Seven things I’ve learnt running a fast growth business
As one of the founders of King Content I’ve enjoyed a pretty crazy ride over the last four years. In that time we’ve grown from a two-person outfit in Sydney to over 40 staff spread across offices in Sydney, Melbourne, Singapore and, most recently, London.
As we approach our fourth birthday, I have many things to be thankful for: billings that have doubled or tripled in most years; a team of great staff who consistently put in the hard yards to deliver great results; and a growing roster of clients who have backed us, grown with us and ultimately made us the business we are today.
But while it’s certainly been exciting, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing. I’ll be the first to admit that we’ve made a litany of mistakes along the way, but I’ve found that it’s how we’ve responded to these failures that has been critical to our success.
So what have I learnt after four years at the helm, and what would I do differently?
1. Hire strategically
Without a doubt, the key to successfully running a fast-growth business is your staff.
For us, the team has made the business. With a mixture of good luck and savvy senior staff early on, we managed to hire people who have integrated their own skills and experience into the way we operate.
As far as I’m concerned, the key hires in the first year of the business laid the foundation for what King Content’s heartbeat was and still remains: passion for storytelling.
In 2010, the content marketing industry in Australia was nonexistent. The blank faces of brand marketing managers needed a certain type of personality to transform them. So we hired based on personality, passion and vision for digital experiences. These people set the trend for the place today and are a large reason why we are here with the lights on after four years. They believed in a crazy vision, but not only that, they lived and breathed it.
2. Trust and back your team
There are going to be times when this is tough, especially if you’re sitting at the pointy end of a lucrative deal. But the team make the business, so at the end of the day you need to back their judgment.
There is no way a business can grow quickly if the owners want to be personally involved in every process. Work with them to develop a process and organisational methodology and then set them free.
3. Hire on attitude
There is nothing more detrimental to a business seeking fast growth than a lazy, disengaged and ‘good enough’ attitude.
Hungry, positive, keen to learn, career driven, perfectionist? Whatever their bent, people who are passionate and agile have consistently been of more value to our business.
You can teach someone skills, but you can’t teach attitude. Enough said.
4. Don’t settle for a mediocre commercial team
Hire great commercial people.
You can’t grow a business without sales, and talented commercial bodies are hard to find. Find them, recruit them and pay them accordingly because the other option is to go with ordinary BDMs that end up costing too much for no return.
Trust me, a ‘good enough’ commercial hire always ends in tears. They’re usually a disruptive, dishonest force in the business, not to mention a waste of time and money.
5. Stay agile
Have faith in your business model, but keep your eyes open.
Recently I looked over a note that I had sent to my co-founder, Andrew Burge, weeks after we had just launched. While we’d hit most points on the business plan, there were also some crazy ideas on there that I couldn’t fathom implementing now.
The key is to remain focused while still evolving with the market. Typically, your product offering will evolve as your customers fund them, and it’s important that you are agile and open to these opportunities when they present themselves.
6. Invest time in your support network
There is no doubt that one of the things that has kept me grounded (and alive!) is having great partners, a close management team and a supportive family, all of whom aren’t afraid to call a spade a spade.
From my perspective, it’s very difficult to build a successful business without having a united front and focus for the business from the shareholders and board — and it’s something that’s hard to undo, so pick your partners well.
Equally, the people you leave at home each morning (mostly when they are still asleep) are the ones who also ride every high and low. Make sure they get the focus and time they deserve, even when it seems like there aren’t enough hours in the day. Time spent with family and friends is not lost or wasted. It’s an investment. A refuelling exercise.
7. As soon as the work ends, you do too
Much like this editorial, which could go on forever, there will always be something that needs to be done or improved for next time.
And that’s great! As soon as you get complacent, you’re not delivering the very best product to your clients, your team is not growing and developing, and your business is stagnating.
Instead of letting this never-ending list of ‘to dos’ get you down, switch your thinking and use this list to fuel your hunger for growth and success.
Founding and running a fast-growth business means that you learn something new every day. As I approach my fourth year in operation, as optimistic and hungry as ever, I’ve realised the importance of these daily lessons.
If there’s only one thing from this post you take on board, it should be keeping your eyes open to recognise and apply this daily lesson to your business.
Good luck in your ventures.