Isoline is now seven, and I thought I’d list seven things that have been critical to our success. If you’re thinking of starting a service business, maybe this will help!
1. Picking a niche
‘The essence of positioning is sacrifice,’ said Philip Kotler. As a marketer who has worked in advertising, web design, below-the-line, and PR in five countries over the past 25 years, I believed – knew – I could do anything within the marketing space. And this is a mistake many start-ups – and agency start-ups in particular – often make. Learn to say, ‘we don’t do that’.
My experience is that you should figure out what you want to offer – make sure your process is thorough, though – and stick with that niche. We are a content marketing agency for tech B2B companies – and that’s the only thing we do. This has allowed us to build a bank of expertise that’s unrivalled in the industry, and really create an offering that makes sense to clients.
2. Don’t be too proud to pivot
I’ve said a lot about picking a niche. The reality is that sometimes, you get this wrong. You’re targeting the wrong clients, with the wrong services, at the wrong price point, or the wrong premise. The good news is that you’re not alone. If the signs are clear that you’re not making headway, don’t be afraid to pivot to a new model, approach, or proposition.
It was relatively easy to set up the company, but the more challenging task was to define the scope of service and a business model. Our approach involved pivoting too: it took about nine months before I finally worked out the scope of service and the company as it is today was launched. And with the pandemic, we’ve continued to pivot in our service delivery, strategy, and organisation.
3. Think small – at first
This is advice to would-be entrepreneurs wondering whether to take the plunge. Don’t start off by thinking huge thoughts like ‘I must prove myself’ or ‘This is make-or-break time’. That feeds into self-doubt and uncertainty, sometimes preventing you from acting. I told myself: ‘I am going to try this for five years and if I can achieve xxxx by then, I will try for another five.’ This took the pressure off the decision. And once I had taken the plunge, I knew instinctively what needed to be done today, and the day after. And then I could start thinking bigger.
4. Push for excellence
Your reputation and the habits you establish become the norm for your company. So always strive to be the very best you can be at your business – whether you’re launching an app, or writing content, or bringing a physical product to market. Don’t be afraid to ensure your employees, partners, and suppliers to achieve the standards that you expect. Gaining a reputation for excellence is also a good idea if you want to be able to occupy a premium proposition.
5. Ask for help
I started my own agency in a country half a world away from where I was born, and if you’re like me, or even different from me, you’re going to need help. Ask people for it! The one thing I have been constantly amazed at is how many people are more than happy to give you their time, expertise and the benefit of their experience. An hour with someone in my ‘support group’ is a rich source of inspiration, action points, ideas and more.
6. Act like a big business from day one
The best piece of advice I’ve ever received is from the inimitable Anne Forrest, founder of Forrest International. She said that it was essential to behave as though your company was a large business from day one. And she wasn’t talking about agility or flexibility. She was talking about processes, profit focus, systems and all the other infrastructure that makes an agency operate smoothly, efficiently, and allows your employees to deliver their best.
7. Be kind
‘In a world where it is possible to be anything, be kind’, said the wise man or woman. Even when you’re disappointed, or when your expectations haven’t been met. As an agency, be fair, transparent, honest and treat people fairly. Build relationships that are meant to last.
Many of the lessons above have come from mistakes made along the way, and I ask the universe’s pardon 😊 But I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: the most essential thing is to care deeply about everyone you work with.
That’s you. The Isoline team, clients, friends, family, advisors, well-wishers, and cheerleaders.
Thank you. Have a drink on us!
Thoughts? Comments? Memories? Email me at [email protected] .