Small business; big lessons

At Thwaites, we have a particular passion for working with startups; after all, it’s not that long since we were a startup ourselves! We’ve learned many lessons along the way and we get huge satisfaction when our experiences are helpful to other people starting out.

Given the general vibe of change that May brings, we thought we’d share our latest life lessons in the hope that they prove useful.

Lesson One: on recruitment

For one thing, when an extra pair of hands is needed, we really feel it. We’re grateful for the dedication of our amazing team who power through the sometimes uncomfortable overlap between needing extra personnel and actually getting it.  Equally, when bringing in a new personality, it is absolutely vital that we get the ‘fit’ just right, so we don’t rush and our recruitment process is friendly but pretty robust, and it can take a while. Already this year we’ve experienced highs and lows in this respect.

Simon Davies, Business Development Manager
Simon Davies, Business Development Manager

First, the highs. We are thrilled to welcome Simon Davies to the team as our Business Development Manager. Simon brings over seven years of commercial experience working in print and online media in the classical music recording industry. He will ensure that we communicate our specialist skills to the organisations and institutions that can  benefit from the support of a team like ours. We asked our friends The New Guys just around the corner in Shoreditch to help us find Simon and we couldn’t be happier to welcome him to the team.

And the low? Well, we prefer to call it a lesson learnt. Sometimes you find the ideal candidate for a role, and then you’re pipped to the post by another agency. It happened, and we were gutted. But you know what? That’s life. As is our way, we picked ourselves up, dusted ourselves off and took a moment to reflect. Talking to colleagues from other agencies, it’s clear that there just aren’t enough great people with 3-5 years’ experience to meet the demand in our industry, which makes competition really fierce!

So we have decided to look at the challenge slightly differently, and hopefully match our needs with a ‘market’ opportunity.

As a small team with a high percentage of members with big commitments outside of work, we are acutely aware of the challenges facing people who want to combine a great career with other parts of their lives. Over the years, conversations with friends and colleagues in this position have revealed that it can be really difficult finding the right sort of roles.

For parents, this can also involve trying to meet (sometimes crippling) childcare costs. And as more families look to spread or share the responsibilities of childcare, finding opportunities that offer flexibility isn’t only a problem for women returning to work after maternity leave.

And let’s not forget mental health; there are very few among us who weren’t touched (even bruised) by the financial crash of 2008. Numerous studies have found that the modern workforce is far less willing than its predecessors to devote every waking hour to the grindstone:

‘This generation are committed to their personal learning and development and this remains their first choice benefit from employers. In second place they want flexible working hours. Cash bonuses come in at a surprising third place.’ [PWC]

– and truly, why should they? Every human needs balance, space and a broad spectrum of interests. Research from the PRCA found that mental health issues are alarmingly prevalent in the PR industry, yet employers continue to resist catching up. Despite the numerous, well-established opportunities afforded by tech developments, many employers just can’t let go of a coat-on-the-back-of-the-chair mentality that negatively impacts employee wellbeing and can, ironically, stunt productivity.

So it’s no surprise that many qualified, capable and immensely valuable people are simply shut out of the workforce because they can’t or don’t want to work to a traditional pattern.

Job share image
In structuring our newest role as a job share, we aim to get twice the expertise, and twice the energy!

Our response is to create a role in the company that can be shared between two capable people. As we see it, we’re making a modest stand against the status quo, while getting twice the expertise and twice the energy. If it works, it could be the first of many!
If you know a couple of comms heroes who would team up for 3 days a week each, we’d love to hear from them. If you only know one, we’d still love to hear from them and work with them to find their perfect work partner! And if you’re running a small business and struggling to find the right talent, it might be worth thinking about how you too can modify your criteria to tap into different pools of talent. We’ll keep you posted on our search.

Lesson Two: on upgrading our systems

Change in a business isn’t always about the people. There comes a time when you have to look at the systems (although – spoiler alert – the systems are only ever as good as the people!).

We took the decision recently to graduate from our organically developed collection of spreadsheets and adopt a CRM system. Most businesses will recognise the struggle of endless documents, files, systems and multiple points of data entry (a.k.a., peak inefficiency!) that led us to this point.

We decided that streamlining our processes, making it easier to share information, GDPR-proofing our data collection and ensuring seamless client content was well worth the investment.

You’d think it would be simple – these tools are designed to make life easier after all. In reality though, a tool is only ever as good as the person using it. There is absolutely no point investing if your team isn’t going to use it. The switch requires planning and commitment, and an investment of time that a rapidly developing business doesn’t always have. Here are some easy wins that we’ve picked up along the way:

growth blog image
When a young business is ready to grow, change can be a dynamic force.

First, the commitment.

You need the buy-in of your whole team. This is not a decision that managers can simply hand over and expect success. If you want a change of system to be a positive, profitable one, it must be something the whole team is on board with. If not, you risk paying a lot of money for a tool that does nothing for your business while morale evaporates and data goes astray.

We’ve had everyone from business development to marketing to client delivery personnel involved in this change from the outset, to ensure that when we start, we can literally ‘hit the ground running’.

As a small team, we’re lucky that it’s possible to get all of our key players in one room (even if it’s a virtual one); companies our size have the advantage that they can think about infrastructure while they’re still small enough to make big changes relatively painlessly. The key is taking the time and headspace to do it.

Next, the planning.

Don’t kid yourself; you need training. Yes the best business tools are super intuitive, and their websites will tell you that all you need is a log-in and you’re ready to go. But that is a very optimistic, dare we say, ‘generous’ version of the truth.

We were lucky enough to have several sessions with the team from Mission Drive, friends of the firm and certified trainers in our chosen CRM, who made sure we knew the system inside and out before we even got started. We cannot stress enough, this was a very worthwhile investment.

Finally, accountability

Pledging to be an active agent of change is one thing. Finding the time and self-discipline to carry it through is quite another. We at Thwaites are strong believers in the effectiveness of co-creation and the importance of accountability. We work extremely well together as a team but in any situation, it must always fall to someone to crack the whip. (Kudos to Simon and Izzy for stepping up in this instance!) Nominate your ‘whip’ in the very early stages in order to see these changes through until they become habit.

So there you have it, our two big lessons for the first quarter of 2019: be ready to flex your approach to who and how you recruit and upgrade your systems (when the time is right) for greater efficiency. Committing the time and effort in the short term is sure to pay dividends in the long run.

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