I launched my boat into the unknown on April 1, 2009. Icons & Images opened its doors for business and issued its first invoice a few weeks later. It’s been a terrific journey so far, and my experience has taught me much. Presented in no particular order, are the seven lessons I’ve learnt.
1. Start with what you know, but expand quickly. Having been brought up on a strong diet of FMCG and marketing communications, I resisted being weaned away from that during the first year. It helped. My efforts were focused and the results demonstrated my skills, helping build credibility. But I had ignored a whole range of categories – Financial Services, Pharmaceuticals, Media & Entertainment, and Education. I entered these areas over the next couple of years, at first by applying FMCG marketing and communications principles to those businesses, and then gaining deeper engagement and involvement.
2. Develop an enviable client portfolio. Quality business takes time, patience, perseverance and focus; and is well worth it. My client portfolio is the best credentials I have to present. I’m proud of it and value all those associations immensely. But that portfolio goes beyond reassuring prospective clients. Each of those assignments rigorously tested my capabilities and skills, and being able to meet those expectations helped me benchmark myself and know what I could do. It built my confidence. Today, my new business hit list has 48 blue-chip companies.
3. Focus on fundamentals. Big picture thinking is all very well, but so often it’s the basics that are forgotten. The simple steps are essential: Make commitments you can meet. Stick to deadlines. Be punctual. Be ruthless about confidentiality. Be accurate about details. Don’t make spelling mistakes … etc. While none of these would have enhanced my professional standing, their absence might have made my clients wonder about what else I had missed.
4. Get your hands dirty. While employed, I was most comfortable working alongside my teams. That connection with reality helped me make big decisions with confidence. I’ve extended that same behaviour into my consulting assignments. While making strategic recommendations, I’ve ensured I worked on their implementation as well. Being willing to get stuck-in went a long way in reassuring clients about the quality of my recommendations. The added bonus was that I became more familiar with businesses and challenges I was not exposed to earlier.
5. Engage professionals, but remain accountable. Icons & Images has not let capacity constrain its growth, and has worked with external consultants in some cases. These individuals have been selected for their professionalism and experience, so I have full confidence in them. Even so, I remain accountable for results. My clients see me at meetings and can reach me anytime.
6. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. It’s tough to turn down an assignment, especially when it’s juicy in content and potential income. I’ve learnt to resist that temptation when the assignment covers an area unfamiliar to me. I would rather turn it down than risk client dissatisfaction; or worse, negative business impact for client. It keeps me focused on my strengths, ensures I take on realistic challenges, and clients trust me when I accept an assignment.
7. Profits happen when you do your job well. Icons & Images turned in a modest profit after its third full year of operations. I was looking forward to that day, but was not unreasonably focused on it. I knew that I had to gain trust and professional acceptance first, so I focused on doing my job well. In return, I’ve been rewarded with more than just profits. Now, more than 60% of new business is due to additional assignments from existing clients. To me, that speaks louder than profits.
These seven years have not all been easy. There have been ups and downs; more downs than I would have liked. But that’s how it is when you’re self-employed. It’s been an immensely satisfying seven years nonetheless, and I sincerely believe I have learnt and grown more than I would have had I continued being employed.
I look forward to more!