When I founded Bidaya Corporate Communications in 2004, I'd already had a decade's worth of experience as Manager and later Director of Corporate Communications at Fastlink (now Zain), Jordan's telecom leader at the time. After running the nationwide PR operations of one the Kingdom's largest private sector companies for over 10 years, starting a PR agency sounded like a simple transition. What I hadn't realized was that there was far more to running a startup than I'd anticipated. Here are four things that I wish someone would have told me when I was launching my business.
1. Develop Financial Skills
You might be the greatest marketer, technology guru or innovator of your time, and that will be instrumental when creating market-worthy products and services, but unless you also develop financial skills specific to managing your business, you'll have a hard time staying afloat. Raising capital, managing revenue and profit, getting clients to pay on time– these are essentials that you won't learn as an employee.
Whatever you do, whether it's taking a course, finding a mentor or self-educating by reading up on the topic, make sure that you have the basics down as early as you can to save yourself from making costly mistakes.
I was fortunate to have seasoned CFOs and CEOs among my friends and family. Their advice and guidance during those first few years of Bidaya's formation were central to teaching me how to set up and manage my agency's finances.
2. Manage Like a Leader
Entrepreneurs are often forced to serve multiple roles when they start out, acting as employee, manager, and CEO all at once. As your startup grows, you'll have the luxury to delegate the day-to-day work to your team, and later on your team's management to your managers. Before you hand over the reins, however, ensure that your executive staff understands your vision for your management culture.
I've had the pleasure of working with great managers in my time, each hailing from a different school of thought. By the time I'd decided to go solo, I'd already had a good idea of the management style I wanted applied at Bidaya. PR is a very demanding industry, often involving long hours at the office and tight deadlines. Using a combination of the management principles that I'd enjoyed most as an employee, I created a flexible and supportive work environment where my staff would have the freedom to grow and feel at home. As a result, the majority of my team have been with me for over five years and to this day continue to be an integral part of Bidaya's future.
3. Hire Smart
Never underestimate the value of good talent or the difficulty of finding them. You can only grow as an entrepreneur if you have a strong team backing you and pushing you forward, which is why it is paramount that when you hire, you choose people who have what it takes to level up your business. The catch is, most of these talents are already taken.
If you can't afford to headhunt the best in your industry, learn to spot potential in junior candidates. Characteristics that I look for include self-initiative, passion for the work, intelligence, and loyalty. That last quality is paramount, as I trust my team with every aspect of my business and they are the engine that drives its growth. I'm proud to say that, today, Bidaya boasts some of the most talented PR professionals in the Kingdom and the region.
4. Defy Conventional Wisdom
Our culture has traditionally rewarded play-it-safers who stick to the well-worn path. Despite increased regulatory and industry support for entrepreneurship -a high risk venture by definition- would-be entrepreneurs still face social criticism when first making the shift from financially-secure 9-to-5 employee to startup owner. Some of my friends and colleagues thought I was insane when I told them that I was leaving my high-paying senior position to start a PR agency at a time when PR was barely understood or valued.
No matter how intimidating it gets, use the uncertainty to fuel your determination to succeed. At one point, one of my strongest drivers was the need to prove the doubters wrong. I'm glad that I didn't let myself be talked out of becoming an entrepreneur. It may not have been the easiest road to take, but it was by far one of the most rewarding.