Since founding Stepladder, Beyond, Studio 185 and LongStoryShort, under the umbrella of the Avenue Group, an independent group of creative companies all inspired by space and place, I have worked hard to get where I am today, and here share five things you need to run your own agency.
Where I really suffered was trying to fit in and appear credible to my target market. I’m state school educated and left school at 16 due to personal circumstances with very little in terms of qualifications. The complete opposite to my target market. I thought I looked different and I knew I certainly sounded different. I really struggled with this for a long time and I tried everything to overcome it. I wore suits to appear more professional. I developed an awful ‘work voice’ that when I think back to now makes me shudder with embarrassment. In all honesty, being different now is a bit of a super-power if harnessed correctly, I think it can be used really well as a differentiator but finding the confidence to own it is the hard part.
Our biggest mistake was hot-headedness at the beginning. We were so hungry to land the big jobs and when we inevitably started to land this work, in the early stages, it was too big. These projects were really wrestled over the line and lacked any real process. This way of working ultimately burns out many a young agency and we were lucky to have got through that stage of our growth. We lost some great talent in those years from over-working them and expecting them to perform amongst the chaos. We learned pretty quickly that the professionalisation of the agency was the only way to survive. If I could give advice to any young-guns starting a creative business, I’d say back your growth and put the systems and personnel in place for the agency you want to be next year, today.
I think we’re hugely behind the curve in how we educate our young. There is far too much setting kids up to achieve, what is in the eyes of the educational system, is ‘achievable’ instead of energising them to believe more is on offer for them. It’s basically a damage limitation mindset and for me is setting children up to fulfill their fullest potential. It genuinely angers me too to think of all that raw talent going to waste, especially in underprivileged areas of the country. I’m a big fan of giving the next generation opportunities may be ahead of their years in terms of typical career progression. When we do this at Avenue, we often need to spend the first 6-12 months coaching them in business acumen before they can really own their domain.
Tenacity and resilience
Resilience is a big one. You need thick skin and the ability to brush yourself off and get up and go again. We all make mistakes – but you need to not take them to heart, learn from them, and be willing and ready to get going again.
You also need to not be afraid to change your mind about something. So many businesses fail at early stages because the leader(s) wrongly think that the need to be seen to stick to your original plan is what will get you through. Don’t be afraid to learn the job, take advice, as much as you can, adjust your plans, and if need be, don’t be scared to completely pivot out of the original idea if it means survival.