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Episode Eleven – Emerging Out of Survival Leadership, What Now for Leaders of Agencies?

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Episode Eleven – Emerging Out of Survival Leadership, What Now for Leaders of Agencies?

Transcript 

Chris Simmance 

Hello, everybody. Hey, Ross. Hey, Gareth. 

Speaker 

Hello. Hello, how? 

Gareth Simpson 

Ross Tavendale 

Are you doing? 

Chris Simmance 

I’m. I’m really good. I tell you what, that intro not only proves what a person who’s not a designer and Canva can do, but also it always pumps me up to feel really excited about this. 

Ross Tavendale 

That’s the music that plays in my head as they walked in the street. 

Chris Simmance 

Ohh so you got a theme tune, have you as well? I’ve got one a bit similar to that. Gareth, do you have a theme tune? 

Gareth Simpson 

No, I don’t you. Just made me think I need to get a. Theme tune. I have a think about that. 

Ross Tavendale 

Yeah, any any hell. 

Speaker 

You’re like, quietly. 

Chris Simmance 

Walking down the street, you need a bit of. A theme tune. Like have that. 

Gareth Simpson 

Yeah. OK. 

Chris Simmance 

Going. I’m just saying, you know, if you don’t, then. That’s terrible for you. Whereabouts in the world are you today, Gareth? 

Gareth Simpson 

And I am in central London. I’m running a training course tomorrow, so I’ve come back from from the conference last. Week and I spoke to London. Exactly. Yeah. And yeah, just staying in an apartment. And the connection isn’t great here. So I’m running on a 4G connection, so. My phone was quicker than the actual broadband in the Airbnb, so fingers crossed. It would be OK. 

Chris Simmance 

I I think we’ll forgive you, given that you live in a magic lifestyle now. 

Gareth Simpson 

I do I. Have you been for any other? 

Chris Simmance 

Secret dinners since we last saw you. 

Gareth Simpson 

Secret dinners. Oh, oh, yes. Forgot all about that. No, but you did. 

Chris Simmance 

So for those of watching for. Those of you watching Gareth and his partner disappeared off at the conference and went for a secret dinner, only to find out that we’re also disappeared for a secret dinner and happened to have one at. The same restaurant. 

Gareth Simpson 

Yes, although mine wasn’t secret. I was just going. Out I was hungry so. 

Chris Simmance 

Yeah. No, you you said that a lot, but the the protestation suggests otherwise. And so, Ross, you’re you’re in London obviously with your fantastic lighting and your microphone that works this time and all sorts of. Things that’s great. 

Ross Tavendale 

Yes, I am. I am literally a couple of doors away from you, which is a joy and a delight. And the thing that keeps me going day-to-day, knowing that I have got expert agency coaching advice, literally a stones throw away, I actually used to live closer to Chris for those that were. Are interested and when I went on my balcony to do a little bit of, you know, naked yoga or sunbathing, he could literally see me from his balcony. So I’ve moved a little bit further away, but we’re still in, you know, spitting distance. But yeah, thanks for writing me on the the podcast. It’s been a while and I’ve upgraded from these, which actually I think are. To this fancy stuff now, so hopefully it’s better for those listening. 

Chris Simmance 

It still sounds Scottish, but I think there’s a philtre for that and don’t worry. 

Ross Tavendale 

Yeah, I mean the, the, the way that I say road and the way that you see Rd I imagine are very different. 

Chris Simmance 

Yeah. And I think the over the lines for it means something else. Sounds like something else but. Anyway, that’s not what we’re here for. We’re here to talk about emerging from survival leadership. I think that means an awful lot of different things and and as I was thinking about like prepping for all of today, I was it. It occurred to me that it doesn’t just mean actual survival as in like. You know, a general in a war. It it kind of also means you’re. You’re you’re you’re trying to help the team, the business, the people around you survive as much as yourself. And sometimes the two things need to be quite well considered. And I think as veteran leaders of agencies and an ex embattled leader of of an agency, and I think we’ve got. A good story. To tell and I think the first thing I’d love to. Talk about, though, is kind of. Like what is survival leadership in your opinion? Like for me, Ross, you’ve seen my go bag. I’ve got a 30K go bag ready to go when the nuclear bombs go off. Although living in central London, I suspect won’t need. The bag survive. But it’s got everything I need in it to. 

Speaker 

For a. 

Chris Simmance 

Few months food rations, you know. That sort of stuff and. Survival leadership, from my perspective is it’s that that kind of you have to make decisions quick. You have to. Failure isn’t an option, but oftentimes you’re making those kinds of decisions because there’s some. There’s a there’s something around the corner ready to get you. Excuse me, Gareth. What? What’s? All kind of perspective on what survival leadership. Might well be. 

