One year in – It’s Make or Break Time.

So, we’re now coming to the end of the first year of the real-life MBA that has been startup life. The same year I gave myself to see if my idea for a business would work. Well, has it worked? As you can probably guess, it’s not that simple. 

I remember clearly the conversation I had with my wife on what would happen at the end of the year just before I took the plunge. Would continuing be an easy yes or would I be going back to the day job? I think we were both hoping for a simple answer either way. However, as I expected deep down the answer lies somewhere in the middle.

The current situation ( let’s not mention the ‘C’ word) the world finds itself in right now has thankfully allowed me the time and space to reflect deeply on the business. I’ve had a long hard look at everything. What did I want to build? What have I ended up with? Are we heading in the right direction? Do I still want to travel in that direction?

I wouldn’t call it an epiphany as such, but one day about four weeks ago a day after staring blankly at my computer screen all day long, it suddenly occurred to me that the business model I had built was never going to solve the problem I set out to tackle and it became increasingly obvious what I needed to do.

Whilst a change of approach may have been obvious it’s probably been the hardest decision I’ve had to make so far in the business. Have I failed? What will people think? Will the new changes work?

So let me take you through the year gone by. The highs, the lows and what the future of SynergyMode looks like.

The Year Gone By

So much has happened during the year it’s hard to summarise. To recap my progress I had a quick read of my first proper article that I wrote 5 months into my journey titled, Why I quit my job to start my own business. Back then I wrote that ‘it’s been a journey full of ups and downs, with each day seeming to last a month’ and that still continues to be true today. What a rollercoaster of a ride it’s been. The lessons I’ve learnt, the skills I’ve gained, the people I’ve met and the number of times I’ve thrown myself into the deep end and out of my comfort zone. It really has been a year of personal development.

The Highs

The Advisors

One of my proudest feats is the amazing team of advisors that I brought into the SynergyMode fold. To think back then I was a complete stranger with just an idea asking these well-respected individuals with illustrious careers and outstanding achievements to join me on my journey. Thankfully, I managed to convince them. 

Events

I’m sure to the surprise of almost all of my former colleagues at Benchmark, I actually hosted some events. Having been nicknamed the worst networker in the company, it’s not hard to imagine why these took me massively out of my comfort zone. But once they’re done, the feedback is so satisfying to receive and especially to know that people have really benefited from them. My favourite event so far was our CEO Breakfast Roundtable on Founder Dependency. I genuinely feel is one of the biggest issues for SMEs. It was such a deep, open and honest conversation and we even ran out of chairs for the guests! 

 

Content, my dear old friend content. 

This is not easy at all, especially the videos. For almost every video I created, it took about 30 attempts and I always ended up using the first one. Go figure! I have more than enough footage to make a great bloopers reel.  

I’ve had ‘writer’s block’ more times than I care to remember but that only really occurs when you’re trying to force something out. In my opinion, the ultimate key to success is authenticity. At the end of the day, I’m passionate about what I do and so when I’m not overthinking things, I’m able to share my views and opinions. It also helped to receive some nice words of encouragement along the way. 

PopUp Boards

Finally, we created a new service called a PopUp Board:  a diverse team of 3 advisors, hand-selected to run a tailor-made board session to solve a company’s specific challenge. The feedback we’ve had from these has been very positive. One of our clients told me that I undersold both the quality of the session and the calibre of the advisors. They do say accountants aren’t the best salespeople, or maybe it’s just me! 

The Lows

Targeting Clients

If you’d told me before I started that people would purchase board-level advice from Instagram, I would have laughed you out the room. As surprising as it sounds, that’s how my first few clients came about. The reality is that even if you’re a CEO or owner of a business, you’re still a human and humans love scrolling.

The downside of paid ads across Instagram and Facebook was that it was pretty hard to target the right businesses and so I ended up speaking to all sorts of businesses but almost all were very early-stage startups or even just ideas! For example, I had the pleasure of speaking to an ex-girlfriend of a high-profile singer whose idea for a business was only in her head rather than an operational business that could afford help.

I Became the Bottleneck

I had set out to make a difference to businesses and convince as many as I could to take on board-level advice because I believe, done right, it will increase a businesses chance of succeeding. However, the way I structured the business meant that I was the only one selling. It wasn’t effective and it certainly didn’t allow me to help as many businesses as possible. 

Pricing (and Targeting again!)

We wanted to bring down the barriers to businesses taking on advisors. Our fee mechanism was also meant to be great for clients as we earnt in line with the client receiving value from the advisor.  

