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I once read that starting a business is like jumping off a cliff and making a plane on the way down. 2017 felt like the year our engine started.
It’s not that the business was in free fall – quite the opposite. We’ve been on a consistent growth trajectory for years, producing great work, with a client retention rate of more than 90%. But something wasn’t right.
THE PARADOX OF GROWTH
Since starting the business in the early nineties, I’ve experienced euphoria, misery and all points in between. My first big project, first employee, first growth milestone, our first award. I can also remember sleepless nights, cash flow crises, disgruntled employees, poor decisions, a legal battle, bankrupt clients owing money, a tax audit… the list goes on.
In business, it’s hard to avoid the constant quest for growth. We’re hard-wired from a young age to be bigger, better, faster, stronger. In business this gives you drive, but it can be like a narcotic. You can never get enough.
While last year we continued the pattern of growth, our theme was fortification. We worked hard on building a stronger business structure, better process and efficiency. I believe this not only delivered a better experience for our clients, but made life easier for the team.
This shift away from a growth focus has had the right outcome for our stage of business. Staff turnover was extremely low, efficiency and utilisation improved and profitability was higher. Ironically, revenue was also up by 21% compared to 2016.
THE EARLY DAYS
With the new year, I’ve been reflecting on the early days of our business. It was an exciting and amazing time in so many ways.
Our team was lean, agile, and we all knew exactly what was going on. I loved the simplicity, accountability and ability to just get stuff done. We all sat across the desk from each other, so there was literally nowhere to hide. There was no real process to hide behind, and we were all willing to stick our neck out and take chances.
In the years since, the growth I always wanted has been wonderful. It is, however, a constant struggle to keep the positive attributes we had in those early days. More than 20 years on, we are a much bigger team with mature processes, experience, rules and values. It’s allowed us to employ specialists, rather than generalists, to afford more advanced tools and better infrastructure.
I’ve also noticed the added complexities have become one of our most significant challenges.
2018: THE YEAR OF STREAMLINING
BirdBrain is lucky to have a team of engaged and intelligent people who have collectively achieved so much.
At the end of 2017, I identified the theme for the coming year that would help us to better support these strengths. 2018 will be the year of streamlining.
One of our values is simplicity. On reflection, I think it’s the value we are least adept at. 2018 is the year to focus on changing that.
Some key areas we will be working on this year include:
- Encouraging and fostering innovation
In order to fulfil our potential, it’s essential that we provide a safe environment where our team can feel empowered and proud to contribute to the improvement of the business.
We’ll be focussing on removing obstacles, and creating an environment that allows our team to innovate and grow.
- Simplifying process
Any process or red tape that stops things from getting done can have a negative impact on our business and our clients. We’ll be simplifying, reframing or removing those processes where required.
- Increasing communication
When our team are out of sync with one another it wastes time, compromises our work and frustrates everyone. We’ll be helping the team get more in sync with safer and more direct and open communication.
- Defining principles
I’ve written a detailed set of principles (inspired by the brilliant book Principles by Ray Dalio). While values are powerful (you can read more about ours here), they are by nature open to interpretation. Principles are a way of fleshing out the details within these values. This gives us a guide to handling specific situations, as well as a consistent set of expectations.
THANKS TO OUR CLIENTS AND OUR TEAM
Of course, business isn’t about mechanics, it’s about people.
It’s a great time at BirdBrain. We are fortunate to have not only survived but prospered through a very difficult time in our economy. I am grateful for where we are, and those who helped us get here.
In particular, three groups of people. Firstly, our long-term team members who have been with us through thick and thin, in some cases for more than 10 years. They give us stability, strength, technical excellence and wisdom.
I’m also grateful for the wave of newer staff who have demonstrated the sort of “stick your neck out” mentality that is so important for any business. They bring a new perspective and have a way of mixing things up in a refreshing way.
Finally, the many amazing clients we’ve had the privilege to work with. The one-person start-ups who have put everything on the line in partnering with us, the small businesses with limited cash who have taken a chance in working with us. The large businesses, who risk looking silly working with a business with a name like BirdBrain.
I’m always aware that engaging with us involves a person (not an entity) deciding they trust us and making a decision. I’m extremely grateful for this trust.
Thank you again to the BirdBrain team and all of our clients for their support in 2017. I’m excited about how we can grow together in 2018.
Wherever you are at, I wish you a prosperous and fun filled 2018.