2019 marks 10 years of TSA being in business.
We’ll never forget the day we decided to join forces and start this enterprise: It was a rainy day in a cafe on Main Street in Vancouver when Kirstin and Monica (very pregnant) met up for a coffee date.
We were young, energetic and optimistic. We’d both been doing PR and marketing consulting on our own, after working in the digital media world, respectively, for several years. We decided to join forces, bring our complementary skills together, and start our own agency. The next day, Monica gave birth to her first son. Over the next few months, we developed our branding, launched our website, and brought on our first couple of clients (thank you Anaid Productions & BC Dairy!). The tone was set for the future of TSA: with creativity, collaboration, and work-life balance our defining characteristics.
This year, we’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on what we’ve loved about running an agency, and some of the biggest lessons we’ve learned along the way (we’ll be honest- the balance wasn’t always there!).
Here are 10 lessons we’d like to share with anyone out there who is thinking of starting a business or going into marketing. The entrepreneur’s life isn’t for everyone – that’s for sure – but it has been the only path either of us would ever want to take.
1. Don’t try to do it all yourself. Don’t waste your expertise trying to be an expert on all areas of your business. For example, at this point, we don’t know nearly as much about social media as our team. And that’s a good thing. Our expertise has shifted over to running the business, rather than delivering the actual services. While at the start, we did it all, now, we are happy to know how to source great talent. Still, as entrepreneurs, it’s tempting to get our fingers into everything – and we’ve definitely made this mistake before.
2. Cashflow is as important as billables. Yup. It’s true. You might be owed 100K but if none of your clients are paying on time, or you get too far behind, guess what? You may be forced to fold. Cashflow issues are the number one reason most small businesses don’t succeed. Thankfully there are ways to safeguard cashflow. Get contracts in place, collect deposits, bill at the month’s start vs. month’s end, etc.
3. Get systems in place for EVERYTHING. Whatever it is you’re doing, from monthly accounting, bookkeeping, hiring, client contracts, to managing the details of all of the types of projects you run (PR campaigns, Events, Social Media Strategies, etc.) create a system workflow to share with your team to follow and update/improve after the project is over. Map out the timeline, deliverables, person responsible, and the order of operations for every. thing. you. do. These documents are the skeleton of your success. This is how you’ll learn to identify weak spots and become more efficient, shaving time on future projects, and never replicating work where it’s already been done. You also need these systems to reference because as an agency owner, you won’t remember everything. Believe us on this one. These are living documents for ALL your procedures AND directions for upcoming projects.
4. Do make it personal. We are huge fans of personal growth and self awareness and apply our personal quest for growth to our business, which means: Being flexible, not sweating the small stuff, treating every person we encounter as a fellow human being.
5. Don’t make it personal. Wow, manners sure aren’t a given in this biz. How many potential clients have requested hours and hours of meetings and proposal writing, and not bothered to let us know they wouldn’t be moving forward? Or sending our best ever PR pitches and hearing nothing until the 8th follow up, which results in an incredibly enthusiastic booking TV booking! Seriously, we could be offended by how other people work, but we aren’t (anymore). Whatever happens, 95% of the time it’s not personal. No need to waste time or energy worrying about why.
6. Protect your creative space. All good things come from having enough space to breathe, dream, and enjoy the process. We’ve learned the hard way not to cram too many projects, meetings, calls, deadlines into our week, so that what we do take on can be approached with our best creative and inspired minds. Of course, this is a constant lesson.
7. You’re only as great as your team. We have gathered a team of extremely talented and conscientious experts. While it’s possible to cut corners or think anyone can do social media or write a great blog, we’ve found this just isn’t true. Work ethic, personability, attention to detail… these are qualities that tend to fall into the “you get what you pay for” category. So, pay people what they’re worth and bring on the best you can.
8. Always have a contract (respect your own time!). Don’t move forward or start working without a contract. Early on, we did this a couple times and learned that people don’t always do what they say (whaaaat?!) Naive, yes, but this tends to happen with the people we know best. And sometimes, a client is on a fast and furious deadline and needs you to jump in NOW. Don’t start working without a contract. Just don’t.
9. Don’t be afraid to fail. Or, if you are afraid, challenge yourself to do it anyways. For example, we’ve found ourselves up against big opportunities, like being invited to a RFP with one of the largest companies in Canada, knowing we were by far the smallest agency invited. Go for it, and learn what comes.
10. Don’t be afraid to succeed. This is even more important. Each year, we dream big. We map out our goals for TSA and define how we’ll measure success. The thing is, some years, our top priorities haven’t been about earnings, or reaching a certain financial target. Some years, we’ve truly prioritized ease, working with good people and building a strong team. Some years we’ve ramped way up, and others we’ve chosen to focus more on our personal lives. There is no right way to run an agency, and there is no getting it wrong, if you’re meeting each day with integrity.
We’re super thankful for each of these lessons. If you’re a fellow business owner, we’d love to hear if you relate to any or all of these lessons. Cheers!
Monica + Kirstin