In August of 2011 I was twenty-two and fresh out of a graduate scheme, so I decided to start my own social media agency. My business plan was two words: get clients. Over nearly ten years I had a wonderful time building a brand and working with inspiring people, fabulous clients and team members.
In March, the agency was acquired by a marketing group with big plans and I stepped back from a day-to-day role. Here’s why.
According to Daniel Priestley, my How To Raise Entrepreneurial Kids co-author, there are lifestyle businesses and performance businesses. A lifestyle business is a team of up to twelve people, sharing the goal of sustainable growth, plenty of leisure time, and a side project or two. A performance business is a team of 50+ raring to scale. Its focus is clear, its goals established, and each team member puts all they have into getting there.
Anything in the middle is defined as “the desert” because the company is too big to be a small business but too small to be a big business. It can get confusing.
My agency was in the confused middle, outgrowing itself and ready for more. But March 2020 had other plans, and the company shrank by 25% in one fell swoop. Our clients in hospitality, events and travel had suffered due to covid-19 and it had knocked-on to us. We worked together and paddled furiously to get back on track.
As it transpired, despite having the worst Q2 for four years, by the end of 2020 the agency had not only recovered to pre-covid revenues but had grown further, by a whole 20% on the previous year. The strength of the team, its ideas and work when faced with a crisis was tremendous. After a scary shock to the system, we adapted like crazy and along the way became superhuman.
In the book Can’t Hurt Me, ex-Navy SEAL David Goggins puts his mind and body through tough challenges. Challenges he didn’t think he could complete. When he gets through them, he’s amazed. He keeps asking himself, “What am I capable of?”
By the end of 2020 I realised my team was capable of more. It was a performance team. The problem was, I didn’t know if I was the leader to drive the next phase. I didn’t know if I wanted to be. My day-to-day involvement in the agency was small since the exceptional people within it had stepped up. What were they capable of?
I work a lot, but I work on other things. I write books and articles and I train every day as a competitive powerlifter. I loved owning an agency. It ticked along nicely and suited me perfectly, but it wouldn’t suit everyone else forever.
I realised I had become the ceiling. My ambition for progress would dictate everyone else’s by default. If things stayed as they were, the company would only go as far as I would take it. But I knew that driving my agency to the next level would need more focus and less of the other work I’d started to love.
I was running a swollen lifestyle business with a performance team and it was time to sell.
I started working with an M&A specialist who introduced me to big agencies with whom I had chemistry meetings, some of which were really exciting. After meetings two and three, a number of them put in offers which I thought seriously about. It was brilliant that we were in demand, but I wasn’t in any rush. I was ready to go but happy to stay – my priority was doing this right, not quickly.
The bar I set for a buyer was high: big plans, nice people, great work. I wanted to open opportunities for growth, for my team and our clients. I knew our strong team, great clients, and healthy profit made us attractive. I wanted everyone looked after. I wanted to become surplus to requirements.
The stars aligned to make it happen and after a lot of deliberation we chose the perfect buyer for JC Social Media. In March 2021 an impressive outfit with a history of success and big plans for the future acquired the agency I started in my spare bedroom.
I will be an ambassador for the group, but my day-to-day attention is not required. It’s a win-win-win-win outcome for me, my team, our clients and the agency’s new owners. We found the perfect way forward.
If you have, in any way, been part of our journey so far; a huge thank you. I don’t yet know what the future will hold but I know it’s going to be great.