Founder & Group CEO
Milk & Honey PR
Five things I wish I’d known…(I’ve cheated and added a couple!)
I have worked in communications for almost 30 years, which is scary when you say it out loud. I have had the great pleasure of working for some of the world’s most admired PR agencies and with an array of amazing clients large and small. Five years ago, having been made redundant, I decided to set up on my own. I wanted to create a new kind of agency. One where people came first, where everyone could feel heard, where there was time to think. A land of Milk & honey, hence the name! In five and a half years, we have grown to a team of 54, expanded internationally into Sydney, New York and Munich. Won multiple awards, been recognised as the best place to work three times, and become one of the highest scoring B Corps in the world. Plenty to be proud of. But despite playing senior leadership roles in multiple international agencies I was nervous about setting up and running a business. I was always nervous about being self-employed. As a child of two self-employed parents, I learnt very early on, that to be successful in business you can’t rely on talent and hard work alone. Both my parents were highly intelligent, great sociable beings and worked extremely hard. But neither were successful. They just weren’t commercial. I didn’t want their life. I was determined not to scrimp and save and go-without as my parents had. So, I moved down to London and got an education. And over the years I have built my commercial credentials and proven to myself I can strike out on my own. So, what have I learnt along the way?
1) Never, ever step on anyone. Just don’t. I work in public relations, specifically reputation management. We work with ambitious growth companies and give their ideas and innovations a voice. A big part of what we do is content development, another big part is sharing that messaging – often through the media. So, probably like most of you I come into contact with a wide group of people, daily. We have all heard the mantra ‘look after your people and they will look after the client’. Very true. But in the world of networking, it is amazing how small a universe we exist within. This of course is brilliant for brand development and for building understanding of your offering and endorsements. Also, terrifying how any dismissive comment, or poor intern experience will come and bite you in the butt. A perfect recent example of this is a lady that came to interview with us last year for a senior consultant job. She was highly talented but the timing didn’t quite fit, so we didn’t offer. She then found a great job in-house and asked us, as rank outsiders, to pitch for her European business in the healthcare space against some stiff, specialist competition. She was rooting for us as she loved the people first brand ethos she had experienced at interview. Anyway, we got through and they became our largest client! Your personal brand reputation will precede you, step gently!
2) You need to make your brand standout. Do all you can to reinforce that positioning. Be as easy as possible to buy. In a sales environment, it is not what you can do and what you have done before that wins contracts, it is clearly identifying what a brand, company or product must do now. That is so much easier to buy. Resist the temptation to take on work that doesn’t reinforce your offer. It will dilute what you stand for and make your position in market less clear. Making you more difficult to identify as the ‘right choice’.
3) Use specialists to deliver non-core work. Sadly, in the short amount of time Milk & Honey has been in existence we have been hacked three times. THREE TIMES!! Cyber criminals have got in through our website into our email and then changed bank details on our invoices. It happened again last year, hence being elevated to top of the FREAK OUT list. Needless to say, we have spent a substantial amount of time and resources on security software, ensuring everything has two-step verification and monthly changing passwords. We are not alone. 70% of small businesses are hacked annually. Every year. Frustratingly little is done by the police or Action Fraud. So please don’t wait for it to happen to you. Get two-step verification on everything now. Regularly sweep for Trojans, malware and viruses and protect your website’s back-end. But it is not only I.T. we outsource. We run our business from a rather fun co-working office; we bring in specialist trainers to keep our skills up to date; we have recently brought in-house our an external HR consultant and tax accountant.
4) 90% is good enough, we don’t control the decision! Another key learning for me is get the work out the door. There is still quite a bit of adapting on the fly, but much of what we do is a numbers game. New revenue pitches, media story pitching. It must be strong, of course, but we don’t have control of the decisions so get the breadth. With existing clients, it is about delivering award winning work (we’ve collected several over the last two years), but also putting ideas and improvements forward in every face-to-face encounter. Numbers again.
5) Work is called work for a reason! Whilst I have always adored my job, weirdly bounced out of bed and am truly excited about what the day holds, it is still work. I purposefully make myself do the things that frighten me, like public speaking, regularly. I want to learn and get better. I structure my day so that I have ‘fun jobs’ every day. And reward myself for successfully doing the less exciting deliverables, with doing the bits I love. So, by the end of the day I can feel proud of myself and have genuinely enjoyed my work too. For anyone thinking of going it alone, I would encourage you to truthfully ask yourself – are you commercial? If not, don’t do it alone. The first few months threw up a whole array of expected and unexpected challenges. I was ready for the frustrations of managing without tech support and the accounts department (thank goodness for YouTube and QuickBooks). I was prepared for the challenge of starting out as a party of one.
What really surprised me was just how much support and encouragement I’ve received. PR is all about relationships and I was blown away by just how wonderful my business network has been. Friends and colleagues from years back inviting me for coffees and offering projects to get the ball rolling. Ex-clients, business partners and industry friends making introductions, getting me on pitch lists and offering recommendations. The first few months were quite a confidence boost. It hasn’t been without the pit falls…
But it is working. We have been going for five years now and have grown to £4 million turnover with a team of 54. We have won awards for every client we have represented for over 12 months and have been celebrated for our ethical working practices and stand out team. We have won a new retained client every month and most importantly of all only lost a tiny percentage. I’m not kidding myself that it is easy running your own business, but I only work with smart, fun, brave and energetic people. Both in the team and client side and I love that. More bouncing out of bed for me!
