Keep Calm And Launch: Five Lessons Learned From Five Years In Business
Sarah Curtis and Zainab Imichi look back on the lessons they've learned on forming and running Dubai-based social media, public relations, and influencer marketing agency POP Communications.
This article was co-written with Zainab Imichi Alhassan Alli, co-founder, POP Communications.
2022 marks five years since we launched Dubai-based social media, public relations, and influencer marketing agency POP Communications. And while POP might have officially come into being in August 2017, planning the business framework and brand vision was something we started a couple of years prior. The two of us always envisioned working for ourselves, but we also wanted a partner for the journey- that's how we came together to launch POP.
When we kicked off our entrepreneurial journey together, we were obviously excited, and we were looking forward to the adventures brought upon by forming and running a new business. As with any adventure in life, challenges will arise, but aiming to keep a positive state of mind will help to prosper through. If you are now thinking of taking the leap into entrepreneurship, here are some lessons we learned that can be applied to launch any business, regardless of the sector:
1/ Get an accountant onboard your company (and other key staff too, if you can!)
We've been there before- starting out, and doing everything yourself. Marketing, your business's actual services, invoicing, recordkeeping, the list can go on.
However, this method is not sustainable, and you will reach a breaking point. As such, if you are going to invest in one key hire, make it a person who is good with numbers, and has an understanding of your business entity and location's financial requirements. Even if you have an assistant that has exceptional recordkeeping skills, an understanding of various business expenses, exemptions, tax requirements, and more, that one person will be enough to save you from pulling your hair out. Trust us– you'll thank us later.
2/ Perfect your brand ethos (aka your elevator pitch)
An innate knowledge of what you do and the services your offer is important. It's key to be able to articulately describe what you do, how you do it, and the value brought to clients.
For POP, our elevator pitch is as follows: "POP Communications is a social media, public relations, and influencer marketing agency. We make you 'POP' in a crowded market." The first part covers our broad range of services, and the second part highlights what we do.
Not only is an elevator pitch helpful to explain your firm's ethos, but it also opens the door for new businesses and connections that can then be further supported by a company background package.
A hot tip in this regard: invest your time in creating company credentials that clearly showcase your business services and added value that can always be amended as the business grows or evolves. Having this document readily accessible on your website or on hand to send at any moment will be a gamechanger- you'll no longer have to type out what your business is in an email.
3/ Learn what you do best, and then repeat- but, also, diversify.
At first, this can sound contradictory, but hear us out. When starting POP, we built a reputation for supporting beauty and other lifestyle brands with their marketing communications and brand awareness through bespoke storytelling and strong influencer relations.
This was an area of our business we were (and still are) very good at. However, we learned a strength can be both an achievement and a hindrance. It took time to understand how to utilize such a strength for business flourishment.
Having expertise in the beauty/lifestyle space naturally drove portfolio growth in that sector, but when looking to branch into other industries, we were presented with a challenge– a perceived lack of experience. As such, we also needed to diversify to align with the changing market's needs.
That's when we decided to utilize our strength as a stepping stone to expand geographies, showcasing diversity of reach, and, then, expertise. We were then able to connect beauty to wellness, health, and lifestyle, which then led to expansion across sectors such as healthcare, business, social enterprise, and more.
So, say your business creates bespoke children's wear and accessories, and that it does it well. Stay with your strength, but do plan for a diversification strategy that makes sense for the business.
For instance, expanding into pet care accessories can perhaps be a natural business line progression. Further, if your firm has substantial data on buying behaviors of mothers, you can capitalize and expand upon that particular unique selling point.
That said, while diversification and the ability to adapt to market changes is a must, don't lose sight of what you do best, and what probably inspired and drove the opening of your business.
4/ Invest time in building relationships
You may be wondering why we've included this as a lesson learned- read on. As a new business owner, time is a critical element, and how you spend it can have an impact on your business.
As far as relationships are concerned, whether with potential or current clients, industry colleagues, staff, or synergistic business contacts, personal relationships still play a big role in business flourishment and reputation. During our first couple of years in business, business growth and results were a focus. We poured a lot of energy into client relationships.
Taking time at the beginning of your entrepreneurship journey to fully grasp the role of varied relationships across your business puts you in a good place, from the start.
Weekly office coffee time with staff members to connect on a personal level, an extra 10 minutes with a client, or understanding another business' scope to refer work on will benefit you in the long run.
There will always be deadlines, or a need to get one more task done, or to send out the last shipment. This will never stop, and your business will go on, even if you get to the task later. But quality time with good people might not always be there tomorrow- that's the lesson.
So, here are some key relationships to invest in, and how:
STAFF Invest time towards their growth, and towards appreciation of their work. Also, offer flexibility, which increases their support for you and your business. We implemented a "No Pressure Fridays" approach in January 2022 to increase flexibility, and to encourage staff to take ownership of their time.
PAST AND PROSPECTIVE CLIENTS Current clients usually lead to future clients. A good track record and personal experience go a long way.
INDUSTRY CONTACTS Always remember that partnerships and collaborations come from invested relationships.
5/ Schedule designated days (and stick to them)
This one is really important. Not only is efficiency and productivity enhanced, but having a schedule will foster a (good) work-life balance.
As a small business owner, you are your business, and, as a result, you are pulled in different directions and are intimately involved in it. This can still occur even after years in business and a team in place. Designating days for different segments of your business help.
For example, at POP, we aim to keep team catch-ups and in-office work to Mondays, new business meetings to Tuesdays/Wednesdays, and Fridays as days with no calls or meetings. Create a schedule that works for you and the efficient growth of your business. Sticking to a schedule is also easier when each day is scheduled on your official company planner. If you see that Friday morning is allocated towards spending time with your kids or partner, or visiting a new supplier, you are less likely to cancel it when it is official.
Personally, we've found honoring our time and sticking to it helps. If you let clients, new customers, or suppliers dictate your schedule, you won't get anything done. It's ok to say no or offer an alternative. Understanding that this concept is okay, and that our time is valuable was a lesson that took some time.