I started my company out of a broken-down party loft back in 2001 with zero employees. By 2004, I had four empty desks in a tiny downtown office. The computers were now in place, the phone systems operational, the people — well, they were still missing.
Since then, Attack! has grown into a national marketing agency with more than 70 employees spanning three offices, but I often think about what drove me in those early years. Those empty desks gave me a tangible image of how I wanted my company to grow, and it’s evident now that thinking like a big business is what actually turned us into one.
Here’s some practical advice to help you take the same approach with your own venture.
1. Stay in touch with the people you want to hire (even if you can’t hire them just yet).
Once in a while, you meet someone so exceptional that you imagine your company a few years down the line, growing in new directions with him or her at the helm. When you start to map a person’s skills against the expansion of your firm, that’s someone worth holding onto.
Don’t let those people slip by, even if hiring them is not an immediate possibility. I make it a priority to stay in touch with a floating “dream team” of people that I may not need (or be able) to hire right now. Whether it’s through professional groups, mentorship or even the occasional LinkedIn comment, staying in touch lets you begin a relationship so you can hit the ground running later on.
2. Don’t resist transformation.
Groupon did it at its inception, IBM did it as a mature company, and small businesses must consider it at any stage of growth. When I first founded my firm, we knew we couldn’t jump right into the experiential marketing field. We decided to start out in staffing, then become an event agency, and then transform into an experiential marketing agency.
Changing focus was built into our strategy, and it often feels like we’re more in startup mode than expansion mode — regardless of how old or big we have become. I know this can scare a lot of entrepreneurs who feel that laser-focused vision is the path to success, but sometimes, adding or closing a race lane can be the winning secret. Be open to opportunities as they arise.
3. Practice creative sustainability by recycling ideas.
Here’s the thing about good ideas: they don’t magically turn into great ideas over time, but they do become great when executed at the right time. Something might not be a great fit for your company right now could work perfectly in the future.
Archive and revisit your ideas often. At Attack!, ideas that seemed half-baked only a few years ago can suddenly seem visionary today. It often comes down to the fact that now we’re able to better articulate and apply the thinking behind them, whereas before we weren’t in a mindset to even realize how they could work for us.
4. Keep your finger on the pulse of the industry.
I’m not talking about the occasional article or conference. I mean consuming industry-specific information every day. There’s no excuse for not having an understanding (and for that matter, an opinion) about what’s going on in your space.
Set up Google Alerts for direct competitors, indirect influencers and industry thought leaders. Follow prominent blogs and subscribe to proprietary information platforms. You might not have much in common with the major incumbents in your vertical today, but you will soon enough. So when something disastrous happens to the big guys, ask yourself, “How could we have done it better?”
As far off as it seems, at least you’ll know how to act when you get there — and hopefully, that won’t be too far off after all.