Methodology To The Madness: Expanding A Business Amid A Global Pandemic
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This article was co-written with Elsa Roodt, Co-founder, Q Communications.
Launching in the UK at the beginning of July was a very proud moment for us at Q Communications, and one that opens a new chapter for the agency. With offices in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, this is our first international outpost, and moves us beyond being a regional agency and into the international realm.
We are launching during a pandemic, but considering we originally opened our doors in 2010 during the financial crisis, times of uncertainty do not deter us. We rarely follow the beaten path, but over the years, we have intuitively followed a formula during times of growth within the agency from launching a digital division, to opening new offices, and growing the team. Here are a few tactics that have worked out for us when growing our business:
1. Understand the market When seeking growth, many markets seem desirable: they either add value to the current client portfolio, offer roads paved of gold, or have become the latest “hotspot,” according to peers, industry chatter, and published reports. But that does not always mean it is the right move for you.
Yes, no one wants be a laggard, but being a sheep is not much better. You need to truly understand the market. Do a recce, visit established agencies, meet with media, talk to potential clients- this is how you can understand how mature the market is, whether you can bring value to the table, and if it will really benefit the business, or simply add a feather to the cap.
For instance, Bahrain had been on our radar- it was a planned expansion for us; the stepping stone to Saudi Arabia, we thought. We even lined up a couple of clients and started talking to talent. However, once we went and spent some time there on the ground, we realized the market was still in its infancy stage when it came to communications. PR was undervalued, and the numbers just didn’t work. We loved the sense of community there, and as a passion project, we wanted to pursue it- but the business case wasn’t strong enough.
2. Create a track record It is one thing to launch proclaiming, “Look, we are here, we are great, and we will do great things,” and another to say, “We are here, and here are the great things we have done.” Creating any type of track record not only showcases your work, but puts potential clients at ease. After all, no one wants to be a guinea pig and hand over money for the privilege.
It is thus best to dip your toe into a new market or discipline. Reach out to existing clients and offer penetration into a new market, or the use of new services as an added benefit. Tap into SME groups, and support by doing projects pro bono. Go out, meet people, and start building a network- but ensure you are adding value.
Before we launched our office in Abu Dhabi in 2016, we spent 18 months driving back and forth from Dubai building up a presence in the capital. Slowly, we chipped away and managed to land a couple of accounts. This not only gave us something to pitch to the media, but allowed us to understand the landscape of the city and the nuances of the Emirate. Once we had an established client base of 10 clients, we took the plunge, invested in an Abu Dhabi trade licence, and opened the office. When the official announcement was made, we already had a functioning business unit.
3. Have the right people “Human capital” is a word we don’t particularly favor- it makes the team seem a commodity, rather than the core of the business. People are what makes the company tick and sparks the passion within our work. It is the most important part of Q Communications.
So, with that thinking, make sure you have the right people in place when looking to the next venture in your business- whether it be building a new department, diversifying the services, or expanding into new territories. We have always trusted our gut, and with our team, it is no different. Working together to ensure the ethics, vision and approach align is key.
We have met some of the most brilliant people in their fields along the way, and partnering up would have made perfect sense on paper, but if they won’t fit within the company culture, it will be putting a square peg in a round hole. People flourish in the right environment for them- and personally, you produce the best work when surrounded by the right team.
Like many other businesses, we have been eyeing up the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, not just in recent months, but for the last few years. Like Abu Dhabi, we have been working on the ground, and building up case studies of our reach and work. On one occasion, we were approached to partner with a media agency to add the public relations piece to the puzzle.
It seemed the ideal scenario: lower risk and speedier activation. But as the meetings and conversations progressed, we realised the human connection was not there- we weren’t gelling in the way we want to with our potential partners, and ultimately, we decided it was not the right time for us. We are waiting for the right marriage for that market.
So, when it came to launching in the UK, we followed all of the above steps. Over the past couple of years, we have been learning more about the market, working with brands on the ground, and understanding the relationship between the Middle East and the UK- how each can be a feeder market to the other. We have the right person leading from the front, Kate Greville, who originally launched our Abu Dhabi office, and was a Q’er for over two years before going back to the UK to relearn the market and build the connections again.
And so, we open our doors in the UK with clients under the belt, the operation in full swing, and a healthy pipeline. So yes, when it comes to business, timing is important, but it is not everything- we have always jumped forward during times when most step backwards, but however spontaneous it may seem, there is methodology to the madness.