Next year we will be celebrating our 15-year anniversary and as this momentous milestone rolls on I wanted to reflect on some of the lessons I have learnt since we launched the business. Some lessons were very painful, some obvious and some were acutely necessary, but all have served a purpose; to help us grow and add real value to our customers.
When we started the company our one driving motivator was to add real value to the experience of our customers. I am proud to say this defining principle remains one of the bastions of our existence today.
As I look on the last 15 years, I now reflect with pride on some of the lessons we have been privileged to learn. I hope that budding business owners, friends, collaborators, and others who read this will find some learning in these words.
1. Don´t forget to incentivise the “incentivisers”
We learnt very early on that for us to be able to go that extra mile for our clients it was imperative that we had enough fuel in the tank. If we are to help create unique, effective teambuilding events, we have to know what elements to include. This means taking regular pit stops to organise our own staff incentives and teambuilding events to promote well-being and communication within our team.We organise regular coffee mornings, trainings and in-house presentations which give members of the team the opportunity to share their industry knowledge in a creative fun way. An added benefit of taking your team out for off-site interactions is that you get to see other sides of each other’s personalities. Imagine our surprise when we went to a dinner in the dark and a silent disco and found one the quietest members of the team singing Abba at the top of her lungs!!
Once a year we organise our own teambuilding trip and hire the services of professional coaches to work with us in a fun, constructive environment. On these weekends, we laugh, we cry, we eat and drink, we learn about each other, we grow. Therefore when you engage with our team you will find us happy, motivated and always prepared to go the extra mile.
2. Prepare for the rain
Every industry is cyclical and ours is no exception. It is easy to be lulled into a false sense of security when things are going well, and enquiries are flying in, I have heard so many scare stories of agencies that were relying on one major conference or one major client for the bulk of their business, until there was a shift in policy. We made the mistake of relying so heavily on google and SEO that when there was a change in the algorithm and a simultaneous hack to our site we were affected quite badly. Luckily we had been prudent in the years prior to the downturn and this allowed us to weather the storm.
3. TEAM + SERVICE + CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE = OUR BRAND
Our most valuable commodity is the brand that we have built up. The brand consists of 3 key elements that must be treated with equal and utmost importance. I have found through tough experience that these areas are far too important to leave to chance.
Although we spend a lot of time together in the office, often times our members are out organising or attending events with customers or they may be on site visits with future partners. If, like us you also organise outgoing events then members of your team will be required to travel internationally. So you must have a team that you TRUST and that TRUST each other. This forms the bedrock of all of our recruiting policies.
One of our favourite restaurants in Barcelona is Café Berenstain, the food is good, the atmosphere is relaxed, and the service is top class. Now it is not “Café Berenstain” that gives a good service, it is Dianna who greets me as I walk in and makes sure we are always well treated. The process of association however means that I expect to always receive great service whenever I go there (I do by the way). It is the same with our business we have learnt not to think of ourselves as a company but as individuals whose personalities make up that company. This philosophy leads us to ensure that we see all our customers as real people who deserve nothing but the best, just as we would want.
Last year was I fortunate to be invited to a private meal with Ferran Adria during which he shared some of the secrets of his success. At the core was his obsession with creating the perfect customer experience, every part of the journey from the moment you entered his world famous El Bulli restaurant until the moment you left had been carefully thought through. The food was created in such a scientifically creative way so as to guarantee a mind-blowing experience. We have learnt that adopting this “Creatively Scientific” approach to event planning pays huge dividends. It starts by asking plenty of questions to tease out what the end client has in mind. This can be very challenging if you are not dealing with the end client directly, but a good agency will know their client well enough to deliver you a comprehensive brief.
4. Sometimes you just have to say no
I have had this debate with several industry specialists over the years and there are varying views on this issue. So, I can only default to our personal experiences. When faced with 2 urgent requests, one from an existing customer with a fixed budget, dates, and a confirmed destination and the another from a new source with no fixed dates or destination and a spurious idea of budget at best, what do you do? Of course we are assuming that it is a binary choice and no other option exists. We have learnt to always ask for more information and have a standard set of questions that must be answered for us to be able to begin the process of building a proposal. Our first task is to get answers to these questions, without which it is impossible to put together a credible proposal. As difficult as it was we took a decision just after the last crisis that hit us in 2010 that we would have to say no to certain RFP´s simply to allow us to focus on adding value to others. This philosophy though risky has since paid dividends as today 87% of our customers come via referrals or existing clients.
5. Clients reflect your company
We have recently carried out some market research on our customers and we made a startling observation about the brands and individuals that we have worked with. They all in some way share the same philosophy and values as us. Fun, Creativity, Professionalism, Empathy, and Trust. Just as we look for life partners and friends of similar compatible values so do companies. The greatest revelation from this market research is that we play a huge part in choosing too. This knowledge would have saved us a lot of heartache and door knocking had we not had to wait for the information to reach us empirically. Today all our marketing and promotional energies are based around actively trying to attract a specific profile of customer.
At the time of writing I am reflecting many more lessons learnt over the last 15 years, but the biggest lessons have been reserved for me on a personal level as co-founder and director of LifestlyeDMC:
“Trust in yourself, trust in your team. Wake up in the morning, show up to work with a smile on your face and never, ever give up”