Back in April Key Principles was 15 years old and we should have celebrated. We didn’t make the time to celebrate as we were working hard to ensure that we survived, just as many businesses have been doing.
I have finally made the time to stop and reflect on the journey so far. There is no doubt these last few months have in many ways been the hardest of all. Of course, owning a small business is often a rollercoaster ride, but as we approached April, our forecasted sales for April onwards looked poor. Initially revenue was going to drop by around 30%, we could cope with this. As things went, we found the forecast was over optimistic with final sales down by 39%. Hard work and longer hours meant a modest improvement in May and then June is looking better again; 22% down on the average sales for 7 months prior to April.
I did not and I will not be furloughing any of the team. We have all worked incredibly hard and I would like to thank Terri and Malik for their hard work and dedication. I am sure the longer hours and action will pay off, they are starting to pay off already, and we will survive and as we move forward thrive.
Reflecting now on the 15 years including the most recent times, here are my 15 business tips for the 15 years in business:
- Work on the business more than in the business.
Of course this is easier said than done when you are a small business. As the owner, chances are you will also be involved in service delivery, but one way or another you need to make the time. Over the years, my main way of making time has been to start early so that I have 60 minutes or more to work on the business before the business day really starts. In the last two months, this has been more about action and to be honest, there was I sense of panic on my part which has finally subsided as I realise, we will come through this.
- Hire great people, hire them as soon as you can and invest in them.
When I decided to grow Key Principles, I knew I wanted to hire great people and give them the opportunity to grow and develop their skills. Terri Foster joined Key Principles over five years ago and has been instrumental in helping me more than double the size of Key Principles during this time. Terri has developed her skills and has, alongside working at Key Principles, also embarked on the task of becoming a Chartered Marketer, as well as raising three young children! She continues to support our clients with the most amazing PPC campaigns. Malik joined us over three years ago from Nottingham Trent University (the same University I went to – well to be honest it was Trent Polytechnic when I went). He has developed into a fantastic digital marketer and delivers exceptional results for clients across a range of digital marketing areas. He has also mastered elements of coding to enable him to implement the most robust Google Tag Manager tracking as well as WordPress websites that are built with SEO in mind from day 1.
- Work with a business coach as soon as you can.
I waited far too long to get a coach. However, when you do, you suddenly realise that you should have worked with one a lot sooner. When it comes to coaches and choosing a coach, a referral is probably the best approach – it certainly worked for me. A long-standing and lovely client referred me to my coach. I would also say it is best if your coach has been through the same as you are going through and been successful as I believe they have a better understanding of the situation and what you are going through.
- Invest in your marketing.
I’ll be honest, I haven’t been so great at this. It’s the classic – ‘The shoemaker always wears the worst shoes, or no shoes’. However, in recent times we have spent a lot more on marketing Key Principles than ever before. You must market your business and now it is more important than ever. You have to make sure your clients know you are there for them, how you can help them, and you have to build your brand and your community. One of my favourite books on Marketing is Perry Marshall’s book, 80/20 Sales and Marketing1 which provides some great insight into how you can use 80 20 to your advantage. We use this principle wherever we can for our business as well as in the way we help our clients.
- Be selective about who you serve.
This is not just ok, it’s vital. We only work with businesses that we believe we can help and where we believe we can deliver amazing results, with the aim of exceeding our client’s expectations so they don’t just stay with us, but promote us to their network. We want client’s that will become fans, and more than this we want clients that value what we do, as well as clients that believe in what we believe in. Our ‘Key Principles’ are crucial to us and include complete transparency and mutual respect.
- Develop checklists and processes to enable your business to run effectively, to guarantee a great service and to ensure exceptional results are delivered time and time again.
