The Time-Travelling Agency Owner – Lessons From the Past to Change Your Future (Part 3)

business growth

Welcome back to the third article in this four-part series, detailing the biggest mistakes I made as an agency owner – and how you can avoid doing the same.

This week, we’re going to discuss something you’ve probably experienced before. It’s a costly error I made early on in my agency career: taking the trial and error route instead of learning from the experience of others.

Thankfully, my business lived to tell the tale (despite some poor choices along the way), but I know my path to 25 staff, seven figures in revenue and an eventual sale would have been much smoother if I had just taken a smarter approach.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s go back to the start of the story, and see why this lesson matters.

Trial and Error – Not Always The Best Approach

I started my agency back in 1993. Having already spent a number of years in industry, I had youthful confidence on my side that running my own agency would work.  In a few short years we were able to grow the business to 10 employees (with a decent client base to boot).

Guiding the business in these early days was exciting. Every decision brought with it the opportunity to learn something new. And when our agency was still small, I could afford to go with my gut and make the choice I felt was best: worst-case scenario, I learned a valuable lesson moving forward and avoided making that same mistake in the future.

It’s all well and good going with your gut when you’re leading a small team. But I found that as the agency got larger, the situations facing me were getting more and more complicated. I couldn’t readily apply my previous experience in industry to what lay before me. Hiring my first few employees worked out great, but adding further members to our team was a challenge. I ended up making some errors in judgement, taking on staff that weren’t right for the company. Not delegating enough (sound familiar?).  Not focusing on the right things to move the Agency forward. This resulted in a much bumpier road to growth that it needed to be,

My old approach – based on trial and error and going with my gut – was no longer appropriate for the kinds of decisions I was making. With employees and clients depending on me to make smart moves, I needed guidance. I needed someone to advise me on these critical matters. I needed training and support so I could learn to manage my staff better (rather than just winging it).

As you can probably guess, I kicked that particular can down the road for a long time. I didn’t think I had the money to spare for training or coaching. I thought we could figure it out ourselves if we gave it enough time (and tbh, coaching wasn’t that well known in the early 2000s).

While it was possible we could figure it out by ourselves, the reality was that it was costing us more money in missed opportunities than we saved by skimping out in this area.

But I digress. Let’s refocus here and get back to what matters.

The Purpose of This Article Series

When it comes down to it, I’m creating this article series with one main goal in mind:

To help you avoid making the kinds of mistakes that I and so many other business owners have made in the past. The kinds of mistakes that cost you time, money and valuable opportunities. The kinds of mistakes that hurt your business badly without giving anything of value in return.

Simply by reading materials like this, you’re already further ahead than I was back when I was mired in my “trial and error” approach to business. By learning from the experiences of others, we can discover what works & what doesn’t work faster than we could on our own.

I’m not disparaging the value of trial and error and listening to your gut instincts, in helping you make better decisions. In fact, I believe that experience is a crucial part of effective decision-making – but it should be combined with learning from other people’s experience too – especially those who have ‘been there and done it.’

Taking a trial and error approach to making an important decision is like desperately tearing into a haystack with your bare hands in search of the needle inside. Learning from the experience of others, on the other hand, is like using a powerful electromagnet to pull that needle to you, saving a boatload of time and energy in the process.

How To Learn From The Experiences Of Others

So you’re sold on the value of learning from others… but for whatever reason, you’re not in a position to seek out a formal coach at this time. If that’s you, don’t fret. You can benefit tremendously from the experiences of others in many different ways, including:

  • Read blogs, newspapers, and industry publications. LinkedIn is a great place to find compelling, well-written content that can help you take your business to the next level.
  • Read the biographies of successful business people to get an insight into how they made decisions. Contemporary or historical, there’s a lot to be learned from the lives of others. Don’t worry if they’re in different industries to you: the principles of sound decision-making are the same, regardless of the space you find yourself in.
  • Listen to podcasts and interviews with business owners you respect. (I love Amy Porterfield’s weekly podcasts)
  • Network with other business owners – either in your local area or via social platforms like LinkedIn. Having friends you can informally bounce things off of can be a great help when you’re faced with a tough decision.
  • Invest in high-value training courses (either in-person or online) for you and your team. Anything that will save or give you more time and money is worth looking into.

Conclusion

There’s a time and place for learning through your own experience. I’ve seen this in my coaching practice: while clients often rely on me for advice, the final decision rests with them, but they value the fact that I have ‘walked in their shoes’. Experience is vital in making better choices, and simple “trial and error” is one way to accumulate this experience.

However, relying on your gut – to the detriment of learning from the experiences of others – is a fools’ game. Learning from others could take the form of reading their content, listening to their interviews, investing in their training or simply talking to them. No matter how you do it, getting outside perspective is valuable.

Don’t make the mistake I and so many other business owners have made in the past. Learning from the experiences of others will allow you to shortcut your learning curve, and this will enable you to build your business faster and easier than ever before.

In the next article, we’ll talk about the fourth (and final) mistake I made as an agency owner, and recap everything we’ve covered in this series. Stay tuned!

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Rob Da Costa

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