6 lessons to unlearn from big companies if you start a company

Posted on November 23, 2013 by Rob Petersen

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LinkedIn sent a “Happy Work Anniversary” last week. It had been 5 years since this company, BarnRaisers, began.

After being surprised by how fast time flew, I thought about the journey; First, the failures and lean times; then, successes (gratefully), good people who build your company (through trial and error) and the achievement of milestones (most unexpected). After a short moment of reflection, I wondered: what happens from here?

Is this familiar to you? If you’ve ever started something and seen it through, it probably is. In my case, after a good number of years working at big ad agencies, I started a digital marketing agency and decided to see it through too.

One lesson learned, when you start a company, unlearn what you learned working at big companies. Much of it won’t apply. Here are 6 lessons I unlearned.

  1. PEOPLE DON’T PAY FOR HOW WELL YOU MANAGE THEIR BUSINESS ANYMORE; THEY PAY FOR ROI: When I worked at big ad agencies, I worked on brands that had advertising and marketing budgets. I once had a boss who said: “Treat your client’s money like it’s your own.” At the time, I thought it was great advice. But what happens when no one gives you money to manage. Instead, you have to convince someone why they should invest in you. This changes the dialogue  to return on investment (ROI). It’s a much healthier conversation.
  2. DON’T SHOW UP WITH A TEAM; SHOW UP WITH A STRATEGY: In many big ad agency new business pitch decks, you’re likely to find a picture of “Your Team” near the end. It is usually about 10 to 30 people. It’s intent is to demonstrate the depth and breath of resources to be applied against your business . Now, I know pictures like this scare people. Who wants a big team they have to learn what they do and wonder why they should pay for them? Your clients want to know the person or two they can rely on to deliver and execute a business strategy – and immediately get on the phone if something is not working.
  3. RELATIONSHIPS DON’T COME WITH BENEFITS; BUT SHARED VALUES: Big companies emphasize why they’re different and better than everyone else. Maybe they have the greatest depth of experience? Or range of services? The best creative. Or the most partnerships with other companies? When you start a company, you don’t have any of those things. All you have is the ability to demonstrate an interest in your client’s business and prove you share their values. I’ve found that’s enough.
  4. NO ONE CAUSES PROBLEMS. THEY HAPPEN: In bigger companies, when there is a problem, there is a tendency to look for someone to blame. When you start a company, you are going to make mistakes. When Seth Godin started his first company, two employees were having a heated argument in the hall about a problem one thought the other had caused. One blamed the other. Everyone heard it and felt uncomfortable. Seth made them stand in front of everyone in the company and apologize. Problems happen.
  5. DON’T KEEP COMPANY KNOWLEDGE A SECRET. SHARE IT AND MORE WILL COME BACK TO YOU: Bigger companies tend to believe there is something proprietary about what they know and the way they work. That’s why they got big. They get secretive believing they have a corner on knowledge. They don’t. Instead, share what you know, more people are likely to find you interesting and want to know more about you.
  6. DON’T GET SO BIG, YOU GET BAD.  “How big can we get before we get bad?” asked legendary ad executive Jay Chiat of his agency, Chiat Day, in the 1980′s. Chiat Day doesn’t exist anymore. It was acquired by Omnicom, who is now merged and called the Publicis Omnicom Group, the biggest ad agency network ever. Jay’s comment is  not only a great statement about the ad agency business, it’s direction of for any company in the early stages of their life cycle to unlearn the lessons for big companies.

We are following this direction. We founded this company on ROI and like to share what we learned along the way. If you interested in digital marketing, download our complimentary eBook, 166 Case Studies prove Social Media Marketing ROIor sign up for our newsletter. Or, be in touch. Maybe we share the same values.

Do you have any lessons from big companies you have to unlearn?

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