30 Things I’ve Learnt Since Starting a Business
A lot can happen in a decade, particularly if you started your own business aged 23.
On his 30th birthday, our Founder and MD, Craig Slade, reflects on some of the key lessons he’s learnt over his time as a business leader.
Read on for 30 things Craig has learnt since founding Crucible – a myriad of useful advice and lessons, for both life and business.
1. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good, or the enemy of progress. If what you’re working on is better than what you have now, release it and run with it. People will still like it even if it’s not perfect, and you can begin working immediately seeing a higher return even if you’re not seeing the ‘perfect’ return straight away. Publishing a resource or a tool like this early also means you can learn from data and response rates before you try to get it perfect.
2. Your client and your client’s users are very different people, but some clients won’t always see that straight away. To marketers appealing to an audience is second nature, but to managing directors, founders, and C-suite it can sometimes be more difficult to give up possessiveness over a business concept, piece of branding, USP, etc. Still one of my proudest moments in my entire business career is when a client said back to me “I hate it… it’s perfect!” as they’d managed to find the specific difference between what they liked and what was effective.
3. Whatever your process is, however detailed or in depth you want to go with discovery, planning, user experience, wireframing, etc – people like shiny things. You can try to avoid it, but showing a client something they like the look of early on into a creative process is important in establishing a wider trust and kudos.
4. Earning trust is a continual process. You can’t expect to do 8/10 things right and mess up the other two and still be trusted – your process has to be top notch and you need to invest in getting it right.
5. People like to work with people who are passionate, so do it all for a reason. Ideally, focus on a cause – stand for something – but failing that, ooze the passion, attention to detail, and love you have for your work.
6. The right people are worth everything. ‘Superstars’ are out there in every business – reward them, delegate. The quote goes ‘hire smart people and then get out of their way’ – but also, learn everything you can from them, speak their language, understand their work. Also, consult with those more senior, who’ve done it before – find a mentor; the key thing is understanding your limitations and listening to those who know better.
7. Be self aware, laugh at yourself, and don’t take yourself too seriously. I am far better at doing this internally than I am externally as a businessperson. With my colleagues I am often the butt of the jokes and I relish this – but I’m often told to be more human and real with clients and our marketing! I’m still working on this one.
8. Building any B2B brand is about building on what you have. Worked on a project for an education provider? Talk to some other education providers. Maybe a college. Maybe if you then work for a college, you’ll then work for a university. Projects for universities are similar to those for local authorities, so maybe then talk to those. Don’t try to bridge too far from your expertise but value everything you can put into your portfolio.
9. It’s far better to under promise and overdeliver than the other way around. Make your timescale estimate realistic and talk to those involved about their part and how the goal can be achieved together. Clients will take longer than you do on most things, so account for that and make the needs for a project or deadline clear.
10. Never charge more than the client is expecting to have to pay. Be really clear with your commercial model from the start and stick to it.
11. Even in a technology company, technology can let you down. We had a document that we had to send out for a sales prospect by 1pm that we had customised, exported and sent out a hundred times before, and this time it failed, and it was nearly 3pm before we managed to send it. We didn’t win the client, but it’s no one’s fault – sometimes software isn’t on your side.
12. Being the cleverest person in the room is not as good as being the clearest. In our line of work we’re often paid to be the smartest people in the room when it comes to websites and tech, but no one likes to feel less smart than anyone else. Bring your client on the journey with you, never be jargonistic, speak normal, relatable language and explain complex concepts using simple terms. Helping clients understand makes your and their lives much easier.
13. It can be quick and good, cheap and quick, or good and cheap, but never all three. All three is an impossible utopia!
14. Communication is everything. Effective communication can fix most problems with most projects and poor communication can create so many issues. Make sure your people are good communicators and give them the resources to do so. This is made even more important in the era of Zoom and post COVID-19.
15. Documentation is everything. One of your project managers needs to take some time off work – assigning their work to someone else is easy if it’s well documented or impossible if it isn’t.
