As Marble LDN reaches its sixth birthday we’ve been reflecting on what has been the biggest year for the business so far, and how the preparation in the early stages of our growth enabled us to flexibly scale up our small business to be able to jump on these big opportunities when they came knocking.
We recently delivered a game changing project, the type that validates and fulfills the very reason we created our business. This huge event delivered for us in many ways: recognition within our industry, financial stability, growth (both within the events industry and within our core skill sets).
With that in mind, as a small independent agency co-owner I wanted to share our core learnings that ensured we were ready for our big break.
Work on the business, not in the business
As a founder or co-founder, one of the most difficult adjustments to make as your business grows is learning to take a step back and let the team do the job you’ve hired them to do. With many years of experience (and blood, sweat and tears) under our belts, we often feel we are best placed for the job but you must concentrate on the many areas that will help you reach and convert your target audience, and find experts in these fields (marketing, sales, accounts, R&D, team management etc).
It’s crucial to act like a SME from day one, even when you’re only a two person start up. This put us in a different playing field from our peers and influenced every decision we made on company structure and strategy.
Further to this, the below outlines a few “think big” initiatives to help drive efficiency, save money and allow for growth and scalability:
- Systems and processes: We created systems for everything from day one, this small time investment provides so much support and structure in the long term.
- Tech: As the saying goes - “There’s an app for that”. Make the most of the incredibly helpful tech out here to help track, run and communicate within the business.
- Management structures: It’s key to define your management roles early on, with multiple founders this is even more important - someone will ultimately need to lead, and the various departments will need to be formed and headed up.
- HR: Look after the rights of your staff, find a good system that covers holiday, sick days, tax, payslips, contracts and mental health - these are all things that should be seriously considered the moment you grow beyond one person.
- Team management: Communication amongst the team and senior management is invaluable. Create an open-door policy for staff to talk to the senior team and founders, it allows for real cohesiveness, a sense of real care and often allows for early solutions.
- Time management: An organised diary is an organised mind. We use a tactic called default diaries - each week we take 30 minutes as a team to block out our diaries into project work and meetings.
- Goals: You would think this goes without saying, but you would be surprised. Set measurable goals every year for the business, and share and report back to your team. Get your team to set personal goals too, to help give them direction and purpose within the business.
Invest in yourself
You have an incredibly hard job as a founder or co-founder. Even if this isn’t your first business, these leaders need to keep on maturing, growing and need someone outside the business to advise them.
Here are a few tips and questions to ask yourself:
- Business coaching: No matter how much experience you have, there is a coach out there for you. A business coach is there to open your eyes to key practices to allow you to physically and mentally grow your company.
- Why are you doing it? You need to ask yourself this question and answer it very early on. This will of course develop, but try to have this pinned down as the business must answer the questions your life tosses up.
- Goals and aims: Setting your personal goals and aims is key and will drive you in your darkest hours. These must be tangible, use numerics, year, money, time, when, where, how.
- The board: Surround yourself with people that will ask you the hard questions. If like me, you’re the co-founder (or founder) of an independent business, essentially you have no one to answer to if you don’t have investors. A balanced board will keep you focused and accountable.
Invest in your team
Always keep a lookout for new talent. Even if you don’t have a specific position vacant, you may find instances where you need support at short notice, or discover new ways in which to structure your teams. Think of this investment as a monthly overhead, not annual.
Treat your employees how you wish to be treated. All four Marble LDN founders had very unfulfilling experiences when we were employed throughout our early careers. Our personal goal has always been to provide a place where our team feel engaged are given opportunities, and are progressing in life, not just work. Pivotal to this is outsourced career planning, daily paid for team lunches in-house, and training - seek out what the team want to be trained in and why.
Partner and merge
Independent SMEs are more than often happy to contribute to this unique support network. Some of our greatest growth has come from partnering and merging with other businesses that can offer services we initially cannot, to cross-pollinate and strengthen our core offering.
There is virtually no greater cost effective, mutually beneficial sales growth strategy than providing services for industry friends.
Be polite, make friends, be honest
It might sound obvious, but building strong relationships with our event suppliers and partners, being polite and respectful to our clients and being honest when facing adversity, has all been essential to our success.
Like all small businesses, there are times where we have had to lean on our partners, suppliers, and clients for understanding and patience - and what continues to strengthen these connections is returning the favour when they needed to do the same to us. Having this mutual respect and understanding builds deep connections and ultimately a solid brand name.
Cash flow forecast
Of course, this is key - we all know it. However, it’s very common to see small businesses lapsing on regularly updated accurate and detailed finances. These records inform every decision we make, and always have. This accuracy is what has allowed us to expand and enabled us to plan for difficult periods to inevitably reach the other side in a much better place. It totally prepares you for the future.
Ultimately every piece of advice above is what we used as our guidebook to prepare Marble LDN for when our big ship came sailing in.
Final word of advice: play at being big in every way you can, but stay hungry and agile for as long as possible.
Teddy Watt, Co-founder and CEO at Marble LDN.