Gareth Simpson 

Yeah, I think. You’ve you’ve touched on a good point. There it’s. It’s about being. Prepared and being prepared for obviously in in the business context, we’re not talking, you know, fighting for your life hopefully, but certainly being prepared for for hostile working environments in terms of. The economy, as we’ve got now with very unpredictable environments in terms of, yeah, cost of living crisis, we had the pandemic before. It’s it’s quite a. Quite a a challenging time to be to to be a leader at the front, whether you own a business or not, or you’re, yeah, you’re responsible and accountable for for large teams, it’s about being able to react to changing circumstances quickly and and yeah and protecting. Those from a professional sense, those around you in terms of their. Their their, their needs, their professional needs. And of course, ultimately people. Have jobs to get paid so that. That’s what, that’s. The difference I think between a leader and those who support the leader that ultimately ultimately the. Leader is has that decision making capability. And responsibility. So they have to be prepared to go and make. Positions in this in a in a given circumstance. 

Chris Simmance 

Yeah, the, the, the accountability does weigh heavy at times I think is you know if you if you think about it the, the, the jobs that that your leadership provides doesn’t just provide for you and your shareholders it provides for. The people that you employ, the people that depend on the people you employ and all those sorts of things, and I think you know that survival leadership aspect isn’t like I say, it’s not just about like stopping the business from failing. It’s a case of we’re in setup mode, we’re in change mode. We’re in transformation mode. There’s a whole lot of conversions of the same kind of thing. It’s the fight flight style type type of of of leadership there. Ross, what’s what’s your? What’s your verdict? What’s your feeling on on what survival leadership is? 

Ross Tavendale 

I think ultimately survival leadership is something that is a mindset of either defence or growth. Those are the two things. So when something bad happens inside of any agency, any business, you have levers which you’ve got. Some sort that you can kind of pull on and be able to make those. So usually what happens is you make these decisions quarterly or annually based on forecasting and it’s all very. This is why agency businesses are great because they’re very slow predictable, there’s in their formula businesses however. When **** hits the fan with things like pandemics or downturns in economies or whatever it may be, you then need to take that 90 day plan. You know that year’s plan, you need to execute it and turn it around within a week. So she’s just having. There’s a lovely scene in Glengarry Glen Ross. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with the movie where Alec Baldwin says, you know what, you need to sell real estate brass balls. And that’s kind of what? You need to do to. Have in order to be an agency leader because sometimes you need to make some pretty hard. Poor decisions very quickly and the way in which you do that is. Being tuned into. Your numbers and always be forward-looking, but if you’re a defensive leader or if you’re a growth leader, will very much dictate what that word means to you. 

Chris Simmance 

Yeah, and. And there’s a lot of different. Types of leadership anyway, within. The the the survival or the growth? Mode, as it were, and like. Finding your kind of. Natural State of leadership is is almost an individual thing in it. Itself, and depending on the type of agency, depending on the type of service that you deliver, sometimes that can be more transactional than anything else and the last thing you wanna be is is, you know, autocratic every single day, but sometimes a little bit of or autocratic decision making is is a requirement and the what part of part of this. Episode I kind of wanna talk about how you how you come out of that survival mode, survival leadership, decision type. Space and go into growth or just normal normal cruising altitude mode because quite often it’s it’s not easy to detect when you’re out of that danger zone. It’s not easy to detect when you’re out of. We’re at fast-paced growth mode. Because there is a lot of momentum that carries, even though things don’t necessarily move as quickly. And you know, I often say to the agencies that I work and, you know, the acceleration that, that, that we’re we’re working through, we’re working on that. Some of those things aren’t as quick. It’s not like days. It’s clients pay monthly. Staff are paid monthly, bills are paid monthly. If you you don’t have. To make a decision immediately. And and if you make a decision immediately, it’s usually going to be emotionally led and you know, how do you come out of that like that mode? So they’re they’re cortisol’s quite high. 

Ross Tavendale 

I mean, there’s. I can tell you my way and. It’s not very impressive. So there’s been two major punches in the mouth for my agency. Three, actually, if you count the when I originally came to London and and joined up with someone, but we’ll just count the the two since the the. Pandemic the way in which I came out of it was. Hitting the bottle pretty hard the first time. I think it was 12 pints of Guinness and then missing a weekend and the second time was a bottle of whiskey. Not great. But being able to bounce back 2448 hours later and then start putting in healthy habits into your life, and it’s interesting, like, see if you’re training every day like other things, actually fall into place because they have to. Like if you’re running everyday, lifting every you have to eat well, because if you don’t, you’ll be done in. Same with running an agency when it comes to survival, it’s like if you don’t do certain things, you don’t discipline yourself. You just it’s not going to happen. So the transition for me, I wish I had better resilience to say, oh, I just went into Monk mode and I just hunkered down. I’ve done this and done that. Truth of the matter is one of the big things that is Taipei’s advantage is, and we have a big war chest, meaning that I’m a stingy Scotsman and I hold on to cash. We are very well capitalised, we’ve got a big old runway, more than is kind of required just in case any of this stuff happens so that we don’t need to do make any bad. Decisions. But that’s how I came out. Of it really, it was through. Exercise and just the basic pillars of health. But I hit the wall twice, like, really, really badly. There’s no like fairy tale story there. 

