Building your own business and making it a success will be one of the hardest things you do in life. But to watch your dream become a reality will also be one of the most rewarding. Agent99 PR is now celebrating its 10th birthday this year, an incredible milestone, and I could never have imagined how far we would go. Through these incredible years of owning and running my business, I’ve learnt some valuable lessons that have guided me and my team through many challenges. So in celebration, here are my top 10 lessons learned in 10 years:
Create strict rules around me-time and work-time.
I have a young family, so I need to be strict in how I manage my time, and my health. I work out three mornings a week, blocking out those hours in my diary completely. No meeting is exempt.
This also means I am able to cope with the large volume of communication that I receive from staff, new business contacts, clients and general day to day management.
I try not to work at night or on weekends. With the fast-paced nature of the office, you definitely need to set some boundaries around down-time to keep yourself sane!
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket (or in this case, one client).
If your business relies heavily on the revenue of one client, it can be a risky situation. What if something goes wrong? Even if this is a long term or close relationship, anything can happen. Half your billings disappearing over one night can be tough to come back from. I had to learn this the hard way once, but thankfully, with a lot of determination and hard work on the marketing front, it took us only three months to recover. Never allow one client to overshadow your other clients that significantly. A rule I abide by is one client should never equal more that 10%-15% of revenue. Even if you lose them, you can regain ground very quickly.
Have a thick skin. You are going to face many challenges, so you have to believe in yourself.
Taking criticism is never easy, and at first, everything can seem very personal. Perhaps you misinterpreted the feedback. Or perhaps it really was just a terrible idea that someone called you out on. But if there is a universal truth these 10 years in business have taught me, it’s that a thick skin is absolutely essential. Here are my quick tips for developing resilience and dealing with criticism:
Channel the criticism into positive fuel to do better.
Separate the hard facts from the personal interpretation. They may be two completely different things!
Pinpoint which criticism in particular really hit home for you. Perhaps there is an underlying reason for this that you could work on?
Be relentless. There is a way, no matter how hard it may be.
We’ve all heard the “if at first you don’t succeed…” saying. It’s a cliché for good reason. Personally, I’ve found the “well, I tried!” attitude to be far less successful than the “I will keep pushing until I find a way” outlook. Set a clear goal, and continue switching up your tactics until you reach that goal. I teach my team to operate in much the same way. If something isn’t quite delivering on results, we will sit down together and review it to try and address the problem. This relentlessness will not only improve your problem-solving skills, but garner much greater results for your business and your clients.
Surround yourself with the best business advisors.
And I mean the kind who can help you make those key decisions. Mine include a great accountant, an excellent business coach, a close friend that runs an agency of a similar size who I bounce things off, my dad who has an excellent mind for business and finance, and my husband who is in strategy. However, even with the best advisors, the buck stops with you. So learn how to make decisions you can back and take full accountability for.
Your reputation is everything. Know what your values are and stick to them. Money is not everything
Your business (and in many ways personal) values will help guide you through every decision. They should never be sacrificed ever, particularly when it comes to money, no matter how tempting that maybe. Your values, happiness and that of your team is way more important in the long run.
Respect other people’s opinions, but don’t get pulled in many directions.
Know what you want and be confident when making decisions. You may often find yourself between conflicting opinions, ideas, clients or team members, and this can become overwhelming. Try to stay true to what you believe in - it is impossible to please everyone, so stick to your guns, and do what you truly think will achieve the best result. If it turns out the choice was not as effective as you’d hoped, you can own it and learn from it for next time.
Your staff is your biggest asset. It pays to have one-on-one time with your team.
The time spent engaging and motivating staff members is frequently overlooked by business leaders. I believe spending one on one time getting to know my team, ensuring they are constantly nurtured, listened to, and developed in the right direction is paramount to our overall success. Think individual coffee catch-ups, team meetings, team building exercises and volunteering sessions, so that you can get to know what drives them, their strengths and weaknesses, and how they’re tracking overall.
On the other end of the spectrum, micromanagement can also be the downfall of many leaders. At all cost, try to avoid hovering and micromanagement. Instead, invest your effort into empowering staff with the tools they need to succeed. Your team will trust you when you trust them.
Take responsibility for your own errors, and give credit where it’s due.
Trust and friendship takes a lot longer to build than it does to break, and dispersing blame onto other team members for a situation gone awry will quickly deteriorate that trust, often replacing it with resentment. Just as important is recognising your staff for their work, both personally and in front of the team. This is incredibly rewarding for them, and will strengthen their confidence and motivate them even more. I like to recognise staff on their wins as they happen, as well as discussing highlights during monthly team catch-ups.
No one tells you that when you’re successful, you have to be in it for the long haul and that you’ll need to find ways to constantly refresh yourself, the business and the team.
There is nothing more thrilling than realising after a while that you are truly starting to succeed. But have you thought about what lies ahead if your business does takes off? Part of the success of a business is long-term sustainability, and committing to that five or even 10 year plan. The buzz of a new business can wear off exceptionally quickly, particularly in a space crowded with competitors. My way to deal with this head on is to host annual seminars with my team, drilling down core strengths and weaknesses, competitor analysis, implementing new technologies and services, and revisiting our brand values to ensure they stay relevant. It’s also important to take time out to refresh and be away from your business annually so you can come back refreshed and motivated, ready to conquer the year ahead!
These 10 lessons, along with so many more, have enabled me to sustain a satisfying career and shape a professional life that I could have only dreamed of. You can do this too by understanding what goals you want to achieve and learning along the way what works best for you. With the modern business world changing so rapidly, I will always continue to learn and no doubt you will too – the beauty is continuing to apply those lessons to further your success for many more years to come.
About Agent99 PR
With over 15 years experience in the public relations industry, Sharon has worked with high profile brands around the world including Warner Bros. Pictures and Starbucks Coffee. Sharon founded Agent99 Public Relations in January 2007, which over the past decade, has represented clients in the consumer, lifestyle and corporate industries, working with Evian, MTV, William Grant & Sons, Buderim Ginger, the Hunter Valley region and many more.
Agent99 Public Relations is a highly-creative public relations company that is trusted by some of Australia’s most loved brands to build their profile, manage their reputation and deliver bold brand campaigns that capture national attention and make audiences sit up, take notice, and act.