16. Forgive yourself for your failures but learn from them. No one can be perfect but you should interrogate your decisions. I have recently started keeping a decision journal – looking back on the decisions I’ve made and seeing in hindsight if I made the right call.
17. We all work hard but it’s only worth it if you’re enjoying yourself. Create good memories both in and around the workplace. I lament the post COVID ‘Zoom era’ to some extent as it can really limit what joy you can add to workplace culture. Businesses should be about more than just giving people tasks and paying them at the end of the day.
18. Sometimes relationships just don’t work – you won’t get along with everyone, be they client or staff. If it’s staff, assess the extent to which you need everyone to be your friend or whether you’re comfortable with that team member working hard and delivering for your company – they’ll find others they gel with in the business. If it’s a client – it’s better to part ways amicably and to leave the work in a sensible place to pass off to another provider, than to let a poor relationship bog you and your entire agency down.
19. Say ‘I don’t know’ more. Authenticity is important – people respect you more when you admit something isn’t your area of expertise. It’s far worse for a salesperson or founder to speak as if they are experts in everything than for them to say ‘I’ll get back to you on that’ or similar.
20. Don’t be too afraid of discomfort and risks, but don’t be overconfident either. Only you can understand the level of risk assessment that makes you comfortable in taking a big business step – for example, starting a new service, allowing investment, taking on a new team member. The apprehension is a natural result of seeing a fork in the road and choosing the more challenging path. But at the end are often greater rewards.
21. Don’t stop learning. I finished university education at 21 and I don’t think I read another book on business until 5-6 years later. This was a big mistake – you should constantly be questioning yourself and aiming to understand more about the world of business. Learn more, build better. My favourite recently? Atomic Habits by James Clear. I should have read it far sooner.
22. Those who know me know I am a procrastinator, but I have learnt to manage this behaviour really well over a number of years. Kill procrastination at all costs – do absolutely everything you can to avoid it. As a first step I would recommend reading this article from the brilliant Tim Urban at ‘Wait But Why’.
23. Founders rarely have this luxury, but if you can, work on the business rather than in it. Focus on process, improvements, efficiency, resources, collateral – anything you can to improve how well you work for clients and how attractive you seem to work with. If you’re just focused on delivering for clients and their projects, this is made much more challenging.
24. Don’t sacrifice your health for your work. Get away from your desk, stretch. Some days I know I don’t really leave the desk for hours at a time. Just moving around once every hour can make a huge difference for your health. And, if you can, get a desk setup that is comfortable and optimised for your body – a while back I was diagnosed with Cubital Tunnel Syndrome (Carpal Tunnel’s older, meaner brother) and putting in place some of the above actions has made it much more manageable.
25. Help more – both internally and externally. Helping your team to understand something complex shows respect and that you care about them and their work. Helping your clients learn and understand something can help everything from establishing your expertise to selling a service.
26. Build a management structure into your business. You can’t manage everyone nor can you be an expert in everything, so while you also don’t want a business full of managers, finding a mid-point is important to help your teams do the best work they can while still getting adequate support from their managers.
27. Investment brings returns. Don’t aim for a bank balance, aim for a profit margin. If you’re investing sensibly, you should keep a reserve but continually grow your revenues and profits. Put your profits to work in your business and you’ll see more of them!
28. People like to understand the hows, whens, wheres and whys. Give your clients the detail they need. Don’t waffle or go over the top, but carefully explain the processes so that your clients will understand when you say to them how long something will take, or how complex a task is.
29. Don’t expect overnight success. Building something takes time. You will fail along the way, but fail forwards. My business did not make much profit for several years at the start, but we were learning and building from the ground up. Once you have found the right recipe, success will come.
30. No one is better than anyone else. No lifestyle is superior, no fashion accessory can make you a better person. We’re all trying to make our way through life in our different ways – from you, to your team, to their families. In everyone else’s head their life is as important as you are in yours. Don’t step on them. Help them to achieve what they’re trying to achieve and you’ll find they do the same for you.