If you’ve not read The E-Myth Revisited by Michael E. Gerber2 I would urge you to buy the book today. I found this book instrumental in helping me appreciate the key role processes and checklists have in enabling your business to run effectively. I have since listened to and I’m currently reading it now, the book Traction by Gino Wickman3 which provides instruction on how to strengthen the six key components of your business. This book includes a chapter on Process which is enlightening, and the whole book provides some very useful frameworks to help you resolve issues through to metrics to monitor and even how to run great meetings. Gino also believes in 90-day planning cycles which makes perfect sense when you read the book.
- Continuous improvement – the 1%s every day – that’s how the real breakthroughs happen.
When it comes to business, the big breakthroughs are often made up of lots of little improvements over time. The British Cycling team under Sir Dave Brailsford looked for the 1% gains every day. “In the 11 years that Brailsford has headed-up the Great Britain Cycling Team, the squad has become the most successful British team in any sport at a world and Olympic level.”4 Business is no different, lots of 1% gains will make a difference. In his book, Atomic Habits, James Clear wrote about the impact of improving every tiny thing by 1% and marginal gains. You can find out more about this on James’ website where there’s an excerpt from his book, This Coach Improved Every Tiny Thing by 1 Percent and Here’s What Happened.5 Another book I would recommend you add to your reading list 😉.
- Keep learning and keep challenging yourself and your team.
In these rapidly changing times, and as Digital Marketers, we are continually learning, and we will be lifelong learners. In truth the essence of Marketing and Business has not changed from Philip Kotler’s definition, “Marketing is the science and art of exploring, creating, and delivering value to satisfy the needs of a target market at a profit. Marketing identifies unfulfilled needs and desires.”6 What has changed are the ways that we can deliver value and promote our products and services, and these will continue to change. Therefore, we will always be learning, developing, and growing our marketing and business knowledge and understanding so that we can continue to deliver exceptional results for our clients as well as grow our businesses.
- Consistency and action are vital.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of reading one business book after another, of learning new stuff, but never implementing what you’ve learnt. It is also easy to forget what’s working already to try another shiny new thing. It’s crucial therefore to be consistent, to stay the course, when you find something that works well for your business, don’t stop doing it because you want to look at something new, or because it’s boring now. It is easy to forget what’s working, but it’s crucial to be consistent. In The Chimp Paradox by Dr Steve Peters, there’s a great quote: “There are some pitfalls to be aware of after you’ve been successful in an event. The first danger is complacency. Whenever we have achieved something there is a tendency for the chimp to forget quite quickly exactly what we had to do to succeed. Very often therefore successful people fail to continue with success because they fail to continue to do what they did in the first place in order to succeed. You need to be vigilant when watching for complacency… Most success is achieved by hard work and there are few if any shortcuts.” 7
- Get out of your comfort zone often
if there’s something you believe you should do, but you keep procrastinating, that’s just the thing you should do.
Certainly COVID-19 has meant many of us have had to do things we don’t really ‘want’ to do, to push ourselves beyond our comfort zone. To be honest myself and the team at Key Principles had to do just this with the webinars we’ve been running, as well as sales calls and more. Although it was scary, it was for the most part exhilarating too. Breaking new ground and growing as people is exciting. The ‘just do it’ slogan by Nike works well here. The truth is that you just have to get started. A strategy from The Chimp Paradox that I remember goes something like, “If needed just aim for 5 minutes and before you know it, you’ll have done 20 minutes.” This is where you can make real strides as a person and as a team, you’ll grow as people and you’ll grow your business too.
- Make sure you have plenty of cash – cash is king.
I was perhaps fortunate in having been in business 15 years when COVID-19 hit. However, it was not the length of time necessarily as much as good housekeeping. We of course invest in our marketing now as well as in training courses and learning, but I’ve also saved some of our profits for a rainy day. I guess having come from a working-class family, my mum taught me to keep some money aside. This has been a real positive for Key Principles. We have the cash reserves in the business to weather this storm, pull through and be there for our clients. I have not had to furlough anyone and that’s also due to the cash reserves.
- Profit is more important than revenue – don’t be a busy fool.
