This week marks the start of my seventh year with LanciaConsult. When I joined the business, I didn’t really know what to expect. I had spent a remarkable decade in consulting with some fantastic companies, working with some truly brilliant people – many of whom I’m thrilled to call some of my best friends today. When Jeff, (LanciaConsult’s Founder and CEO) came calling and asked me to join his fledgling UK business, all I knew was that this was certainly an opportunity to work with one of those exceptional people again. When a year in Jeff asked me to take over leadership of the UK business, join his Group Board and kick start our European growth I was nervous and excited in equal measure. When I joined, we were seven people. Today we’re fast approaching 100. It has been a phenomenal period of growth, one that has recently been rewarded; a top 100 placement in the high-growth companies for Asia-Pacific from the Financial Times. As a business we’re extremely proud of who we are and given this rare opportunity to reflect I really wanted to share some of the things I’ve learned in growing this business, for those in fast growing companies and for those who want to build something themselves.
1. Growing clients is way harder than I had expected
I’d never really had to do too much selling in my previous roles beyond making sure I was indispensable to the clients I was directly working with and hoping that they would like the work I was doing enough to keep me around to do more and deliver more work. Selling a little-known brand in a competitive industry is a vastly different challenge. But over the last six years what I’ve seen is that if you are genuine in the skills that you sell, you aren’t greedy (priced fairly), and you deliver quality work you quickly see new work and referrals. Building a ‘brand’ genuinely, carefully and with pride for the long term is a lot more powerful than concentrating on a glossy pack, your logo and your website. A consulting business is all about delivering exceptional client work – concentrate on that before anything else.
2. It's surprising how much people want to help you
I’m naturally quite nervous about asking my network for support (especially as prospective clients or for referrals). How much do people really respect and value you? What is in it for them? Why should they? But of course, in reality, I would do everything I could to help even the loosest of connections. If I can help, why wouldn’t I? And my friends and network are no different, in fact they have been amazing in helping me grow this business. I suspect people value you more than you value yourself.
3. Build a business that people want to work in
Sounds simple and it is; From the very first recruit I made I have tried to build a business that I want to work in (and I genuinely believe this is the best place I have ever worked, though you might say I would say that). I have been honest about the challenges, excited about the opportunities and built a genuinely caring, entrepreneurial environment where our team are building this business with me every day. I think that I have been a better leader than I had expected because I’ve been myself and I have been trusted to do that by my boss and the Board. If you really care about the people more than anything else, good things happen. A happy, motivated, passionate team deliver great work.
4. Surround yourself with experienced people
Importantly I knew where I was not strong enough – and that wasn’t humility or a lack of confidence; it’s self-awareness. I surrounded myself with experience that I didn’t have, hired people who I would gladly work for if the roles had been reversed. I needed them to make me better so, collectively we raise each other's game. Don’t be scared to acknowledge your weaknesses or gaps in experience, be clear on what you are great at and be humble about where you need to grow and find the best people to make you better. And… crucially, trust those people. Not everything will be done exactly how you would do it, but often it will be better, occasionally less good, but (almost) never bad. Great people do not need micro-management or your opinion on everything!
5. Invest into the future talent
Only a couple more, I promise… We took the decision to introduce graduates into our business a few years ago and we’re into our fourth year of graduate recruitment in the UK (we call the programme Landing at Lancia (LAL)) and it’s the best thing we ever did. Why? The energy and capability of UK graduates is both infectious and adds serious value to our clients. They may lack experience, but they more than make up for it with their attitude, intellect, EQ (Emotional quotient), hunger and their capacity to learn. Our more experienced team members benefit too, it gives them people to teach, coach and a new generation to learn from. They make us an energetic, exciting company to work with and enliven our offices. It helps that we are building LanciaConsult for the long term, investing in their future and ours, but don’t underestimate the immediate impact that younger professionals will have on your business.
6. Stay true to your values
Finally, for those that are growing fast, business changes so regularly it is hard to keep up. You need to accept that adding team members at a rate of 30-40% per year means that almost quarterly you need to adjust, recalibrate, and flex what we consultants call your operating model. Hold true to the business you are building – in our case, an open, diverse, fast paced, challenging, client focused and entrepreneurial business. You will need to change lots, don’t fear it, enjoy it. Change is good, learn what works and what doesn’t and it’s okay to sometimes get it wrong – hopefully, your team will forgive little mistakes as you learn on the way.
So, six lessons from six years. When the next year passes LanciaConsult will be my longest single employer… Let’s see what further lessons this special year holds.