12 valuable insights learned during my 14 years of running a branding agency

business insight

Today we celebrate 14 years of running this beautiful agency. And i must admit, i haven’t anticipated such a downturn due to this global epidemic, when we have endured all kinds of challenges a business can face. Nevertheless, and with this quarantine situation, i decided to use this time to reflect on what worked, what didn’t, and how can entrepreneurs use this insight to gain advantage in their future ventures.

  • Target: Creative Professionals, Entrepreneurs & Business owners.
  • Objectives: Learn from those who have been there before. 
  • Read: 10 minutes.

Coming from a middle-class family, it was the norm to follow a predictable and secure long-term employment career which used to span no less than 20 to 30 years on average. Entrepreneurship was not a buzz word yet, and parents were risk averse to new ideas. This was the path my father took, and was not something I imagined for myself, as i tend to get bored easily and my mind is stimulated by the thrill of the chase.

With no real background in business development, i launches Blackink back in 2006, and grew it into a well respected regional branding agency. This was by no means a smooth ride, so i am hereby sharing with you first-hand lessons i learned from running this company, and i owe most of it to the wisdom and support of my partners, parents, clients and friends, which shaped the person i became today; So for those entrepreneurs venturing into a new business or running one, save yourself the pain and feel free to use the following (not in particular order) as guiding principles that can be applied into any practice:

You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with; and this is true in business as in your personal life. Ample opportunities can open up by leveraging on your network. So partner with people out of your league, level and step up to bigger opportunities.

Ethics, transparency and empathy trumps anything else, as this will become the foundation of your reputation and your biggest soft asset. I was lucky to learn early on about those values that if implemented properly, can shape a culture of trust, openness and fairness across all levels, and elevate your business (and Brand) towards higher status.

Respect your time, and mine; We all start projects and businesses with our friends and family members, then lines get blurred and relationships suffer leading most of the time to ego wars and conflicts (despite the best of intentions). This is unfortunately a common scenario that occurs when roles are not properly defined form the beginning, and expectations are not set, so people get taken for granted and interests collide. Treat “business” as a separate entity and work towards the best of your and the company’s interest, without allowing interference and conflict to exist in between. So make it a point to set expectations from the beginning. 

Learn how to read the numbers; As creatives, we tend to dread accounting and shiver at the sight of an excel sheet. Yet to run my business, i had to learn how to properly read and analyze a financial report, as the health and pulse of the company lies in between those lines. 

If you are to choose between discipline or talent, always hire the person that exercise discipline, as these are the people that will commit toward progress and learning, and not be dictated by mood swings or worse: Ego-driven behavior that normally accompany toxic personalities.

Learn how to manage your money and Pay yourself first; For some reason, schools of art & design keep failing at educating their student about money management. So we graduate, throw ourselves into the market and dive into the work without taking any consideration on how to draft a contract, negotiate an agreement or secure a down payment, leading to many problems down the line in which we get taken advantage of, leave money at the table, mix personal finances with business accounts and loose track of who owes what. Save yourself the pain of learning from your own mistakes, talk to a lawyer from the start, set your processes and learn to talk about money as early on as possible. 

Keep your expenses low; despite me being very disciplined financially, I fell victim by working with the closest and most convenient options in front of me, and not necessarily what is better for the agency. Challenge the status-quo and don’t take any deal at face value, being with your supplier, partner or customers. Don’t always go with the first offer on the table. Do your due diligence then work towards what is best for your business. 

It’s who, then what: business is people, and the truth in the old wise saying of “trust your guts” stands true. Get to know people, frequent them and listen to your gut feelings. And if all checks out, proceed forward.

Progress is more Important than perfection: run, stumble and fall, then learn how to stand, adjust your course and keep moving forward. From the fear of the white empty page, to paralysis from over analysis, we all fall victim trying to bring the best possible outcome forward, to find ourselves paralyzed by the micro details. Set yourself hard due dates and keep moving forward no matter what. 

Fail fast; don’t hang out too long for things that don’t seem to be working out. It is sometimes a better opportunity to take the road less traveled or try to reinvent or alter the direction of your course. 

Plan for a rainy day; It’s shocking how many companies (and individuals) are being driven to the ground because they didn’t foresee a downturn and never set aside resources for when things go south. Be always on the offensive and set aside money for a 3 to 6 months runway. 

Chaos is the mother of innovation: Embrace change & be lenient, there is always a flip side to a dire situation; these unprecedented times are scary to most, as uncertainty and fear consumes most people trying to understand what is going on and what will happen next (Post Corona). Life as we know it is on hold and disruption to our normal routine is already happening. 

Yet this is not new, It’s just happening now at a faster pace, and countless businesses were created from situations alike. So let’s use this opportunity to calm ourselves, take a step back and connect with what matters. Leverage on the extra time at hand to invest in your skills. Set the tone, reshuffle the cards and rethink who u are, what you believe in, your purpose and who you want to be in the future. Adapt accordingly, and if you have nothing more to loose, take that big risk and leap towards reinventing your new normal.

I am by no means a guru or mentor, and like you, I found myself stuck at home contemplating on the “next”, and trying to rethink & reinvent the agency of the future. I might be in a calmer state than most, and more resilient to chaos due to the fact that I have experienced countless regional conflicts before (I live in Lebanon, for those who are wondering), so I learned how to keep my cool and embrace for impact.

Nevertheless, I am positive about the fact that this too shall pass, and now is not the time for competition or rivalry, but collaboration, support and empathy.

Stay Safe, invest in yourself and #makeitmatter

Riad Mouawad
Creative & Managing Director