Commentary: 10 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started a Digital Business

It’s time again for another one of our commentators to shine a light on the digital marketing business we are in. This week we listen again to Ben Norman, founder and CEO of Koozai. Soon we will be starting our new summer series in which we listen to the young people (have you signed up yet?), but now we will listen to Ben’s experience of running a business for 9 years. Enjoy!

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I’ve been running Koozai (a digital marketing agency) for over nine years now, which in the digital marketing industry is actually quite a while. To say it has always been smooth sailing would be far from the truth.

I often think that if I could go back and give myself some tips to avoid the many issues, hurdles and frustrations I’ve faced over the last nine years, what they would be?

I’ve put together the below list of the ten key points I would go back and share with a slightly less greyer self. If I could do this, I know I would have saved a serious amount of money, sanity, good employees and clients.

1. Contracts are key

Having good contracts is essential in any business. At the start of any relationship everything starts out with the best intentions and in a good place. However, all businesses will suffer an issue with a client at some point and if you do not have good contracts to fall back on you can end up in big trouble. The best way to avoid potential issues is to ensure you have all your bases covered from the very beginning.

A good contract will always ensure that you have things such as your liability covered. It should also make clear what is and isn’t expected or included, what you have no control over and key information such as payment terms.

By laying things out well in the beginning everyone is clear on what has been agreed and if you do manage to pick up a ‘tricky client’, your contract will protect you from being left at a loss.

Also, as an agency, we have learnt over the years. Every time we are faced a new issue we have found a way to build it into our contracts to protect us in the future.

2. Indemnity insurance

Indemnity insurance is something that most small businesses do not think about until they need it. In my opinion it’s like driving a car without insurance. You will probably never need it but if you do make a mistake or find yourself at fault and that results in a client seeking compensation, you will be grateful that you have it.

After all if the mistake is yours you should pay to put it right but you don’t want to lose the company you worked hard to set up in the process.

You also want to ensure that whatever the level of your indemnity insurance you limit your liability in your contracts to this amount to further safeguard yourself.

3. H&S

Every employee needs to be safe at work and as a business owner you have a legal right to ensure you do your best to provide it.

This is quite simply something you cannot afford to slip up on. Serious negligence can wind up with someone dying or ending up seriously injured and if that happens, as a business owner, you could end up incarcerated.

It’s the little things I find you don’t get told like PAT testing your electrical items every year; if this isn’t done and an accident happens in the workplace where someone gets electrocuted, that is on you!

4. You are what you hire

The people that work for you represent you and not only that, they help set and mold the culture of the company. The smaller the company the bigger the effect one person can have.

It can be tempting to hire skillsets but, in my experience, it’s all about the people. You can add more skills into a person but you can’t take personality traits, like a bad attitude, out of someone.

Obviously people need to be good enough for the job but I find a keen interest to learn and drive can outweigh someone with a misplaced ego.

Image source: http://std.al/1Nt8qY0

5. You get out what you put in

Any team needs nurturing and that’s why over the years we have found more and more things we can do for them to make them as happy as possible.

From benefits like private healthcare and a good salary, to onesie days (work from home days) and paid first day of the month lunch, it all helps.

We want every one in our team to feel valued. Without them there is no business.

6. Not every deal is worth it

In the early days there were definitely clients we took on that we shouldn’t have because we needed the money. In hindsight this was a mistake as it always ended up causing us problems with then having to over service the account to keep the client happy. This never worked out as they were not the right client for us.

If you cant make a profit out of a client your trying to climb a mountain with your hands behind your back. But it does become tempting to take the account with the hope of being able to make it work. My experience is that nine times out of ten it doesn’t and overall you are better at just sticking to your guns and holding out for the right clients.

7. The right person for the right job – not always you by the way.

Getting stuck in the ‘if you want something done right do it yourself’ mentality is something I found hard to get out of in the beginning but it really is the only way to scale.

I worked really hard building a team I trust to manage their tasks and as such, it is rare that I need to get involved. I find it empowers a team and people step up to take on board the entire role. Micromanage and people never step up to their full potential and you end up with another job to do.

8. CRM’s

A good CRM system is worth its weight in gold. It enables everyone to stay on the same page and enables you to review how well an account is being serviced.

Without it you really have no idea what is going on. If you are scaling the business then Microsoft Excel just isn’t going to cut it. Our CRM system has definitely earned us way more than it has cost over the years and quite frankly, the thought of not having one would scare the hell out of me!

9. Processes

These are the roadmaps of any good company. They do not need to be as granular as what you would expect of an engineering company
but you need to have processes in place for your team to follow. People should be clear on what they should be including or doing in the duties that form their roles.

Without these how do you ensure consistency and that parts of the process don’t get missed? We use them for training and also review them to ensure that there isn’t anything we can be doing better or more effectively.

10. Disaster Recovery Planning (DRP)

Disaster recovery planning is something that guides all of the decisions we make about technology and business growth.

It’s a fact that 70% of companies that suffer a major data loss will go out of business after just 12 months. You do not want to build a business only to see some crazy event wipe it out.

Our DRP forces us to look at data storage and safety as well as uptimes etc so it really helps us decide on systems to use like cloud storage, online tools and services etc.

Summary

If I could go back and tell myself just one of the above points I would be happy as it would have saved me finding out the hard way so I hope at least one of them helps you.

Anything you think should be on here? Leave me a comment and let me know.

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About Ben Norman

Ben Norman is the Founder & CEO of Koozai one of the UK's leading digital marketing agencies. Ben has also authored several leading SEO books and spoken at several leading conferences in the UK including SES London.

  • Great article with great tips thank you. I’ve been through quite a few CRMs and all have their ups and downs. What do you guys recommend for someone starting out who’s looking to scale the business