12 Lessons from 12 Years of Running My Business

It’s been 12 years of hard work, highs and lows, creativity, collaboration, late nights, laughter, stress, and tears. There’s a lot to be grateful for, and each hardship brings its corresponding learning and lesson. 

Are you an entrepreneur or thinking about becoming one? These lessons might save you some time, money, and tears.

Grab a cappuccino and sit back – today, I’m reflecting on those lessons. 

1: Commit 

You’ve probably heard it a million times, but it’s true: for something to succeed, you have to give it your all. God won’t bless one path if you’ve got your feet on two paths, so stop and choose a path. 

And so, twelve years ago, I chose the path of entrepreneurship.

Twelve years ago, I called all the companies that had my CV, and I turned down each potential role. 

I climbed out of the boat and walked on water. I committed; I was ready to go all in with my dream of starting my own business

I chose ONE path, and within three days, I had my first two retainer clients. 

Yes, it was a terrifying decision, and it took courage and a lot of faith and support from my husband and our bond! These elements are key for anyone wanting to be an entrepreneur: be courageous, for great things come from bold moves. 

2: No A-Holes 

Early on we adopted the ‘No A-Holes Rule’ in our business. We won’t work with them and we won’t hire them. Because a-holes don’t change, and their behaviour will hurt your staff and your culture. 

At Shift ONE Digital, we are a group of great people who want to work with great people and create great work. 

A-hole clients abuse their employees and your team, and they often don’t pay their bills. 

Also, A-holes reveal their true nature very early on, so heed the warning signs!

It’s not worth it. Walk away.

3: Hire People Who Are On-Brand

Your people are your brand. I’ve learnt the hard way that toxic staff damage your culture and your team no matter how valuable and irreplaceable they seem. 

Toxic staff are replaceable: never prioritise talent over attitude. Your staff will thank you, and your business will thrive. 

So, always hire people who align with your company values. 

4: Develop Your People 

I’m not in the business of social media, or thought leadership, or SaaS marketing. I’m in the business of growing and developing great people who do great work. 

I’ll bring you on board at any age and train you in digital marketing if you’re prepared to earn peanuts while we do so. As you learn more, you will earn more. Good juniors (let me emphasise: not all juniors have what it takes, so hire carefully) are key for keeping the staff development relay race going.

At Shift ONE, we start our juniors on internal brands – Shift ONE, Dylan Kohlstadt, and the Digital Marketing Academy – before they move on to client work, if they make the cut. It takes time and energy to train them, sure, but within a year, they should be able to support a lead Digital Marketing strategist or run a small client account themselves.   

5: Delegate, Don’t Abdicate 

My Gallup Clifton Top 5 Strengthsfinder Analysis confirmed it: I can execute the work, but I’d prefer to delegate. It was definitely an “ah-ha” moment; I’ve always built a team around me and 

hired brilliant managers to support my clients. 

There are many tasks I’ve delegated (or rather abdicated) instead of doing them myself, when in truth, I was the only one who should have done them.

You can only delegate if:

  1. The task is something that you don’t have to do as the CEO of the business.
  2. The person you are delegating to is at the right level. 

Now that I know it’s my go-to reaction, before delegating I ask myself the above questions.

6: Price Properly

Since we started in 2011, Shift ONE has nearly run out of cash twice. A few years into the journey I realised that I was pricing our work incorrectly, quoting for the hours it took for my team to complete the task without considering admin costs and overheads or that you should actually charge based on the value or outcomes you can deliver, not on hours. 

Fixing this took time. 

As your team’s experiences grow, their salaries and your business costs grow, too, which means you have to bring in more or bigger clients and charge bigger margins. 

If you don’t factor that in, your salaries go up every year while your clients remain constant – you’re in for trouble. 

The good news: my business completely turned around once I started pricing correctly.

7: Get The Right Business Partner

I met Michael Wimpey, COO, when I started the business in 2011, but it wasn’t until 2019 that he came on board as a business partner. Let me just say the wait was worth it. The right person always is. 

Michael takes care of the creative, graphic design, video production, and technical side of the business, and he’s also the chief problem solver and oil on troubled waters!

Be very slow to partner with someone – I’ve met many people who wanted to join forces, but in the end, I always had a bad feeling (gut feeling), and thank goodness I’ve learned to trust that feeling.

Michael and I complement each other, and the business is stronger because of it.  I’m blessed to have a business partner who has the business’s best interests at heart and whom I can trust 100%. 

8: Focus on Doing Great Work 

Stop looking at Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn, where everyone seems to be living their best life. The thing is, comparison steals our focus and is the thief of joy. When I stopped focusing on why I didn’t have a fancy car, a bigger house, and more money, I started to focus on just doing great work.

It’s become a motto at Shift ONE: we do great work. Not fast work, not cheap work – great work. That’s my focus, and it’s my team’s focus, too. I’m always saying that we don’t rush quality work for deadlines. 

Quality comes first. 

9: Give Back 

We hit rock bottom financially in 2012 – which is when I launched Freebie Fridays – free training courses for entrepreneurs – and the business boomed.

Again, in 2018, we were losing money hand over fist. I had to rethink my entire business model and structure, and the result was a stronger, leaner business comprised of top marketers and creatives. 

But during that tough time, I increased my giving, and the business took off. It’s a paradox, yes, but I still hold to the truth that when we give, we receive. Somehow, it happens that way. You probably won’t see any self-help guru advising you to give give give, but it works. I promise. 

Open your eyes, recognise those in need, and lend a hand, a skill, money – whatever you can. The world will be a better place for it. So will you. 

10: Niche 

“Pivot!” said Ross in F.R.I.E.N.D.S.

I don’t mean tweak your logo, or decide to add another colour to your brand palette. I mean, niche and even pivot your business to a better place. Don’t ignore the signs (for us, it was COVID). Don’t just talk about doing it (I did, for years). Step out of your comfort zone and take the leap.

After COVID stole our tourism and consumer-based clients, we had to niche. We morphed into a B2B and SaaS marketing agency. It was a game-changer, and we started to grow and thrive. 

 If you’re doing the same thing you’ve been doing for twelve years, you’re irrelevant.  

11: Drink Your Own Kool-Aid (a.k.a Do Your Own Lead Gen!)

The cobbler’s kids don’t have shoes, right?

Well, in our case, we started to drink your own Kool-Aid, which means we started doing our own lead generation – the same thing we’ve been doing for our customers for years, but never for ourselves! 

We’ve always relied solely on our powerful Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), word of mouth, or my speaking engagements to bring in new clients. It worked well – I’m not complaining. 

But after the Putin-assisted recession of 2023, we had to switch on our own high-powered lead generation to take our business to the next level. My only regret is that it took us this long to do it. Thanks to our own effective paid advertising, we’re now bringing on innovative clients from around the world. 

About time!

12: Hire Pros the First Time Around 

You know I believe in growing people. Juniors are key to that. But as our business grows at the rate of knots, we need experts to keep up with all the work coming in. We need to get the job done right and fast. 

Enter the pros. 

I recommend you spend more money and hire people who join your company already fired up and knowledgeable. They require less hand-holding (read: less of your/my time). This allows us to focus on actually growing the business. 

From my amazing business partner Michael Wimpey and I, we just want to thank our staff, both past and present, and our clients, both past and present. A BIG thank you. We couldn’t have done these 12 years without you.

Here’s to another 12 years of GREAT work, GREAT people, and GREAT clients. Bring it on. I’m ready for it.

If you’d like to chat about how Shift ONE can take your marketing to the next level, get in touch with me.

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