Running a communications agency – five things I know now that I wish I’d known when I started out

Ben Caspersz

Ben Caspersz on May 16, 2013

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1.  Ego is best left at the door

I had a pretty good gig at my previous agency; heading up a fabulous department of talented people, working in a (fairly) glamorous office overlooking the river, expense account, squadrons of people to help with the mundane admin – IT, accounts, travel.

So when I first established Claremont my ego took a bit of a beating.  To begin with it was just me, an electric heater, alone in the front room of my basement flat, laptop and a Nokia.  I remember the blank screen, quite a few people not returning my calls, feeling frozen out of the action.  It was humbling.  But looking back I can see it was actually a healthy process.  Clawing back from that and building up the business has been the making of me.

2.  Make tea, not sales calls

In the first couple of months I must have had cuppas with at least 50 people – a veritable flurry of caffeine and sticky Starbucks muffins.   I wanted to find out what my contacts were up to, what problems they were facing and what I could possibly help them solve.

After all this effort I remember feeling let down that the phone still wasn’t ringing and I wasn’t converting my contacts’ goodwill in to sales.  But in reality it just took time.  Many of those cuppas took months or even years to bounce back in to actionable business.  In the end, quite a few did come through and the up-front investment of time – and tea – really paid off.

3.  Tyre kickers are an occupational hazard

Tyre kickers.  Bullshitters.  Big talkers.  Over-promisers.  There are many different terms for time wasters.  In the early days I was stung several times by people who cost me dearly in wasted time and effort, requesting meetings and proposals and ideas that they had no intention of progressing.  It was painful.

I remember one Christmas that was spent away from my loved ones, slaving away on a detailed proposal for a hotel group that insisted on receiving the document urgently, but then refused to answer my calls afterwards.  It came to nothing and was a bitter pill to swallow.  But what doesn’t beat you makes you stronger and as a result my bullshit-antennae has evolved in to an accurate instrument that comes in to play on a daily basis.


4.  Doomsayers are evil

Claremont was established in the Winter of 2008; Lehman Brothers had just gone bust, jagged red lines were all over the newspapers, capitalism appeared to be on its knees and everyone was basically shitting themselves.  I remember a former client ringing me up specially to say that I should abandon my business plans in such a hostile climate.

Okay, maybe the doomsayers and doubters aren’t evil.  But they are best ignored.  If you’ve done your homework, got a flexible mindset and buckets of tenacity, starting up a business can be done in any climate.  In fact many say that a recession is the best time because prospective clients are open to change, talent is easier to come by and – if your business makes it – you’ll be well positioned when the economic winds change.  We’ll see about that last one, only time will tell.

5.  It’s true – it really is all about the people

This has become a bit of a cliché, but it is an unequivocal truth for any service-based business: it really is all about the right people: the right team, the right partners, the right clients.  I’ve learned the value of building relationships with the most talented and most trustworthy.  When I got it right, good things just seemed to happen.