The problem we soon realised was that many of the businesses we came across couldn’t afford to pay the standard monthly fee. This wasn’t because it was overpriced, it was because our outreach methods weren’t targeted enough. 

After exploring the possibility of a ‘lite’ version for smaller businesses, we ended up deciding that if a prospective client couldn’t afford our service then they were too small to be our client. In hindsight, that was so far removed from the reason I set the business up. We needed to adapt. We need to make sure people get the advice they need. Be a facilitator, not a blocker.

Remote Advice

Finally, the impact of the ‘C’ word meant that all advice would need to be given remotely for the time being. 

People still need advice, arguably now more than ever but are they comfortable paying for it virtually? If a relationship exists already then it’s possible but going in cold and charging not an insignificant amount of money to deliver advice over a dodgy internet line with kids screaming in the background might not be palatable. 

The funny thing is if I gave you the secret to everlasting life, you’d pay the same price whether I told you in person or if I sent the message by carrier pigeon.

Carrier Pigeon
The new way to receive board-level advice…

Enough Reminiscing! What Are You Going To Do About It?

Our model wasn’t ever going to achieve what I set out to do and so I’ve had to change our course. But changing the direction of a business is easier said than done.

I’m not quite sure why it took me a whole year and a pandemic to come to this conclusion, however, I recently read an article that probably sheds some light. It suggests that every founder thinks that they are immortal and that their business idea is going to succeed. How far from the truth that is.

The Swivel (Pivot is used too much at the moment)

A New Purpose

Let’s begin with the why. I set out with the belief that:

  1. All businesses would be better off if they had an experienced and relevant external advisor.
  2. Not enough businesses have advisors or even know help is available.
  3. The current ecosystem of board-level advice is isolated and not as effective as it could be.

The main issue with model 1.0 was a lack of scalability. If we are ever going to make a real difference to a lot of businesses, we need the right infrastructure in place from the start.

Thanks to a bit of bedtime reading of a certain book by a certain Sinek we’ve refined our purpose to something that genuinely excites me.

Advocating and facilitating a better world of board-level advice to help businesses succeed.

This is a genuine attempt to increase the number of businesses receiving board-level advice and at the same time improve the advisory ecosystem.

We’re no longer selling to clients and it’s like a weight’s been lifted off my shoulders. Selling the advice of another person isn’t easy. Instead of getting in the way of clients accessing advice by putting our fee in the middle, we’re removing ourselves from that part of the equation and instead focusing our attention on helping advisors become the best they can be.

How are you going to do that: So you’re not promising me clients?

Our mission is to:

Promote the impact of board-level advisors, amplify their insight, drive collaboration and enable them to maximise the value they deliver to their clients.

We’ve decided that the best way of delivering this mission is via a membership for advisors which we’ve split into two overarching benefits:

1. Enabling advisors to maximise the value and impact that they provide to their clients

Tackling the isolated nature of advisors by bringing them together to collaborate and creating synergies that otherwise wouldn’t occur. Advisors will be able to tap into a broad and diverse pool of advice, knowledge and connections enabling them to deliver more impact to their clients.

2. Enhancing an advisors profile by helping them with their personal branding, amplifying their insight and enabling them host events either on their own or with other advisors.

We are creating a place for business leaders to go to gain real-world insight and attend events from people with real-world experience, our advisors. At the same time, we’re helping advisors optimise and leverage their personal brands because this will increase the chances of more businesses receiving board-level advice.

Now hold on, isn’t this just another job board?

No, it couldn’t be further from it. Job board businesses take money from members knowing that the significant majority are unlikely to get any benefit at all. That’s not me. I couldn’t take on a client or member knowing that they wouldn’t receive any value. With this membership, there is no guarantee of clients/roles and we are open and honest about it upfront. 

We believe however that if advisors want to win new clients then they shouldn’t leave their chance of making a good impression down to a CV and interview. Advisors need to have something to say and go and say it. At the same time, it helps to increase their network and ability to offer a broader and more diverse set of advice.

Summary

The past 4 weeks have been intense. A big thanks to my wife and kids for putting up with me or should I say a lack of me during this period. 

Lockdown has been fun with these two!

Have I failed? What will people think? Should I stick with what I have?

These thoughts have most definitely been swirling around my head a lot lately. However, as each day passes and with each validation I receive, I feel I’ve made the right decision. 

I could have continued with the original business and made a nice living out of it. But that was a business that didn’t make a real difference in the world and that’s what gets me out of bed in the morning. That and the kids waking me up!

Everything is simple now. All decisions are made by using our purpose as the guiding principle.

We are advocating and facilitating a better world of board-level advice to help businesses succeed.