It’s 2022 and we’re 11 – hurray!
It’s wild thinking back to 2011 before the days of TikTok, Instagram and influencers. A lot has changed, namely my hair colour, read on for 11 things I’ve learned in the past decade and a bit…
1. Carve out a niche and stick to it
Although I would class myself as a bit of a jack of all trades I really wanted Brilliant to be known for something, and, since it’s a personal passion of mine, food and drink was an easy and obvious choice!
The thing I love about working with food and drink brands is that no matter the size or time they’ve been going for (even if it’s over 100 years – Binghams and Fox’s I’m looking at you!), you can create something really individual in their marketing.
2. You can’t fake passion for a pay cheque
Not every brand will be a great match for Brilliant, it’s a bit like dating – some brands and people you click with, others you just don’t want to swipe for, and that’s ok!
We certainly attract a particular type of brand, the ones that are a bit quirky, or established brands who are trying to stand out or who want to give their marketing some real personality! On a level, we’re a little bit sweary, we can be quite blunt about things and if something isn’t right then we’ll say so. I guess really we are not your typical ‘yes men’ (or women!) and so if a product isn’t great, or the people behind it are not people you want to really get behind and make their commercial dreams a reality then it will never work.
I remember meeting Josh and Dirk from Northern Bloc ice cream and pretty much demanding that they work with us because no one was more passionate about ice cream than I was! The clients you see on our website are clients that we believe in and enjoy eating and drinking ourselves. If we don’t believe in what they’re trying to achieve then it will never work.
As a result of this ethos, Brilliant quickly became a diverse little huddle of dynamic creatives, all dedicatedly working on just a small hub of our chosen clients.
3. Success comes from a mix of resilience, patience and productivity
We live in a world of instant rewards and the expectation that everything should go perfectly but really it’s rare for any business to be successful from the get-go and most hardly make enough money for the first few years, this was certainly the case for me – I remember having to borrow money just to pay my first employee, and didn’t take an actual wage for three years. But I knew I had to keep going, I was doing a great job and getting some amazing clients, and I didn’t want to let anyone down by giving up.
I think having a resilient attitude and a determination to just keep going no matter what has probably been at the core of the overall success we’ve had as a business. Even during Covid we grew as a business and no matter what knockbacks we’ve had we’ve never stopped believing in Brilliant and that we’re doing the right thing.
There’s a great book called The 4 Agreements which has really been a guiding light for me and has helped me to push through more challenging times. They are: always be impeccable with your word, don’t take anything personally, don’t make assumptions, and always do your best.
They can be pretty hard to live by sometimes, but I do try to hold myself to them and we encourage our team to do the same. The truth is, you can’t please everyone no matter how hard you try, so these agreements help to adjust your thinking away from the negative and onto the positive in pretty much any scenario!
I’ve always taken had a positive outlook on life and I think when you know you’re doing your best and you’re taking responsibility for the outcome of things, (mixed with a heavy dose of patience and of course productivity!) then great things happen, and the ongoing success of Brilliant is testament to that!
4. Hire on work ethic not CVs
You can teach pretty much anyone, anything if you spend enough time. What you can’t teach is drive, ambition, get up and go, and a solid work ethic. No one’s CV will tell you if they have these attributes (if you look at my CV you’ll see I was a waitress for most of my life and my education was mainly built around theatre and writing.)
I’ve hired from both ends of the spectrum – those with all the creds and degrees and those without but with the get up and go to just get things done. I can’t say we’ve been right every time and, like most businesses we’ve definitely made recruitment mistakes but one thing that always rings true is that the people who do well at Brilliant have the same attributes – resilience, resourcefulness and a real drive to do their best (for themselves and the business.)
5. Get a coach or mentor
Throughout the years I’ve always invested in personal development, training and coaching. A coach or mentor is there to challenge you and push you, whilst also being a sounding board for all your ideas and thoughts. Last year we were lucky enough to bring Clive Goldstein, former MD of The Union and former management Board Director at Poulters and The Leith Agency as our Non-Exec Director. Clive with his wealth of agency experience has helped us see that what we’ve been doing and how we’ve been doing it is the right way, and has pushed us to build a better business.
