I don't know what I'm doing... and other lessons from ten years in business

28 May 2020  |  Insights
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This year, as a business, we celebrate 10 years.

A decade always feel like a landmark moment.

Many businesses and leaders mark the moment by sharing their insights in how they have built a business and what you can do to build your own.

I have found those posts, articles and books incredibly useful.

But as we reflect on our 10 year anniversary, it felt more pertinent to share my own personal learnings - because we can, ourselves, often be the biggest barrier to starting and growing an organisation.

I have changed as a person because of the business Andi and I founded ten years ago.

So, here are some of the things I have learned about me:

I am the first to put limiting labels on myself.

Throughout each of our lives we may have people who have encouraged us and others who have discouraged us. People who tell us the world is our oyster, and others who call into question our abilities and gifting and whether we really can achieve anything.

But I have realised that the most likely person to put those labels on me, is myself.

I often say that I don’t feel like an entrepreneur, and have even mentioned it in blogs previously. I also have never felt like a ‘real’ PR. I have questioned my own ability to develop strategy and I have oftentimes minimised the vision for the company because the big vision felt too, well, big.

What I have learned is to recognise when I am limiting myself.

And also question what really matters.

How important is it that I am really an ‘entrepreneur’, whatever that really means.

I may not have felt like a ‘real’ PR but I have learned about the industry, and we have surrounded ourselves with experienced people who share the same vision as we have.

And once I have allowed myself to become comfortable with the big vision, not the watered down version - it has been then that our thinking has changed and we have begun to invest in an infrastructure that will support the vision, bring people onto the team who have the capabilities to see it become a reality and attract clients who want to be a part of achieving it.

Humility is important, but unnecessary labels can limit thinking and encourage inaction.

I don’t know what I am doing

This may sound like a complete contradiction to that first point. It may sound like another limiting label.

But the fact is, I often feel out of my depth.

Actually, when I think about it, at almost every stage of my career after university I have felt out of my depth.

Regularly I find myself in rooms talking with people and being part of meetings wondering, ‘how on earth did I end up here?’

In a desire to look professional and to attract clients, business leaders often feel they have to prove they have it all together and they are the ultimate expert in any given industry or sector.

And don’t get me wrong, we do need to deliver a professional service, add value to clients and provide them with a considered service that helps meet their objectives.

But, in recognising we don’t know everything, it has given us permission/license/motivation to reach out to specialists who can support what we are doing and educate us as we grow.

We have an amazing accountant. She is top drawer. Before we met her, our goal was basically to accumulate as much money in the business account so if a crisis hit and we didn’t have any income for a year, we could survive.

She dispelled that myth pretty quickly. ‘You have the make the money work’, she said. And we listened. The subsequent investment has grown our team, improved our service capabilities and increased our turnover.

Surrounding ourselves with people like her has meant we have had objective, expert advice at times we couldn’t have navigated on our own.

Be yourself

I’m not sure how to communicate this without being clichéd or super cheesy, but let’s try.

In my early career I was a professional chameleon. I would adapt my personality, the way I handled myself and even the way I dressed to fit whoever I was meeting, working with or being managed by.

Maybe everyone is the same and it is natural that we go through a process of finding our true selves.

Either way, being the chameleon I think lead to the labels I mentioned earlier and also the feeling of being out of my depth.

I felt unsteady because I didn’t really know if it was ok to be me in a professional environment.

But starting and growing this business with my co-founder Andi, I have discovered that authenticity is more attractive than bravado.

The gifts, skills and personality you bring to a business or charity are valuable. The chemistry of those skills and personality working with those around you can provide an organisation with the ‘secret sauce’ it needs to differentiate itself from competitors.

I take my work seriously. I am passionate and committed to every client we represent (and many we don’t…yet). But I also like to have fun. I am occasionally irreverent and my faith is the driving force behind why I do what I do.

We have now built a business that reflects those values. Our team are ultra professional and are committed to continually developing themselves and the business.

But we also have fun. We value genuine relationship with our clients and internally we find ways to create fun as a team. This lockdown has birthed Workout Wednesdays and Funday Thursdays. The workouts would go viral if they were filmed, some seriously entertaining footage.

PR agencies can sometimes be categorised alongside estate agents and solicitors in that the experience is transactional, that we might charge an extra £500 for an hour’s extra work…and we’ll expense our gin and tonics at lunchtime.

That’s not us.

We want to build relationship with our clients because we believe that a mutually beneficial partnership is the only way to effectively achieve the objectives we have collectively set.

So, there you have it.

A few thoughts on ten years.

My hair is definitely more grey. I probably think too much about the details of the business late at night and early in the morning. But overall, I absolutely love what we get to do every day. Telling stories of transformed lives is a great privilege, and I am truly grateful.

Gareth Russell, Managing Director, Jersey Road PR

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