At Key Principles we work hard to generate revenues but in recent years, we’ve also focused more on profits. Make sure you charge a fair price for your services or products. Don’t undersell yourself. We do sometimes do this, we know we do, and we still do it, and most often regret it afterwards. To counterbalance our competitive pricing, we’ve focused a lot on our processes, and even more so now that we are working virtually. We focus on what makes the real difference to our clients, aiming always to provide the best possible results for them in an efficient and effective manner, and this has enabled our profit margins to improve. There’s a great video on pricing by Casey Brown, a pricing strategist who openly admits to pricing her services to low. The TedTalk is called ‘Know your worth, and then ask for it’.8
- Generate good habits
A post on LinkedIn by a connection – Jamie Taylor of Taylor Roofs – led me to the audio version of a book called Atomic Habits by James Clear9. If there are habits that you need to cultivate, James offers some great strategies to use to develop those habits. James also includes a section about identity which I will revisit.
- Don’t watch the news and limit your use of social media (of course, use it for your business though).
I stopped watching the news about two years ago. I want to keep positive and find the news so negative and draining. In the last few months, I have of course kept up to date with what’s happening, but I’ve still tried to limit the time spent on news websites. I decided not to use Twitter for personal purposes for similar reasons and try hard to limit the time spent on Facebook and LinkedIn unless work related. I don’t have notifications on any of the apps on my phone – when you work you have to get focused time to be effective, and this is how I try to get this time.
- Your health, family and team are more important than your business
Make time for all four and really try not to let the business be all consuming. This is so difficult to implement as a small business owner. I often work at the weekend but do try to have at least one full day off. Of course, in recent times this did not happen but I’m back on track. My running has always been a part of my life, I’ve always run, but since finding Parkrun10 back in April 2016, it has been a constant companion. I have lost over a stone in weight, pretty much stopped drinking alcohol, no longer drink caffeinated drinks, and looked after myself much more. I have no doubt that this has helped me to grow Key Principles by providing me with some structure and discipline to help me cope with the general ups and downs of running a small business as well as helping me cope with the stress of COVID-19.
As I reflect on the most recent times, I feel that we now have the time to pause and celebrate making it to 15 years and now beyond 15 years. For me, I found the most recent times the most stressful and for a while I lost focus of what’s important. In the end you have to enjoy what you are doing, admittedly we were fighting to survive, but the stress and the long hours meant I stopped enjoying what I was doing.
And so, a final tip and perhaps the most important of all, enjoy the journey and have fun.
As of today, I have made the decision to stop, reflect and revise what we are doing so that me and the team at Key Principles has the time to enjoy the journey we are on together, to celebrate the wins, and not just winning new clients, but delivering great campaigns that help grow our clients’ businesses, working with clients that we love to work with, doing great work that we are proud of, developing ourselves as people and building our expertise so we can deliver even better results for our clients.
I originally went into marketing because I wanted to make a difference and help grow the companies I worked for, and working at Flotex and Bostik, I did that and loved it.
The good news is our forecast for the end of our financial year, the end of August, is only a 7% drop in revenue compared to last year, I’m taking that as a positive especially as we may generate more new business yet. Prior to COVID-19 we were looking at a great year of growth in revenue, after 5 years of continuous growth, and so I have no doubt that we will survive and thrive.
I would like to thank all our clients, new and old, for their business over the 15 years, and I hope that they have found working with Key Principles worthwhile. Our current clients can be assured that we will always work with their best interests at heart. We focus on delivering exceptional results and a service to match. We offer complete transparency as well as openness and honesty.
Since Key Principles has been trading, we’ve helped over 150 businesses grow through our marketing support, and the mission is to help a further 200 plus ambitious businesses grow in the next 5 years.
If you would like to be one of those companies then please do get in touch by call 0115 880 0211 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
References including some great books to read:
- 80/20 Sales and Marketing by Perry Marshall
- The E Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It
- Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business
- The Chimp Paradox by Dr Steve Peters
- Casey Brown, Tedx
- Atomic Habits by James Clear