Doing it the hard way. A short story of misguided intentions.
Adam's background and why he is so well placed to help you.
I set up my business in 2001. Having got my Marketing degree and having worked in decent advertising agencies for a few years, by 2001, I thought I could do better. It was easy. I had no clients. But, through some basic marketing, advertising in Yellow Pages (where else was there in 2001? Nowhere really!) and working hard, I grew the business to about £250K turnover. Business was easy, right? Except. It wasn't. Turnover was great. We were working for some global brands (like really big ones!) out of a small office with 4 core staff and a bunch of freelances. Offering branding, design and the like. Websites weren't really 'a thing' back then.
I was clueless. Because I was riding the growth wave from the 2000 recession I thought I was great. But I wasn't. And, back then, 'business' genuinely was simpler, easier and the marketing marketplace sustained high hourly rates (£60-£120 per hour - no quibble). So, I could run an inefficient business and still make just enough to make me feel like I was a clever clogs business owner.
Riding the wave - false sense of genius
In 2005, riding high, and getting increasingly technically focussed with 'digital' becoming crucial (and having Maths, Physics, Chemistry & Computing background) we embraced tech, digital, new-media and all the other different forms of moving marketing online with relish. It was great. We were ahead of the curve for once and could offer things that larger, slower agencies were only just getting to grips with.
Then, due to a client request, we (foolishly said, "Yes"...and) set up an IT Support company as well. Genius. And, once again, with some basic flyer drops, marketing and a whole lot of trudging around the business parks knocking on doors, we quickly built up the IT Support business too.
Hey... I was not just a great businessman.... I was an Entrepreneur! Yes!!!!
Except all was not well. I was spread too thin. The profit margins weren't really there. I was working hundreds of hours a week (yes, I know, crazy). I didn't know it at the time, but my IT Support guy was not fixing anything at all. My large design clients drifted away as they weren't getting serviced to the levels they had come to expect. And we got embroiled in a 3D animation project that we should have said, "No" to - which consumed every waking hour for months and we made no profit on what-so-ever.
It all imploded. Badly. I mean.... really badly.
Lifetime Batman Slap
I ended up with pre-cancerous lumps on my vocal chords. I couldn't speak. The business collapsed. I had to offload all the staff and phone round suppliers. My personal relationship fell apart as well. It was horrendous.
I ended up living in a tent in Amersham while my, now ex, sold the house.
I (very ironically) took a job at a Housing Association whilst technically homeless. Which still makes me chuckle. Luckily, I found a house share and moved into an actual address just in time for pay day.
I worked all hours. I took on ALL the debt of the business so I had over £80K of personal debt to pay back. I was doing my day job and freelancing in the evenings building websites for a larger graphic design agency that we had worked with previously. They didn't really have digital in-house and were still behind in terms of 'the web'. So, I was their go-to guy. Taking my days of holiday off to head down to their offices and "be their web guy".
By 2008, I was back in business. I de-mothballed (is that even a word?) the Limited Company and started making phone calls (which I hate... but it needed doing). By 2009, I had the office back and 1 employee. I was 'back in the game'. I had even (almost) cleared the £80K debt.
Except the game had changed. And not in a good way.
Firstly, the marketing industry had changed. Everything had become a lot more digital, social media etc. And I wasn't prepared to buy "the hype". I have subsequently been proven right, but, at the time, everyone wanted an app or some whizz-bang flash animation. Screw the messaging and the brand and the value proposition.... does is spin? I started to hate what marketing had become.
Secondly, the rates had plummetted. For two reasons. We weren't in contact with any of our larger brand clients who had the bigger budgets and, at the same time, marketing had (and remains to this day) a race to cheaper, cheaper, cheaper, free. No longer could we run an inefficient business and get away with it.
Lastly, I had changed. I had lost my confidence in our offering (it was a me-too offer). I had lost my confidence in marketing (it had all deflected to digital and lost sight of its 'core', in my opinion) and, most importantly, I had lost confidence in me. I was not the same person. I was scared. Scared of ending up broke and in a tent on a campsite again. Scared of looking an idiot again. Scared of getting ill again. Scared of not having enough money. Scared of ... well... everything. Not at a debilitating level. But at a low-level, nauseous, underbelly drone of knotted fear. I felt a fake. I felt I wasn't adding value anymore. And there was no room to screw up again. And, without any room to make mistakes... we do nothing. So, I did nothing. Somehow, though, we still managed to trade. And I was even stashing a bit of money aside.... luckily!
Pretty in Pink?
Then, out of the blue, along came an opportunity to ditch it all. We partnered with someone else and set up a tech hub in Reading, UK, raised £140K in funding and the world looked great again. I was adding value, helping people and had a massive sense of purpose. I was riding high. All I can say is, though, do your due diligence before partnering with anyone. It all looked sparkly and pink and full of energy. It turned out to be divisive and full of bile. After 18 months of making a £1500/month loss and working 80 hour weeks (again), I bailed. I was broke (again). Any money we had saved up previously was gone. We had been sucked dry. Both our time and money had gone up in smoke.
Time to start again. But this time... properly.
Doing the Work
How did I survive? Do the work. No longer could I just wing it. No longer could I afford to just charm my way, blindly, into the first opportunities that came along (without even knowing if it even was an opportunity) or say, "Yes" to everything and work out how to deliver it later. Enough was enough. What did I really want? What work did I truly like doing? What was I naturally good at? What kind of clients do I like working with? What business skills was I lacking? What partners, suppliers and freelancers did I need to work with? Who could be my coach/mentor and help me grow too. It took hundreds of hours of learning, coaching, reading, seminars... and even a bit of therapy. It is a journey I am still, and always will be, on.
Along the way, I re-found my love for business and marketing. (When done the right way.)
And I can put my survival and subsequent growth down to 4 things. Profit, Innovation, Leverage... and the right Focus. Seek them everywhere. I then implemented it into our business plan. And then into our products & services, our marketing plan, our operations and into our finances. And, most of all... into me as a person. I had to grow - a lot... And I still am (I hope).
Growing or dying
As Tony Robbins, Robin Sharma, Henry Ford and countless other business leaders say, "If you're not growing, you're dying."... But, I believe it has to be growth combined with focus, clarity and making sure you are building the right things in the right way and being true to your values.
My mission is to inspire you and your teams to think more creatively, solve ever more complex problems, grow... and live the empowered life.
I would not be who I am, without the 'pains of the past'. However, although I have hit the lowest of lows... and the highest of highs I much prefer it now. A bit more balanced, calm, focussed and in control. And a lot 'wealthier' - in every sense of the word.