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This week, 39steps turns 15. I know, I know – that oil of Olay does wonders, hehe.

As we embark on year 16, I can’t help but feel that the last 15 years have been a bit of practice, to get to this point. A bit like a recalcitrant teenager, our business has had its ups and downs and required some diplomatic management over the years. We’ve done some great stuff and we’ve made some mistakes. We’ve cried, we’ve celebrated, we’ve won some and we’ve lost some.

And so, I thought of the 15 things I’d tell my wide-eyed, naive 24-year-old self – she, who has no formal business qualification but an enthusiasm for the unknown and a blinding optimism that things will just work out:

  1. People buy from people.
    Learned this really quickly. Likability plus trust is a powerful combination. Meet as many people as possible early on to build up your network – not to sell to, but to simply know.
  2. It’s ok to not know
    …because someone out there WILL know and be able to help you. The answer will be in a book, online or in someone you know. Just ask!
  3. You CAN choose your clients
    It’s harder in the early days and when times are a little tough, but saying no to the wrong types of personality is a must. It means less stress on the team and more productivity for clients who value what you’re doing for them. And life’s more fun!
  4. The client ain’t always right.
    Our job is to help businesses grow, through effective marketing, brand, web and toolkit. So, if there’s an idea on the table that won’t work, we’ll say why and give alternatives. Straight-talking is important, and we want to help clients understand as much as possible.
  5. Embrace feedback.
    Whether that’s from clients and colleagues, don’t be scared to ask – you’ll be glad you did, as it can only help you tune things better, as well as flag up the good stuff you didn’t even know mattered. Win/win!
  6. Hire for attitude first
    …skills second. You can upskill someone new into your team, whereas you can’t change their attitude. We’ve learned this the hard way, and now by implementing a proper process, hired excellent people as part of Team39.
  7. and hire people who are better at it than you
    …otherwise, you’re better off doing that job yourself! And while we’re hiring people, let’s hire someone who likes doing the stuff you hate! For me, it was project management. It took me a decade to realise it, but I am BAD at project management, and no amount of training was going to help. And that’s ok! Because we found someone who’s great at it! Leaving me to go be awesome at something else. Namely, drink beer.
  8. Have a decent coach!
    …being accountable to someone is invaluable to help focus, prioritise and bring out the best in you. If it’s good enough for Usain Bolt…
  9. Do lunch
    Lunching al desko has its place. But it’s even better if teamed up with a client or colleague – a chance to know the person better, talk through opportunities and leave with good feels all around. My goal is to have lunch, or at least a coffee with every one of our clients throughout the year. And thankfully, that’s a lot of lunches!
  10. Don’t sweat the small stuff
    Bad stuff WILL happen. Things WILL go wrong. One of my favourite sayings is ‘no-one’s died’. There is no point losing the head at something that simply will not matter next week, next month or next year. Life’s too precious! Find out the best solution to resolve the issue and move on. Unless of course, you’re in the funeral industry, in which case it’s a Good Thing. 😉

  11. …and if it DOES go wrong
    Admit it. Far more kudos to those who fail, ‘fess up, take responsibility, and take steps to sort it, as quickly as possible.
  12. cash is Queen
    We all need it! Know your numbers. Or, in my case, hire clever people to know your numbers and trust them to tell you the headlines.
  13. Embrace change
    One look over the shoulder and there’s a stampede of fresh blood in hot pursuit. So keeping a finger on the pulse on trends and tech is important to us.
    But, people, Comic Sans will NEVER be cool. Unless you’re publishing a comic.
  14. Share what you know
    When asked, it’s a privilege to be able to share what knowledge I have gleaned about the design industry, or the ins and outs of running a small business, or inspiring young active citizens to volunteer. I confess to feeling a little bit proud, listening to my 2 young boys talk about the businesses they plan to have when they’re ‘big’. (One is planning to customise cars to order, the other is going to have a building firm – his first commission being to build a garage for his brother, to house his car business. This is, of course, in between their various outings to the moon).
  15. You CAN do it.
    This is one I need to reread a lot, as, like many of us, I regularly suffer from Imposter Syndrome. Anyone who tells you-you can’t is looking at the situation through their own lens – not yours.

In the end, we’re all just winging it!
From the hundreds and hundreds of people I’ve met, it’s apparent that we’re all just feeling our way through this thang called business! And for the most part, we’re all doing it pretty right. With a little help from our friends.