Article from Gareth Robertson, Creative Director
As I sit on the train about to write this article, my mind wanders off a little as I contemplate how my business, as of Friday 1st February, became seven years old. The days, weeks, months and years have seemingly flown by. From what started off as a freelance venture to keep myself fed, watered and with enough cash in my pocket to play a bit of rugby now and then, I find myself sitting at the head of a small company with a studio team and plans to grow further over the next few months.
“How on Earth did I get here?” I ask myself… When I set the company up, it was with no real end goal in mind other than to give me an income. Nothing more than that. But very quickly I found that people seemed to respond to me when I talked about my work and ideas of growth began to form in my mind. I had ideas but I didn’t really overthink anything back then.
I can vividly remember in April 2012, sitting in the spare bedroom at my parent’s house with my 27” iMac, a printer/scanner combi and a ton of paperwork overflowing and said out loud, “I need an office”. Little did I know then, that that decision to take on an office, was the first of many I’d make as I began to grow the business.
I could sit here and bore the pants off everyone talking about the journey I’ve been on, the decisions I’ve made along the way and plans for the future, but if you really are that interested just drop me a line and I’ll happily arrange a one to one and talk it through with you. But for now, here are my 7 Top Tips for Growing a Business Without Even Realising You Are…
1) Getting an Accountant from the very start
I spoke to an old rugby teammate when I set up. He was an accountant and I paid him to set up my limited company and guide me to get myself all up and running. I must be the only business owner in the world who got a D at GCSE maths, retook the exam a year later and ended up with an E. I’ve never been great with maths so I figured having someone on board to tie up the loose ends of accounting could only have been a good thing; especially with my track record with numbers! Looking back now, sub-contracting anything your not good at out, is the first lesson of scaling and growth. If you aren’t good at something or you don’t enjoy something, pay someone else to do it and save yourself a ton of time.
2) Focussing on being good at something rather than what I could charge for doing it
I was always hardwired in to focusing my effort on designing the best solution I could for a given brief. I figured that if I got a reputation for being good at graphic design, eventually people would pay me to do their graphic design and cost wouldn’t be the main point of any negotiations when quoting jobs. This mindset has definitely helped in the longer term as the majority of negotiation that I engage in now is centred around timeframe and deadlines. I didn’t realise it back in 2012, but doing this actually started to shape the foundations of Design Pit’s brand. Our brand foundations have been built of quality, trust and ability to deliver. People want us to work with them and work comes to us because people know what they’re getting from us; and they trust us to get it right for them.
3) Always maintaining high customer service levels
Without customer service, you have nothing. That is something an old rugby team-mate once said to me and it is so very true. I tried to go the extra mile, over delivering wherever I possibly could without costing myself too much time or money. I let people know that I was doing it as well. I’d tell people if I’d done a bit of extra work or created any extra bits of artwork so they felt looked after and that their business was appreciated. I did this because I did appreciate the business. I appreciated every job I secured and I still do. So no matter how big or small a job was, my levels of customer service were always consistently high. Customer service can be delivered in many shapes and guises but however you choose to look after your clients, make sure you are consistent with it.
4) Trusting my gut
For the last seven years, many decisions I’ve had to make have come down to how my gut feeling was about it. Even when all of the evidence was stacked up against the call I was about to make, or when the answer appeared to be blatantly obvious, sometimes when your gut feeling just stops you and forces you to go with it. Rarely has this let me down. When it feels right, it probably is. And when it doesn’t feel quite right, then it definitely isn’t. Just make the call as you see fit!
5) Building a network of trusted business people
I started networking after a month in business. My first month trading led me to a princely sum of £400 turnover; and my overheads were £600. So I had to react, and a friend recommended breakfast networking groups as a good way of getting the name out there. Seven years on, I’m still doing them and I actually enjoy the early mornings as well; which is pretty strange indeed! I enjoy presenting in front of the groups and I enjoy getting to know my colleagues and helping to refer them. Building trust with people who you may not sell directly to, will bring referrals and this is the best kind of business to secure as the “hard sell” has been done for you by whoever referred the lead for you.
6) Going from Me to We
Taking on staff was the single biggest call I’ve had to make. The decision to turn Design Pit from a “me” business to a “we” business was massive for me. I’ve always seen myself as a reluctant leader, happy to lead if I have to but I never set out with the aim of being a boss, being in charge or being a leader. I’ve captained a few rugby teams in the past, but that was very different to leading a team where livelihoods were on the line. But I applied a few principles of my sporting background into my work and gradually I’m becoming more at ease with the idea of being a business leader. I also quickly realised that you can’t get anywhere in business without good people around you, so finding quality people was something I would have had to so sooner rather than later anyway. Mindset is a big factor in this, and not being afraid to let people in.
7) Defining a goal… eventually
I never really had a definitive goal for where I was taking Design Pit. But I do now. A few things have helped to facilitate this new found direction. A big one was being accepted onto the Aston Small Business Growth Programme at Aston Business School in October 2018. This programme has completely changed my approach to my company and my business. The course runs until April 2019 and by that point in time, I hope to be deep into roll out of the growth plan that is still forming in my mind. I’m close to knowing exactly where I’d like to get to in the next few years; the hard part is working out how to get there. Fortunately, it is also the fun and exciting part!