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Strategy & Organisation December 13, 2016

After 20 years of doing business, are we finally mature?

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Don’t things get increasingly complex and more difficult as your business grows?

How do you deal with this as an entrepreneur?

How do you turn your company into a growing organisation?

These are questions I am often asked and, having spent 20 years building a digital agency (TamTam) and now a digital agency network (Dept), this seems a good time to write a blog on the subject. ‘Mature’ is a big word. But I do have some experience and can tell you what I’ve learnt. 😉

As you grow, you employ more people, so more procedures need to be put in place internally. Clients invest larger amounts and have greater interests, so more is at stake. Complexity increases, but so does the number of smart people on the payroll. So yes, things get more difficult. But, at the same time, in some ways they also get easier. Momentum increases, but there are more smart people to sustain it. Having said this, I do think that there are three things you need to have in order.

1. Gather the best people

This is a significant challenge, especially when you’re just starting out. Twenty years ago, TamTam had yet to make a name for itself. Our employer brand was still in its infancy. Yet, from the start, we were determined to surround ourselves with smart, likeable people. I firmly believe that smart people act as a catalyst in attracting more talent.

You have to clear this hurdle to continue to grow. In fact, I think this is one of the main reasons why, in our industry in particular, companies get to a point where they are employing 30 or 40 people and don’t grow beyond that. This has nothing to do with the quality of their offering — they might be very good at what they do, but they aren’t managing to attract the talent they need to take the next step.

Looking back, I can see that finding the right people for TamTam was a turning point in the company’s growth. We assembled a team that worked like a charm. It was so good that nobody else was good enough or senior enough to join it. It all worked beautifully until one of the mainstays of the team left the company. In a matter of months, we were left with a non-existent team. What did I learn from this? That it’s essential to keep recruiting new people.

You have to get used to operating this way.

So, when one of our linchpins left, we suddenly had a team that just didn’t work together and, quite simply, wasn’t good enough. In a very short space of time we replaced half the team. It was unpleasant and hard to do. But there was a tremendous sense of relief when the team started gelling again.

From then on we were always on the lookout for people that would take us forward. The moments when these people joined the company are etched in my memory; it has considerable impact. And the great thing is, once you have one it’s easier to find another.

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2. Learn the art of delegating

Delegation is key to ensuring that talented people feel challenged enough to hang around. I find that as I get older, this gets easier. In the early years, I was always glad when someone pulled off an impressive sale, but I’d also think, “F**k! How come I didn’t manage that?” Now, I’m sincerely pleased.

For an entrepreneur, relinquishing control is one of the most difficult things to do. Suddenly, I was no longer the star player that the rest of the team revolved around, as there were other superstars in the team. Rationally, I knew this was what was required and that it was in everyone’s best interests. But it took me a while to get used to it. To grow, you have to be able to let go of control and commit to the objective.

Ask yourself if you are the right person to lead the next stage of growth. You might find that the answer is ‘maybe not’ or ‘no’. This was what happened in my case. Fortunately, there were people who were eager to pick up the reins.

As the quality of our people and the size of our operation have increased, my role has changed. The company is growing and flourishing thanks to the team. Nowadays, my job is more to steer the way. I am learning to concern myself with the right things and am acting more in an advisory capacity. It might sound a bit passive, but it has turned out to be essential.

3. Set a point on the horizon

As our growth accelerated and the new team began to form, agreeing on a shared objective was the most important next step.

There was an important moment in 2007 when we decided that we wanted to make TamTam one of the top three players in the Dutch market. Although the aim was not defined in detail, the team was intrinsically motivated to achieve it. Having a shared aim for an ambitious team got everyone pulling together.

Deciding this ambition gave us sense of direction and, by 2012, we could say, without doubt, that we were one of the top three players in the Dutch market.

Once we had achieved our original goal, we decided that we wanted to be a leading player in Europe. That’s something we’re still working on.

With these three things in place, my life and the process of doing business have not inevitably become more difficult. In fact, doing business gets easier as the company grows and evolves. That’s the engine that drives change. And change brings further growth, new people, new inspiration and new knowledge, all of which result in better products for our clients. And, in the end, that’s why we do it.

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