Choose to be a Small Giant
The unique characteristics within your design business sets our industry apart. You think differently; you work differently; you aspire differently. You choose to be small giants.
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Now, three years on, Uniform are over 50 strong, with revenues in excess of £3.5million and with a second office opened in London. Nick Howe, co-founder and MD of Uniform says, “It was critical that we supported our senior team in their development as they moved into more managerial and leadership roles. Planning a bespoke professional development programme over a 12 month period with a mix of internal and external training was key to this, and helped ensure our investment paid off for both Uniform and the individuals involved.”
From tailored internal mentoring, to identifying external courses every learning area was closely matched to outcomes and aligned to the four key areas of their business strategy – client service, creativity, operations and business performance.
Success measures were built into the plan and included improvements in overall business performance (financial and non financial measures), development and growth of key clients, and improvements in staff satisfaction. With the team sized doubled, and turnover having soared no one would deny that Uniform’s development plan has been a huge success. A structured approach – like they took – to assessing the needs of the business, enables goals to be set and measured, instilling greater confidence in development investment by focusing in on the expected returns.
Business growth does just happen; if you rely purely on ‘doing great work’ you may get more clients, and they may be more profitable, but to underpin this you need to develop the skills within your agency to effectively manage the increasing quantity and size of clients, to address issues and opportunities that come with this growth, and to prepare for the complexities that arise from being a larger business.
Building your business from the bottom up through a structured development programme such as Uniform’s, allows you to understand your strengths and weaknesses and address them in a coherent manner by investing in the right places. By better understanding the ‘in’ in your training investment, you’ll maximise the opportunity for the ‘out’ results to be far reaching for your business in driving long-term growth.
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Read Masters of the (design) Universe – the value of being mentored by an industry pioneer.
Twenty/Twenty is the innovative business mentoring programme from the DBA. The programme pairs rising leaders in design with one of the leading lights of the design industry. Through 1-2-1 meetings, the mentor’s role is to listen, share experience, provide a sounding board for ideas and ultimately help the mentee to define their goals and grow their business.
As your shop grows, you personally take on more of the heavy lifting, forming more of a bottleneck in the process. You know what sort of people you’d like to hire, but you just can’t afford them yet. As soon as you can, though, you begin filling those slots with more qualified people.
Often their performance is judged primarily by how effectively they free you from the weightier responsibilities that you need to shed. “Ann is invaluable to me because she’s the first person who can handle a client crisis on her own.” Or “Stephan guides the staff by answering a hundred questions every day so that I can focus on new business.” Or “Judy is the only person at our studio besides me who can close new business.” Or “Tim has raised the quality of our work far beyond what even I was capable of.”
So when you have someone who helps you breathe easier in these four areas (clients, employees, prospects, creative), you might understandably overvalue their contribution, be too quick to give them partnership, or let them get away with bad behavior. It took you so long to find that first really capable person that you assume that finding the next one will be just as hard. It won’t, and be sure that clear values are driving your decision making.
I publish specific metrics for what principals should make, keyed to the size of the firm, and most principals are right at or just under that range. But for some reason, principals are nervous about employees knowing what they make, especially if it’s what they deem to be a lot. The reality is that well-managed employees operating within a great culture couldn’t care less if you make a lot of money.
In fact, great employees will support that notion. If you’re stingy with them or abusing them in other ways, they’ll hate the double standard. By the way, there’s a very direct but inverse relationship between how open principals are about the finances and how well they and the firm are doing. The most poorly performing agencies are the most open about their finances.
Principals are very different from each other. Some are introverts. Some value control. Some believe in process. But the common struggle all of them have is feeling like someone is taking advantage of them. That’s the flip side of aptitude for risk, and organisational development scientists know that but haven’t yet figured out the cause.
You’ll see this in yourself when you determine what bonuses will look like this year, when you guide the policy on remote work from home, when you have a discussion about a title change, etc. Just recognise that you have a tendency to overreact when you’re feeling this way–it’s very common and comes with the territory.
Many principals are obsessed with how well they are doing in relation to their peers. They pump new employees about it, scan competitor’s websites, quiz common freelancers or suppliers, and generally want to know how they measure up. Some may care more about doing better than a rival business than whether they meet more objective performance criteria. It comes with their competitive natures.
This is something that principals avoid at nearly any cost. They might continue a tradition even when they can’t afford it, hold onto people longer than they should, or not even consider bringing the business to an orderly dissolution. Not because it’s not the right thing to do but because it smacks of failure. I really understand this, too.
To pull off running a business like you do, requires a certain level of confidence. Pierce that confidence and you falter in front of clients, lose some of the killer instinct that’s served you so well, and so on. It’s good to recognise this in yourself, though, and not be trapped by your own fears of perception. Part of the new authenticity pervading our world is that there is less stigma around “failure” and I think that’s a very healthy development.
What keeps you awake at night? Do you struggle making the right decisions when fear has too large a role? Do you have a trusted colleague or competitor or business associate who can help you think objectively when you’re struggling?
I hope this helps you realise that there are many effective principals like yourself who struggle with the same things.
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The programme pairs rising leaders in design with one of the leading lights of the design industry. Through 1-2-1 meetings, the mentor’s role is to listen, share experience, provide a sounding board for ideas and ultimately help the mentee to define their goals and grow their business. Find out more.
Image credits: © Salestron76 | Dreamstime.com
The DBA is calling for the Treasury to guarantee the future of R&D tax credits as well as expand their scope to support a design economy and business environment that will allow the United Kingdom to ‘own the global language of innovation’.
The percentage of pupils entering at least one arts subject has fallen by 1.7 percentage points to just 47.9% of pupils in state-funded schools in 2016. This is on top of an overall decline of 8% in the uptake of arts subjects at GCSE and shows that the DfE’s English Baccalaureate (EBacc) proposals are continuing to have a negative impact on the uptake of creative, artistic and technical subjects in schools.
The lobbying body Bacc For The Future are asking people to keep writing to their local MPs to encourage them to ask the DfE to abandon its plans for the EBacc and review alternative Baccalaureate options that include valuable creative, artistic and technical subjects. They have a template letter prepared here which you can personalise and send on.
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