Jonathan Clark: What I wish I’d known

Jonathan Clark founded direct marketing agency Clark McKay & Walpole in 1995 with Janet McKay. By September this year he had created a business boasting revenues of £9.1 million and operating profits of £900,000.

The business was recently acquired by Media Square for £5.3 million.

Invest in a Man Friday

If you knew all the pitfalls likely to beset you then you’d run a million miles away from starting up on your own – especially when you’ve come from a big organisation. Finding out your new job involves such humdrum tasks such as sorting out tea and coffee supplies can be frighteningly disarming – especially when a new business prospect is waiting in reception gagging for a coffee.

So, get a good office manager or reliable PA to act as a Man Friday and to sort out the administrative stuff. Otherwise you will find that if you don’t do it, then it won’t get done. You do need to have above average tenacity and not be put off course by anything in order to adapt quickly to this new environment.

Don’t employ people in your image

I made a mistake reasonably early on in employing someone who was quite like me. Uncannily, he appeared to take on some of my mannerisms as well in the office. But to have a company of clones can be dangerous.

This is because you don’t have the mix of personalities which helps breed success. Having six of the same type means you all think along the same lines and can repeat the same mistakes again and again. A blend of people working together should prove more beneficial.

Know when to stop being a control freak

Don’t get into a position believing that you need to be in charge of everything all the time. You need to empower people to do a job. At the beginning you start off controlling every aspect of the business but you can become a jack of all trades and master of none.

In this business, once you are employing 20 or so people you need to trust them to run their own departments and let them get on with it. I probably didn’t let go early enough, until I had 30 people in the agency.

Become a good people manager

In the early days I needed to take someone in hand. The person happened to be a female and her timekeeping sucked. As the big cheese I took the macho approach, called her into an office and read her the riot act. She proceeded to tell me that she was having health problems and started to go into details which should have remained a private matter between her and her doctor!

I completely mishandled this situation. Don’t assume people are guilty until proven innocent. Take a more balanced approach and first ask if your colleague is experiencing any problems. Being a good people manager doesn’t necessarily come naturally. And if you haven’t experienced failure then it’s hard to show, or have, real empathy. When you start up you have to learn on your feet.

Pay for the best lawyers money can buy

When you’re a small company you can be bullied by large clients. We had one who would not fulfil a contract and was refusing to pay. You need to realise this is not acceptable. By using a decent lawyer to draw up contracts you will have the confidence not to be frightened by big organisations.

This will also come in handy when you come to sell the business. Imagine how much of your time it will take and quadruple it. The buyers, their lawyers and accountants will turn over five times as many rocks as you can imagine. You will need to have the patience of six saints!

Marc Barber

Raven Connelly

Marc was editor of GrowthBusiness from 2006 to 2010. He specialised in writing about entrepreneurs, private equity and venture capital, mid-market M&A, small caps and high-growth businesses.

Related Topics

Business Pitching