Leaf is five years old.
A 5 minute read, written by Chris Annetts on 30 June 2020.
Three years ago today, I wrote a very similar piece celebrating our second birthday. Today, like a proud and slightly overbearing parent, I get to marvel at our little studio turning five.
When I wrote that last post in June 2017, we were still a month away from making our first ever hire. Today, we're a team of five, and if all goes to plan, we'll shortly be adding another front-end developer to our ranks.
As you might expect, the business is largely unrecognisable from the one we described all those years ago. What was previously a glorified designer/developer partnership is now a very much a studio; VAT payments, performance reviews, team meet-ups, and company handbooks are just a few indicators that things changed considerably along the way.
Growing as a business means pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone as you discover skills, roles, and problems that were never even on your radar.
The more I learn, the more I realise how much I don't know.
One thing that hasn't wavered, even from the very beginning, is the desire to work calmly, enjoying what we do, and making a measurable, valuable impact on the products we're involved with.
Solve a specific problem, and solve it well
We knew very early on which services that we didn't want to offer (branding, brochure sites, print), but that still left a digital chasm of projects that we'd happily try our hand at.
A couple of years ago, we made our first attempt at differentiating the business offering, pitching the company as automation experts. When that didn't land as we'd hoped, we pivoted again, this time repositioning ourselves as data capture experts.
Dedicating your time to intimately understanding a single area of interest creates an intense relevance with a much smaller subset of potential clients, who themselves are in need of expert advice within that one specific subject matter.
What's more, Leaf will always be a small studio. We may get a little bigger or a little smaller over time, but we're not shooting for sharp or extreme growth. As such, we're only ever looking for a handful of perfectly suited clients; it's an anti-conveyor-belt, atypical agency model, and it works great for us.
Make decisions, even if they're imperfect ones
It's only natural that you'd want all the facts before making any kind of significant commitment, but it's rarely an efficient way to run a business. To avoid bottlenecks, key decision makers have to be comfortable with committing to judgement calls based on what they do know.
It's unlikely that a decision made from your experience, your gut, and some evidence will be woefully wrong. It may be less-than-perfect, but achieving 80% of the value without weeks, months, or even years of exploration, research, tests, and discussions is infinitely more desirable than being paralysed by planning.
Work on the business, not in the business
Three years back, Mike and I spent pretty much every working minute solving client problems, rather than our own. This approach is exciting, and the coffers quickly swell, but your growth is capped, and the risk to your business should you lose a few clients is considerable.
We've still not won this battle, but don't need to be convinced of the benefit. More than half of our time is now spent working on Leaf, rather than in Leaf. Managing people, clients, sales funnels, and marketing strategies takes time, and isn't optional.
Build yourself a team capable of doing great work, and support them with the structure and an environment that lets them do just that.
Delegate where possible
We're surrounded by talented, highly skilled individuals, who are able to take a portion of our workloads off our plate, but so often we don't feel comfortable delegating.
By taking ownership of every detail, you not only spread yourself too thinly, but you create unnecessary bottlenecks. Your skills may seen considerable, but like your time, they only go so far.
Learn to let go and share the load; you may be surpised how well people perform with a little more trust and autonomy.
Success isn't measured in pound signs
Money is of course important, but it is not, and will never be, how we measure success. When the number of £s in your company account is the main barometer for how well you're doing, you're setting yourself up to make rash, tired, and selfish decisions that negatively impact everyone around you.
Rather than fetishising making bank, passionately chase adding value; the more valuable you are, the more desirable your services, and the money you'll make regardless.
Work smarter, not harder
The grind is not an obligation or a badge of honour, and if you're feeling the need to consistently work more than 40 hours a week, you're either not working effectively enough, or you're working for the wrong people.
If you're lucky, your job will be something you're passionate about. It may well have been your hobby before you ever got paid to do it, or you may have stumbled into it somewhere along your journey. But either way, it's still a job.
When you work a long and gruelling schedule, you're not showing up for yourself, your family, or your friends. A single parent working 3 minimum-wage jobs to put dinner on the table for their kids is a selfless act; working into your evenings or weekends for a slave-driving client is not.
As we mentioned earlier, we're hopeful that we'll be a team of six within the next couple of months with the addition of a new front-end developer.
Work-wise, we've just started two new projects that we're very excited about, and are looking to help one or two new clients over the coming months. If you need to capture information from your users for them to use your service, we'd love to hear from you.
As I said three years ago, who really knows what’s next? The World is largely unrecognisable from the one we knew 6 months ago, and like everyone else, we're still feeling our way into the new normal.
If we're still doing valuable work for good people in another five years time, that'll be good enough for us.