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10 Years in Business - Success, Challenges and The Hard Decisions
I'm great at celebrating family birthday's and milestones but haven't been one to shout about my business baby, but this is a big one! 10 years ago in March 2012, the first Total Guide to site - Total Guide to Swindon went live.
10 years ago, as we sat in our tiny rented office, waiting for our developers H2 to give us the nod to say the site had successfully propagated, Alex Pollock (our first employee) and I were full of excitement, fear, anticipation and impatience! Little did I know back then these feelings never leave you as an entrepreneur.
As we turn 10 it's time to celebrate and reminisce.
Here's what I've experienced over the last 10 years of running Total Guide to - the successes, challenges and the hard decisions.
- Building a happy and ambitious team who enjoy a culture of trust, balance and satisfaction. Frequently used but so true - You're Only as Good as Your Team! I have found the recruitment process tricky over the years, but we've finally nailed this down and we all enjoy our culture of working hard and smart. We're all flexible and have each others backs when we want some time off. The team know if the weathers' good I'll be saying "go out, enjoy it, have a bike ride, run, whatever makes you happy". I know they'll put the hours in and productivity will be through the roof because they're happy and fulfilled.
- We have a 90% client retention rate, many have been with us since day 1 and boast 100% 5 star client reviews on Trust Pilot - this speaks volumes about the results we're delivering and the relationships we have with our clients.
- I've been making a profit from year 1 to help build a cash 'cushion'. The beauty of being a digital business meant we could start to learn and grow organically.
- Surviving the lockdowns - the financial cushion saved us. I have managed to find a balance over the years of constantly re-investing in the business while holding cash reserves back. Had it not been for these reserves we wouldn't be bouncing back as hard as we have.
- Our site traffic, social channels, email stats continue to grow year in, year out. In 2021, despite being in a lockdown year we recorded over 2 million page views!
- Suffice to say the last few 'Covid' years have tested us more than we could have imagined. Thanks to being a local information source, we couldn't down tools and furlough - we had to keep going to support the local community and fellow businesses. Our growth has been stunted and we made a small loss as we stopped billing our clients but continued to promote them. But we're all still here and our reputation has never been stronger
- Recruitment and HR - Finally after 10 years I've cracked our recruitment process and Hybrid working has really helped open up the talent pool. But I still struggle with identifying exactly what role we need to recruit for when we're nearing capacity workload wise. This applies to the franchise model too - recruiting the right franchisee is a huge task and selling a franchise to the wrong fit can be costly and time consuming. I feel I'm holding back our growth in this area because I am possibly almost too thorough with the process now.
- Time - or lack of it and the culture of always feeling the need to always be 'on'. Since the launch of our first site I've gotten married and had two children and therefore no longer have the luxury of time. Juggling a 4 and 1 year old with a husband who works away a lot along with navigating a business through lockdown and now re-building has and is a huge challenge. I manage the workload by working through nap times even on days off but realise that never having down time is a mental drain. I always used to re-charge by physically getting away which has been difficult during the lockdowns but now we can finally get away as a family so the batteries can be fully re-charged.
- I'm still heavily involved in the business. I know the key to any successful business is the business owner making themselves redundant - I'm working on it!
- Digital Marketing evolves at such a rapid rate, the team and I are constantly learning and trying new things. It's a challenge but it's a big part of why we love what we do; you can't beat the satisfaction of implementing a new approach and making them work hard for clients. We recently created a reel for a client which reached 22,000 people in just a few days and their engagements and therefore enquiry rate rocketed!
- I always find recruitment based decisions to be tricky. Our next hard decision is now we're in a period of growth, what skills do we need to bring in? During Summer 2021, I was sick of standing still and made the decision to start re-building and invested in taking on new staff. This was a difficult decision still having the threat of more lockdowns hanging over us but you have to take a punt and invest in the future and I'm happy to say it was worth the gamble. I've also had to let 2 employees go, this was the right decision for both parties in the long run but it was difficult at the time.
- I'm a solopreneur and I'm not entirely sure that's a good thing as we take the business on to the next stage. My next hard decision will be deciding what 'help' looks like.
- Learning to Say No. It's taken time, money and passion to build our traffic and intellectual property. We have many PR Agencies contacting us expecting free placements for their clients (who are paying them!) and it's insulting. We've also had some (thankfully, not many at all) clients expecting the world for a very small budget. We've learned to say no and time morale and profits are higher as a result. We're also not afraid to turn business down if we feel we're not able to help a particular business. For example, we've been approached by some very niche businesses and we have put them in touch with industry specific media who would be better suited to their target audiences.
- I'm constantly trying to decide how to be the best business leader and mother I can be. How do I give 100% to both? Difficult decisions around this include childcare options, staff, growth plans.
- Whether to let it go. I'm not going to lie, during the last lockdown I did have thoughts of handing over the reigns. With my girls' nursery having several closures due to Covid cases and the constant uncertainty of how I would rally the troops and our clients to get through another lockdown, I hit an all-time low. Thankfully this coincided with Christmas, I had a break, we didn't go in to lockdown and I'm back and raring to go! I'm sure every entrepreneur has thoughts of 'wouldn't it just be easier if I got a real job'. Maybe, but I know I wouldn't be as happy and fulfilled and I wouldn't be able to be there for my family as much as I am now. I love being in control of my own destiny and am excited to see where the next 10 years takes us!
I will be eternally grateful to our wonderful team and previous employees who have given so much and are an honour to know and work with. I have to give a special mention to my dear friend and colleague Rachael who has been with us almost since day one. My husband quite accurately describes her as embodying the Commando Spirit - 'Cheerfulness in the Face of Adversity' and this has never rung more true than during the last few years of lockdowns.
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