Five lessons from five years in business

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This article was co-authored with Zainab Imichi Alhassan Alli, co-founder of POP Communications.


POP communication

Sarah Curtis and Zainab Imichi, co-founders of POP Communications

In 2022 it will be five years since we founded Dubai-based social media, PR and influencer marketing agency POP Communications. And although POP was officially launched in August 2017, we started planning the business framework and brand vision a few years earlier. We both always wanted to work for ourselves, but we also wanted a partner for the journey – so we came together to start POP.

As we began our entrepreneurial journey together, we were clearly excited and looking forward to the adventures of starting and running a new business. As with any adventure in life, challenges will come, but aiming to maintain a positive state of mind will help you succeed. Now if you’re thinking of taking the plunge into entrepreneurship, here are some lessons we’ve learned that can be applied to start any business regardless of the industry:

1/ Get an accountant in your company (and other key employees too, if you can!)

We’ve been there before – started and made everything ourselves. Marketing, your company’s core services, billing, records, the list goes on.

However, this method is not sustainable and you will reach a breaking point. So if you are investing in an important hire, select someone who is good with numbers and has an understanding of the financial needs of your business unit and location. Even if you have an assistant who has exceptional record-keeping skills, an understanding of various business expenses, exemptions, tax requirements, and more, that one person will be enough to save you from tearing your hair out. Trust us – you will thank us later.

2/ Perfect Your Brand Ethos (aka Elevator Pitch)

An innate knowledge of what you do and what services you provide is important. It’s important to be able to articulate what you do, how you do it, and the value you bring to customers.

For POP, our elevator pitch is as follows: “POP Communications is a social media, PR and influencer marketing agency. We make you ‘pop’ in a crowded market.” The first part covers our wide range of services, the second part shows what we do.

Not only is an elevator pitch helpful in explaining your company’s ethos, it also opens the door for new business and connections, which can then be further supported by a background pack for the company.

A hot tip in this regard: Invest your time in creating company badges that clearly present your company’s achievements and added value and that can change at any time as the company grows or develops. Having this document available on your website or ready to send at any time will be a game changer – you no longer need to type out what your company is in an email.

3/ Learn what you do best and then repeat it – but also diversify.

This may sound contradictory at first, but listen to us. When we founded POP, we made a name for ourselves by supporting beauty and other lifestyle brands with their marketing communications and brand awareness through bespoke storytelling and strong influencer relationships.

This was an area of ​​our business where we were (and are) very good. However, we have learned that a strength can be both an achievement and a hindrance. It took time to understand how to use such strength for business success.

Our beauty/lifestyle expertise has of course driven portfolio growth in this sector, but when we wanted to branch out into other industries we faced a challenge – a perceived lack of experience. Therefore, we also had to diversify to adapt to changing market demands.

That’s when we decided to use our strength as a stepping stone to expand geographical regions, showcasing diversity of reach and therefore expertise. We were then able to blend beauty with wellness, health and lifestyle, which then led to expansion into sectors such as healthcare, business, social enterprise and more.

See also: Seven Lessons for Businesswomen (from Other Businesswomen)

Say your business makes custom children’s clothing and accessories, and it does it well. Stick to your strength, but plan a diversification strategy that makes sense for the business.

For example, perhaps expanding into pet care supplies can be a natural progression of the business line. If your company also has extensive data on the purchasing behavior of mothers, you can use and expand this special unique selling point.

While diversification and the ability to adapt to market changes are a must, don’t lose sight of what you do best and what likely inspired and drove the opening of your business.

4/ Invest time in building relationships

You may be wondering why we included this as a lesson learned – read on. As a new business owner, time is a critical element and how you spend it can impact your business.

In terms of relationships, whether with potential or current customers, industry peers, employees, or synergistic business contacts, personal relationships still play a major role in the company’s success and reputation. During our first few years in business, the focus was on business growth and results. We put a lot of energy into customer relationships.

If you take the time early in your entrepreneurial journey to fully understand the role of the multiple relationships in your business, you’ll be in a good place to start.

A weekly coffee break with co-workers in the office to connect on a personal level, an extra 10 minutes with a client, or understanding the scope of another business for which work can be delegated will benefit you in the long term.

There are always deadlines or the need to complete another task or send the last shipment. This will never stop, and your business will continue even if you deal with the task later. But quality time with good people may not always be there tomorrow – that’s the lesson.

So here are some key relationships to invest in and how:

EMPLOYEES Invest time in their growth and in appreciating their work. Also offer flexibility, which increases support for you and your business. We introduced a No Pressure Fridays approach in January 2022 to increase flexibility and encourage employees to take ownership of their time.

PAST AND FUTURE CUSTOMERS Current customers usually lead to future customers. A good track record and personal experience goes a long way.

INDUSTRY CONTACTS Always remember that partnerships and collaborations come from invested relationships.

5/ Schedule (and stick to) set days

This one is really important. Not only are efficiency and productivity increased, but a schedule also promotes a (good) work-life balance.

As a small business owner, you are your business and as such are pulled in different directions and closely involved. This can still happen even after years in business and an established team. Set days for different segments of your business help.

For example, at POP we aim to limit team meetings and internal work to Mondays, new business meetings to Tuesday/Wednesday and Friday as days without calls or meetings. Create a schedule that works for you and for growing your business efficiently. It’s also easier to stick to a schedule when each day is planned in your official company planner. If you see that Friday morning is reserved for spending time with your kids, your partner, or visiting a new supplier, you’re less likely to cancel it when it’s official.

Personally, we have found that honoring and holding on to our time helps. If you let clients, prospects, or suppliers dictate your schedule, you won’t get anywhere. It’s okay to say no or offer an alternative. Understanding that this concept is okay and that our time is valuable was a lesson that took some time.

See also: 14 Lessons I Learned During 14 Years of Running a Business

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