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Founder & CEO
Help your prospective clients understand how you differentiate yourself from the big players and what are the additional needs your product/solution addresses. Them being bigger doesn't always mean they provide the best service or customer communication. Leverage these areas where you can be stronger and show them that you can gain some of their market share!
Head of Sales
In the B2B landscape the most important message that your sales material should communicate is the relevance of the audience that you serve/deliver. The more insight that you can provide in terms of audience numbers, channels, geography, job function and industry sector the better. Having a strong content offering is of course key. Before you begin to showcase the myriad of products that you have to offer and why your company delivers the best ROI it is vital to demonstrate relevance. At Russell Publishing we spend a great deal of time ensuring that our audience offering is clear, concise, relevant and easily understood by our customers.
Three things I wish I knew when I started out: 1) You don't need to be the expert in everything. 2) Be prepared to admit that. 3) Find the people you can work with who will be able to solve the things that individually you may not be able to achieve, but together you can.
I actually have six tips! 1) Some people want to be developed; others don’t. Don’t use your influence/position to push people into roles or activities that you know they can do - but they might not actually want to for a variety of reasons. You will lose them. 2) Trust people, treat them like adults and don’t micro-manage. Never make new rules as a knee-jerk reaction based on one or more people abusing a system or process. Just deal with that person/transgression and don’t penalise everyone. Your trust will be returned in spades. 3) Muck in. Help out. Carry out tasks that may well be ‘below your pay grade’ if it gets the job done, reduces stress on your staff and keeps the client happy. But don’t make a habit of it and fix things to make sure it doesn’t keep happening! 4) Be open. Share information; seek opinion and be prepared to change/admit to your own mistakes so that others will be open about theirs. 5) Make sure people know it is okay to have areas of weakness; and that they should have enough confidence in their strengths to admit to and ask for help with weaknesses. That is the point of working in a team. Nobody is good at everything. 6) Recognise and appreciate the extra mile and reward it in some way; from a simple heartfelt thank you to a pay rise. (Oh – and just multiple thank yous won’t cut it!)
Co-founder & CEO
We tend to tell each other stories about big wins and rapid successes because they're dramatic. It's less interesting to hear about the small, but good things we do consistently every day. But you can't have big wins without consistency. Consistency counts in every aspect of business, and in particular in culture. At Cognician we consistently celebrate our people's work in terms of the heart, the mind and the hands. We look at their work through these lenses because this is how we think about learning. Great learning experiences touch the heart, inspire the mind and direct the hands. It's also how we think about how we treat each other and our clients. We are empathetic – the heart. We are curious – the mind. And we get stuff done – the hands. So when we recognise great work, we recognise the passion our people put into it. We acknowledge the quality of their thinking. And we applaud their speed to action. There is consistency across the way we design our platform, the way we design learning experiences, and they way we interact with colleagues, clients and users. And there is consistency every day in how we apply and celebrate these principles. And it's only because of this consistency that we win big.
I'm from the B2B SaaS world where we need to work closely with our clients to make sure they are getting maximum value from our platform - otherwise, they won't renew. Value means different things and doesn't necessarily equate to $$$$. At Ada, we're a HealthTech platform and we work with our partners to save them money but, more importantly, to help them deliver better health outcomes to their end-users. Find out what value means to your client and work together on a plan to deliver it.
Head of Marketing
In B2B, it's easy to think of your customers as entities rather than sets of human beings doing their best to get things done. Especially as a marketer, it's dangerously easy to get seduced by what you can measure and overlook the fact that to have great, sustainable relationships you need to have good listening skills and a good memory. I'm lucky that I work with a team of outstanding Account Directors who provide me with a consistent stream of actionable information around their customer accounts. Nothing beats regular conversations with customers, but I'd say that the single most important thing for us to understand about our customers is: what are they trying to achieve? We use the Jobs To Be Done concept as the starting point for all our content and sales enablement planning, as it forces us to think of our customers as emotional beings who are looking to get things done - our job is to help make that happen.
As a lawyer involved in the business and property world the first rule of marketing is to focus on existing client service. It is obvious but so often overlooked in professional services firms who are often chasing the next big marketing idea. Be of service and value to your clients and they will stick with you and recommend others.
Chief Sales Officer
Salespeople must have drive and empathy. They need drive to push past obstacles and risks that customers, competitors, and their own company, put in their way. They need empathy so they can think like the customer, understand what is motivating the customer and so the salesperson can see the customer's problems from the customer's perspective. For superstar salespeople, you need two additional attributes, inquisitiveness to have them search and seek for more information and to fully understand problems; finally, you need intellect because the more you can solve the customer's problem the more successful they will be. What salespeople can do to be successful is to think like the customer so they can understand their customer's problems. They need to take the time to think, not simply react and respond to a customer's demands. Finally, they need to be proactive. It is not the customer's job to buy our products - it is their job to do their job, successful salespeople do a lot of the work the customer needs to do in evaluating our products for the customer.