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I was recently invited along to Google’s Executive Circle event with INSEAD business school. As you’d imagine, it was full of some of the most creative thinking and inspirational people from around 30 Google partner agencies. We had one shared goal – getting together to learn and reflect.

For me, the best bit was talking to other agency owners. We’re often pitching against each other or meeting up at an awards ceremony where we’re going head-to-head. This was a rare opportunity to spend three days with each other to discuss opportunities and challenges in an open forum, and take back nuggets of gold to our own agencies!

The Business Growth session really stuck with me. It feels very apt right now as we navigate the challenging economic landscape both from my perspective as MD of Fountain, but also for our clients who we’re helping to guide through the uncertainty of the next few months and beyond.

The key theme of Business Growth is strategy. It’s widely accepted that to run a successful business, you must have a ‘strategy’. It’s even better if you have a strategy for each area of the business (Marketing, People & Culture, Operations, etc).

But that’s tough. A lot of us stumble at the first hurdle – creating the strategy itself. It’s daunting, you don’t know where to start, and you have to take all important time out of your day to focus on proactive thinking and reflection. All of that is hard when there’s daily life, an overflowing inbox, slack messages and meetings galore to deal with.

Here are some tips I picked up from the session that can help on the strategic journey:

  • There’s no right answer for what the best strategy is! Don’t obsess over it being perfect. Things happen – it will need to evolve over time, so think of it as more of a working document than a final word on the subject.
  • With that in mind, know that every strategy has to include trade-offs. You can’t create a brilliant strategy if you’re trying to please everyone. There can be more than one truth, and the most important thing to do is find a way to operate between them in order to move forward. Use your business plan as a reference – if the strategy backs that up, you’re good.
  • Once you’ve got your strategy, it’s worthless if you don’t implement it. 70-90% of strategy fails because people don’t understand it and therefore can’t execute it. How often are you talking to your teams, your agencies and external partners about your strategy? If it’s only once or twice a year, then you can bet no one else within your business is worrying about it or implementing it as much as you!

What makes a good strategy?

So, after getting insight on the overarching idea, what does a good strategy actually look like? The simple thing to remember is CAR:

  • Clarity: Make your plan clear – don’t get bogged down in writing war and peace, keep it simple:
    • a one pager with a clear vision statement;
    • 1, 3, 5-year goals;
    • and a set of consistent and measurable KPIs is enough to get you started on the path to achieving your business goals.
  • Alignment: A crucial one and not something that’s always easy to achieve. There must be alignment between the leaders of your business on the strategy. This doesn’t mean everyone needs to be in complete agreement with each point, but when you walk out of your meeting, you should all be singing from the same hymn sheet. The team, agency and consultants working with you need to be hearing the same message to execute the desired goals.
  • Resources: Now you’ve got your clearly defined strategy and your leadership team are in alignment, assign resources to implement, otherwise it’ll just be more words on a piece of paper. Also think broadly on resources, time, budget, staffing, space, etc., and get them secured early on.

As I said, it can be tough to get started, but by simplifying the process, keeping it concise and realising strategies are never actually ‘finished’ should help take the pressure off!

If anyone wants to share top tips with me, or hear more about what I learnt, please get in touch. Means I can put off writing that next strategy for another couple of hours…!