Being accountable was exactly the kind of challenge I needed
When the pandemic hit last year, Jo Scott wanted to ensure she could pursue her growth ambitions for her creative agency, while at the same time supporting her team and her young family. With help from mentor Will Matthews, she’s done even better than she hoped.
“Owning and running your own business is both challenging and rewarding – but the hardest part is not having a sounding board,” explained Jo Scott, co-founder and co-director of Truth Creative, a Manchester-based brand, design, digital, motion and PR agency.
She learned just how valuable an outside perspective can be when she participated in a nine-month growth programme in 2019. “Initially I thought, do I really need this, with all the experience we’ve got?” Jo added.
She and her husband Darren set up Truth nearly 15 years ago, having spent the first part of their careers at global advertising and branding giant McCann Erickson. “But the programme was reinvigorating,” she remembered.
Sustaining the growth momentum
One of the outcomes of the programme was that she and her team “productised” many of the services offered to clients. One of these was “Truth Labs” – the company’s alternative to traditional agency workshops. “Workshops are essentially brainstorming sessions, where the loudest or most senior voices win, and great ideas often get overlooked. In Truth Labs, everyone has a voice.”
Each Truth Lab comprises a series of half-day, full-day or multiple-day design sprints (a methodology pioneered by Google to reduce the risk when bringing a new product, service or feature to market), which result in a robust brand proposition informed by people from across the business, not just those in the brand team.
Jo and Darren understood the power of their offer – the methodology works and adds real value to clients, they said – but were considering how best to promote Truth Labs as a core strategic offering, when the pandemic hit. She suddenly found herself trying to keep the business afloat, support her staff and home-school her two young sons – but didn’t want to lose the growth momentum that had been building in the agency.
When she found out about the Be the Business Rapid Response mentoring scheme, she seized the opportunity – and was matched with Will Matthews, sales effectiveness and operations director at BAE Systems Applied Intelligence.
The power of slow thinking
Will, a seasoned mentor, said: “Many successful SME founder/owners, however experienced they are, are often so busy working in the business, that they don’t have time to work on the business.” One technique he used to get Jo to take a more objective view of her company was to slow her down.
He recalled: “We quickly established rapport and trust – largely because we are both honest, open and very positive. We are also both fast-paced – but Jo really was ‘a mile a minute’. I started giving her harder things to think about at the end of each session to make her slow down and look at the business objectively rather than emotionally.”
Jo added: “Will makes me accountable. In a recent session he asked me to prepare a full financial forecast for the coming financial year, ready for our next session two weeks later.” This concentrated her mind, and she put day-to-day tasks aside in order to focus and set some business goals. “He provides exactly the kind of challenge I need.”
Virtual can be better
Will helped Jo see that running brand sprints remotely could be even more effective than doing them in person, because they would allow people from not just all over the company to participate, but also from all over the world. She and Darren developed a virtual platform to facilitate these virtual sprints.
“I did sprints for five different brands in a global pharmaceutical company last year. It involved bringing 12 people together from across the globe for each four-hour session. Companies seem to love it because they can bring people from anywhere in the business.”
They love it so much that she’s already run 26 brand sprints, for a range of different clients, over the past financial year.
Building a value-based pricing model
Will also helped to build Jo’s confidence in developing a robust value-based pricing structure for the Truth Labs business stream, for clients from start-ups to global corporations.
“Will helped me to really understand the true value to our business of the Truth Labs, based on the considerable strategic value they deliver for clients,” she commented. “He suggested the Truth Labs should therefore be the focus of our sales effort, because we can build on the work we do there with clients to support them in their wider marketing efforts. We’ve only got to deliver ten Truth Labs a year to support our new business target.”
In addition to helping Jo to bring structure to the sales strategy, develop her confidence in her product and its value to clients, and to define customer lifetime value, Will also advised her on team dynamics and self-promotion. What’s more, he provided the nudge she and Darren needed to make what felt like “the most counterintuitive decision we’d ever made, given the pandemic” – fulfilling a long-term ambition to purchase their own business premises in the heart of Manchester.
“Our confidence in Truth’s growth prospects, gained as a result of the mentoring from Will, gave us added confidence to push ahead with our plan,” she said.
Taking back control
Will believes Jo’s confidence in her decision-making has grown over the course of the mentoring relationship, based on a more rigorous evidence-based approach.
“She’s very intuitive, and generates great ideas, but she now verifies her decisions at every stage through analysing the numbers,” he explains. “This gives her confidence that she is making the right decisions and puts her in control rather than letting the business control her.”
The benefits of the mentoring – which moved from the 12-week Rapid Response programme to the 12-month Be the Business Mentoring programme – are already financially quantifiable. “Despite the pandemic, we’ve already won two and half times the new business in 2020-21 that we won the previous year,” Jo revealed.
Another benefit – and one not to be underestimated in such an arduous year – is that the two have also become fast friends.
Learn more about the Be the Business Mentoring programme, find out how you can become involved or get access to an experienced mentor.
The demands and pressures of day-to-day leadership are unavoidable, but finding a way to step back and take stock really helps.
Leadership can be a lonely game, so having someone who is there to first bounce ideas off of and then challenge thoughts leads to more well thought through plans.
Having an external sounding board isn't always about "fixing" the way you do things. It could just be the confidence boost needed to move forward.