By Anthony Main, The Distance.
It was only signing a key client right at the last minute that saved my digital agency, just two years ago. I had been forced to let six staff go and it was down to just me and one other. I have since built the company up from two staff and no income to 20 staff and an almost seven figure turnover.
So, what advice can I offer, based on what I learnt along the way? Here are my top ten tips to help you ensure your business stays afloat in tough times:
- Don’t let your marketing slip. We became too comfortable with the quality of our inbound leads. We had previously (Google) ranked well, and complacency set in as a result. We didn’t monitor the rankings as closely as we needed to, and so we simply slipped off the face of the web without realising.
TIP: Keep marketing, even when times are bad – you can’t build a business if no one is finding it and the leads aren’t coming in.
- Monitor competitors. Our early impact made us naively confident in our market share and we hadn’t realised how many competitors had grown to the same degree. No longer did we have first pick of the inbound leads; we had to work harder to reap the rewards.
TIP: Always keep an eye on the competition and ensure you’re staying ahead, not slipping behind.
- Learn from the mistakes (and successes) of your competitors. It’s SO important to know what the competition is doing, from their inbound process, to their offering and the quality of the documentation in between.
TIP: Create a dummy project and subtly go through the ropes of testing them out. Find out what they do well (integrate it into your process) and discover where they are weak (ensure you don’t do the same). Learn from mistakes without making them yourself.
- Market pricing. Another important aspect of your competitor analysis is to understand both their pricing and how customers will perceive yours. Make sure you align with your market, even if you expect your quote to be larger than your neighbour’s.
TIP: Get clear on your own pricing and that of your competitors.
- Vital Data. Track as much as you can about the operational side of your business. Ideally, create a data dashboard and update it at least monthly, so you can compare to previous months or years, looking for any trends which might raise a flag.
TIP: By understanding the numbers in your own business you can spot problems early and develop solutions.
- Develop your niche. Before our turnaround we had an ambiguous company, offering both eCommerce and mobile apps, with no crossover customers. This didn’t work, so we divided the business to individually focus our marketing on clear customer propositions.
TIP: Find your niche and stick to it. Make sure all your marketing communicates your expertise in that niche, and don’t be tempted to try to be all things to all people.
- Cash is King. All industries go through waves, often unexpectedly, and you need to be able to brace against them as best as possible. This often simply means supporting drops in revenue with a cache of finance for rainy days. Aim for at least three months break-even in the bank for comfort.
TIP: Don’t spend all your profit – keep some back to help you ride and survive the rough times.
- Watch the economy. While the UK’s decision to Brexit had a huge impact on us, it was going to be a 50:50 decision either way, which meant we should have been better prepared.
TIP: Keep up-to-date. Don’t be ignorant to wider scale events that might have a future impact, such as a change in governments, price of raw materials, etc.
- Team trust. Take your time to employ; we did and it has really helped us flourish, but equally learnt from similar poor judgements. Surround yourself with trustworthy staff and give them as much autonomy as possible.
TIP: Build a great team around you by waiting to employ the right people – taking on the wrong people can be time-consuming and costly, whereas the right team will help ensure the business thrives.
- Create your culture. As a creative agency, we are stereotyped with a certain culture and we embrace it. Flexible working; monthly company catch ups (in the pub); bi-weekly retrospectives; internal Slack comms. All of this adds to the reasons why our staff are so committed to supporting each other to deliver great projects for customers.
TIP: Develop a company culture that suits your business and your team. Work is not just about productivity – it’s also about enjoying what you do.
Many businesses start and fail – often as fast – and it’s important to look for signs that things aren’t as they should be. Don’t be as naive as I was; having confidence in your product and service can only protect you against so many things, some you simply have no control over, so be prepared!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Anthony Main is Managing Director of The Distance, an app development company. Anthony has been developing apps since the first iPhone, and with his UK based team of digital natives, The Distance delivers intuitive mobile solutions for clients on both iOS and Android. From disruptive start-ups to global enterprises, including NHS, Bentley Motors, Virgin Trains, PGA Golf, Slimming World, and Astra Zeneca, The Distance supports solutions developed to meet all app based-challenges.