Today is the last day of my October holiday. While my summer holiday was a dedicated time where I didn’t even think about the business, this past week I’ve purposefully thought a lot about it. But I’ve done more than think. Each morning before the kids and Gill have got up I’ve spent an hour or two working on my 2017-2018 business plan.
My new financial year starts on the 1st November (next Wednesday). That date will mark the start of my fourth year in business. As journeys go, it’s been an interesting one.
Yes, I just used ‘journey’’ in THAT context. The use of the word ‘journey’ has evolved. Traditionally it’s been about moving from one physical place to another. Now though, it’s all about the ‘emotional journey’. The word ‘journey’ is used at least 846 times per episode of the X Factor – you can usually tell when it’s coming by the start of some slow unaccompanied piano music.
I registered my business on the 7th of October 2014. That was the day I knew I was going to start my own business. It was exciting, liberating and scary. I’ll be honest, I was terrified.
I started the business with no plan. And, in fact, I’ve started every year with absolutely no plan. I couldn’t plan because I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t know what I wanted to be. And, I suppose, I didn’t really understand myself well enough.
My personal journey and the history of my business has been defined by labels. It’s gone something like this.
The truth is, I’ve been looking to other people to provide the answers. Those people have been business colleagues, partners and members of various business organisations I’ve been involved with. That was a weakness and without getting too deep, it was a byproduct of having no confidence in myself.
For those that are in business you’ll know what a niche is. For those unfamiliar with the term, it’s the long held belief that in order to be truly successful, you need to carve out a place for yourself in the world. Put simply, it’s about specialising. That’s what I did when I moved to be a copywriter. I took it further by evolving into being a storytelling coach and I took it to the ultimate level when I labelled myself as a case study specialist.
Each shift I made felt good. It felt right. But those feelings quickly evaporated.
I now know why I felt like that. I felt like that because I wasn’t giving all of myself. I was holding back. Going narrower in focus diluted me. It limited what I could offer. It also felt self-indulgent. It was about me rather than the people I helped.
On the 10th of May this year (2017) I delivered a marketing workshop for the Dundee & Angus Chamber of Commerce. It changed everything. The three hour session had been about thirty hours in the making. Creating that presentation and thinking about marketing more broadly highlighted the problem with my narrow focus.
Whether I was a copywriter, a storytelling coach or a case study specialist – what I was delivering was tactical in nature. And, I did this well, I’m proud of the work I did. But here’s the thing, delivering those one-off tactical things could be a wasted investment if the underlying strategy was wrong.
That’s the difference. That’s the real shift in focus. Tactics, be those ‘business’ or ‘marketing’, are only as good as the strategy that underpins them.
For the last 6 months, I’ve been operating as a ‘marketing consultant’ in stealth mode. I’ve not communicated the shift in my business because I wanted to focus on the work. I wanted to focus on being the strategic marketer and marketing project manager. I’ve done that and it’s been the most fulfilling and successful period in my businesses short history.
It’s also where I’ve been at my happiest.
So, here’s what I’m ultimately very good at. It took me awhile to get to this point, but here it is.
I’m good at asking people questions, listening to the answers, and challenging the answers I’m given. I take people deeper. Then I delve into my 23 years of marketing experience. I think. Then, I think some more. Then I plant my little feet into my client’s shoes. Everything goes through a filter of “If this was my business or organisation this is EXACTLY what I would do.”
I take it personally because I’m fully invested in the the strategies I recommend and implement.
To sum it up in a single sentence…
“I do my best work when I’m solving complex marketing problems.”
My ultimate goal is to work with fewer clients. That might sound illogical to some. Surely the goal of any business is to work with more clients? In most cases, that’s right, but for me, I want to work much more deeply with a handful of clients that trust me to help them grow their organisation.
The long term goal is to become the trusted Outsourced Marketing Director for between 4 to 6 organisations. My business plan for 2017-2018 has a slightly wider range and will see me working with 6 to 12 clients over the next year. I don’t know how long it will take me to narrow that down, but to be honest, I’m not worried about that. All I’m focussed on is delivering for my clients.
I’m fortunate that at the moment, I’m working with three brilliant clients on ideal projects. All three are strategic in nature and all three, when fully implemented, will make a difference to those organisations. And that’s what I want more than anything – to make a difference. I want what I do to matter. I want it to count for something. That’s what brings me joy and happiness – the results I get for other people.
Put simply, it’s not about me, it’s about THEM, my clients.
To consistently deliver the level of service and attention that my clients deserve means letting go of certain things.
I’ll no longer be taking on any new copywriting work. If you know me, you’ll know I love writing, but it’s not the work I’m meant to do. Writing will still be an important part in the vast majority of projects, but it doesn’t make sense for me to do all the writing. I have identified three very talented writers that I will work with on client projects.
The Coaching Programmes and workshops I’ve developed are still relevant. Case studies and storytelling are such a massive part of marketing and communications. The main difference now is that they’ll be used as a small part of some of my marketing projects.
They’ll also be used for individuals who simply want to learn a specific new skill or marketing tactic. This won’t be an area of the business I’ll be actively promoting.
I’ll still be giving away a lot of my knowledge for free, because I want to help as many people as I can. If an ebook or video can help someone solve a problem for themselves, then I’ll be a happy chap. But, the reality is that I have given away far too much of my most valuable commodity – my time.
This means I will do something that comes really hard to me. Yes, it means I will have to say ‘no’ more often. It might sound arrogant, but if I am to do more of the work I’m meant to do, I need to protect my time.
I’ve put myself under more pressure than I need to by saying yes to almost every request for help. I’ve dropped everything to help people who have been desperate for my support. I just can’t do that anymore. It’s not good for me personally and it’s not fair on my clients.
I’ll still be supporting people for free, but that will be in a group setting. So, you’ll still see me doing some webinars and speaking at some events, you just want see it as often.
I’ve already shared one of my key goals which is to work more deeply with fewer clients. But, the plan I’ve been working on this week is a lot deeper than that. I have clear financial goals and I have strategies on how I’m going to get there. I know what I want to achieve. Without sharing the exact financial figures, the plan has me increasing my revenue by 45% over the next 12 months.
I also know, given my capacity, that, with just little old me, I can ultimately triple the revenue in the business. That would be life changing for me and, more importantly, my family.
Writing this has been self-indulgent. This post is essentially the summary of my business plan. It’s a distilled version of what’s been going through my head over the last 6 months. For the first time in my life, I know exactly what I am and where I’m at my best. Because here’s what I’ve realised – when I do the work I’m meant to do, I come alive. Something happens. I get in the zone. I love that feeling and, selfishly, I want more of that.
Everything comes down to one word – confidence. The journey I’ve been on for the last three years has been about letting go of the negativity and the self-doubt. I’ve finally arrived in a place of confidence. Confidence in who I am and what I do. The fear that paralysed me has been replaced by a clarity of purpose and excitement about what the future holds.
I’m thinking bigger about the future, but I’m not obsessed by it. I want to live the moments and enjoy the next stage of the journey. I want to be present, both in my business and in the life of my family and friends.
And the ultimate truth is that without my family, friends and clients I could have given up on myself. They have fuelled my confidence. They’ve given me belief. And, they’ve given me the time to figure things out.
They are the reason the song playing in my head right now isn’t a slow depressing piano piece, but instead is an upbeat, passionate and triumphant rendition of Katy Perry’s ‘Roar’. And for that, I’m more grateful than you can ever know.
I'm a storyteller, case study specialist and the founder of The Story Edge. I want more people to tell more stories. I write stories, teach people to do the same and generally encourage people to use storytelling in their business.