaders of Push.

Love learning — but love implementing more

Our motto at Push? Always ahead. We understand the importance of keeping on top of all the latest, most innovative techniques in the realm of advertising. This isn’t to say, however, that we prioritise research at the expense of action. We ensure to always be working our socks off so that we can roll out new approaches to marketing as quickly as possible.

It’s all speeding up

Change is the only constant. I think it was Heraclitus who said that (I say, stroking my beard — after some frantic Googling). But change is always accelerating, too. In the past three years, the pace has picked up like never before.

Every Friday we have team training, where our employees educate one another on the latest developments and techniques in digital advertising. They then come to a consensus regarding which changes need to be implemented across every one of our customers by Tuesday. This process of training and implementation is only becoming more streamlined over time and shows no sign of slowing down.

It is imperative that businesses understand how to organise themselves so as to be best equipped to deal with any rapid changes in the future. Here at Push we have had to continually evolve — and we love it.

Appoint someone to manage the Google relationship

Google will present your business with many key opportunities but it takes focus and planning to ensure these are followed up for the good of your agency.

We appointed an internal person as the manager for the Google relationship and this role is responsible for driving all the new Google initiatives. This ensured we had accountability and that Google had a key point in contact to work with and drive the business forward.

Remember what’s important

Why do we do business in the first place? It’s so we can live our lives in the way that we want. Running your own business is tough. It’s difficult. It’ll give you sleepless nights. But it’s also full of moments of unparalleled joy — well, almost unparalleled. Balancing business and family was — is — tough. But if you love what you do, you’ll make it work, somehow. Believe in yourself.

Culture rules!

The culture at Push has developed over the past decade. Every team member contributes and pulls their weight. It’s certainly no secret that we try to work like Google.

As a Google Premier Partner, we respect its culture and have no qualms in celebrating how we aim to emulate Google — while honing our own unique qualities too, of course. As Laszlo Bock so aptly put it in his seminal 'Work Rules!: Insights from Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead': Culture eats strategy for breakfast.

Steven Hyde is chief executive officer of Push Group.

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