Differentiated is two years old (pretty much…we incorporated in April 2019, but didn’t formally get going until late May), and what a ride it’s been so far. We didn’t have a formal business plan from the outset, but the plans we did have didn’t include someone, somewhere mixing with bats and changing the world.
The dilemma of growth
We have (or are) weathering that storm. In fact, more than that, we’re thriving. We surprised ourselves in our first financial year by hitting a revenue mark that we were in no way expecting. In our second year we grew by just shy of 160%. In a typically understated and British kind of way, we feel pretty chuffed with ourselves.
Yet (also typically British) we’re not naïve enough to think that was entirely down to us. A good proportion of it was driven by the pandemic itself. Whilst many sectors, and vast numbers of businesses, have suffered because of coronavirus, our work has largely been orientated towards the technology sector which hasn’t suffered in the same way.
Ok, some of it was us.
The above predicates an element of luck, and luck (whether good or bad) will always have a hand in the progression of a business. However, much of our growth over the last couple of years is also down to the people within, and connected to, Differentiated – so for what it’s worth, here are a few things we’ve learnt (or knew, but have had confirmed):
1. Heads down
As for everyone else, when the pandemic hit, we had no idea what impact it would have. What we did sense was that it would be very difficult to plan anything of any substance. We created a single goal for the business: generate the cash needed to carry on. We reverted to a mode of getting our heads down – we spoke constantly to our customers; tried to generate opportunities; submitted proposal after proposal; and eventually they started to get the green light. This meant we built a pipeline of projects by sheer force of effort.
The lesson? ‘Just doing’ works.
2. Practical innovation
The practical aspect of a ‘heads down’ attitude influenced our approach of putting creativity at the centre of what we do. At a time when people were unsure if they would have a job the following week, it wasn’t appropriate to suggest any creativity for creativity’s sake; it was time to deliver new ideas and creative solutions that met very specific requirements and delivered tangible results. We focussed more on innovation at a tactical level, creating new ideas that we could back up with evidence they would have an impact.
So what? People respond to creativity and innovation, but it must deliver.
3. Rediscovering loyalty
In the past, the sense of loyalty in business has diminished as everything becomes more accessible, from a wider choice of options, and easier to buy (cheaper to buy, even). The fact that our customers didn’t react in a knee jerk way to the plethora of offers from other organisations who claimed to know what to do (in a situation where no one really knew what to do), is in part due to a mutual trust and respect in what each of us bring. The other part, I think, is because we maintained as honest a position as we could: “We don’t know either, but let’s discuss it and work it out together.”
Which means? Honesty really does build loyalty.
4. People really do count
We know that people count, so are constantly looking for the right people to work with. When it’s really busy, however, it’s easy to say: “any help will do”, but it really won’t. What is true to say is that working with people who each contribute their own skills and thinking to meet and develop your organisation’s standards is crucial. We started Differentiated to work in our way with the people we wanted to work with, and the impact of those people has been, and continues to be, immeasurable.
And? Hold your nerve, keep your standards, and work with those that share your standards.
As I say, we’re not naïve, and we’re clever (or cautious) enough to know that the growth curve we’ve been on may not continue at the same pace. That’s ok – so long as we can keep our heads down on the work; continue to be creative and innovative to create results; and build strong relationships with our clients and within our team, then everyone’s happy.
A bit exhausted, but happy.