6. You can start a business with nothing
I started Brilliant from scratch, with absolutely nothing… I was already running another business at the time and just didn’t have the capital to invest in something new so I swapped social media training for EVERYTHING – my brand, my website, my business coaching, my accounting, my headshots. If I needed something, I found someone to swap with and I hope along the way I was able to help some of the people that helped me by getting them going on social media too!
7. Trust in people to build something you couldn’t
At first I did every single role the company needed, I was a one-woman marketeer, community manager, copywriter, accountant, salesperson, designer and chief coffee maker, but over time the team grew and grew. It was never my desire to have a big sprawling agency with 10 levels of hierarchy and a team churning out content for hundreds of clients. I have always wanted to keep things small, focusing on the old adage quality is better than quantity.
So myself and Mike started building a small, bespoke team, based not on experience, but on gut instinct. If someone could bring the same resilience and passion to their role as we had done to building Brilliant then they would be a good fit.
So now we have a team with each person bringing their own skillset to the mix and allowing us to expand our offering beyond social and into brand design too
8. Getting up at 5am is a good idea (in the short term!)
In the early days networking was pretty much a full-time job for me, you couldn’t turn around at a Yorkshire networking event without seeing me flashing my business cards around (where I’d titled myself ‘Social Media Wizz’). If there was free coffee and people to talk to about this new fangled social media thing then you can bet your ass, I was there.
And of course, if you’re into networking then it’s only a matter of time before BNI (the world’s biggest networking organisation) comes calling.
So yes, I did join BNI and spent a great two years as part of Carwood Park Pioneers and after a year there I became Chapter Director. It’s not for the faint hearted, and getting up that early is definitely not everyone’s cup of tea but the exposure it gave me and the public speaking confidence cannot be matched. We still get enquiries to this day that have come through my time there and I’m still in contact with many of my fellow members too.
9. You can successfully work with your partner
Some people are surprised to discover that Mike, MD of Brilliant is in fact also my husband! He was actually my third ever employee, initially joining Brilliant in 2013 to help me out with the accounts and to handle some of the harder conversations when clients weren’t paying me on time. Turns out, he was pretty good at business development and sales too and has proved to be one of the biggest assets to Brilliant over the years.
A bit like why our marriage works so well is why we work well together at Brilliant – we do different things, have quite different personalities but are aligned in our values, work ethic, resilience and drive to just keep going no matter what.
10. Babies and business, you just need to make it work!
In 2015 I had my daughter, Marla. At the time my one employee decided to up and leave to go travelling which scuppered any designs I had on a short bit of time off! In 2019 I had my son Hal, thankfully by this point we did have a full team so I was afforded some time off, but as everyone who runs a business with kids in tow knows, getting that work / life balance is more a case of taking each day as it comes and making it work.
So yes, I have occasionally bought my children to the office so I could work, and I did drive up and down the country to hold client meetings whilst Mike held a screaming baby in the carpark outside so I could win the business, and of course – my children have made several guest appearances in the past year on team calls, client meetings and even a pitch (which we still won by the way, so perhaps they were charmed by Hal’s snotty nose, who knows!)
11. Wellbeing is not just a personal priority
I’ve always been a fitness fanatic and take my health and wellbeing seriously, however it wasn’t until I’d been running Brilliant for a few years that I realised that I could bring my interest into the business too and share that with our team as an added benefit.
This meant we based our benefits not on drinking and nights out but on wellness sessions on how to sleep better, nutrition and how to develop your emotional wellbeing. We provide free 121 mental health therapy, a 4.5 day workweek and pay for our team’s gym membership, yoga class or whatever they choose to do that brings them relaxation.
So there you go, another year done and another year wiser (!?) I certainly hope so!