Chris Simmance 

Well, think Speaking of, should we talk about a bit of the agency story, Gareth, you you’ve been running a seeker for quite a while and I know that you had incredible growth you’ve you grew, I I can’t remember what the publication was, but you mentioned it on stage. The SEO exclusive up in Manchester we’ve done that was put on by SEO for hire the other week and I thought I I was watching. I was growing my agency at the same time as you were growing yours and I said to you the other week I was watching things like this, guys growing out stratospherically and but that’s not just the story, is it? Like there’s there’s more. To it than just. It I see the numbers at the end of the day. 

Gareth Simpson 

Exactly. Yeah. So yes, certainly, sometimes you can go too fast. Growth can happen too quickly and you can you can get a little bit ahead of yourself. The organisation not ready for the scale. You’ve got you’ve got capital, you’ve got revenue coming in and. You’ve it, but money doesn’t fix all of you know all of the problems that. Will crop up for sure. There’s there’s growth that needs to happen elsewhere outside of the revenue, culturally, emotionally, your experience, you know, for myself as a leader and then also for. For my team. Leads and and everybody in the business. So yeah, I think. We we placed on the Deloitte UK Fast 5020 fifth and 25th fastest growing tech company in the UK and and that’s based on top line revenue and yeah it was going it was going up until that point to be honest it was all going according to plan. It was going going great. I think I was so with our. First four years. I think so from. Year 1 to year four. That’s the time period that they measure and. Yeah, things have gone really well. I think we had a really great product, really great service. We got fantastic results despite not being particularly good at sales and marketing. So you can never have. In terms of. Yeah, that certainly doesn’t match what I feel like we do for our clients and but we we have. So we’re more harvesters. Than hunters, for sure and. We have brands that are growing with us from small retainers up to like very, very like significantly higher than the industry average retainers. We have like 5-5 six of these and they kept growing. And yeah, it was. So somebody told me you should apply. You know, you should put this in for the Deloitte thing because this is pretty pretty fast growth and and then, yeah, the pandemic here. So and at the same time, I’ve just, I’ve just taken over my my former business. Partners responsibility Auto share bought her shares back and took on with, you know, not really much of an earn out. So I’ve taken on the responsibility of her role. As well. So you know, you hear often. In in a business, you. Need your visionary and your integrator or your implementer. And that’s quite. It I hear that that quite often I think. I guess I probably identify with the the visionary role and I need, you know, similar complementary skill sets around me to really thrive and and reach my potential. And yeah, so. Handling that coming to terms with being the the sole leader shareholder and the founder of the business going into into lockdown and. Really not, not really fully prepared for that. I mean, I guess none of us were. And so I, I do have some sympathy for myself, but yeah, that was that was an example of not not being prepared for for the worst scenario. 

Chris Simmance 

And and Ross, you’ve you’ve been, you’ve been on this train for for a while as well now and you, you you started in container ships no containers from container ships, sorry talk talk a little bit about about your story and you know leadership lessons as you. 

Ross Tavendale 

Yeah. Well, when I first moved from Edinburgh to London, we could get office space for 20 people for £800. It just happened to be in container ships in the container, units in the Elephant and Castle. At the time we had like airlines as clients. And remember, they came over to see us and the shipping containers are like, oh, so you’re not spending the money in an office. And I’m like ********. No, no. Yeah, the, the, the kind of whole process for for me coming out of the pandemic, I’m really annoyed at myself. I wish I could redo that because I. It’s interesting, like not having a mentor or some sort. Of coach and. That’s not like a plug or anything like that. But not having someone there to talk to, I know. But you know, having someone there is a real problem because I was listening to all the doom and gloom. 

Speaker 

You should have one. That was. 

Ross Tavendale 

I had no one to talk to about it. I was literally just on my own and locked in a one bedroom. Flat. Unable to, you know, contact people. Yeah. And I went into this kind of, well, the world’s over mentality. And I started doing, like, ******** defence siege tactics, which was the totally wrong. Thing to do, because six months later, I think most of our industry had like, the biggest boom they’ve ever had in the history of the Internet. Like just because it was all digital services. So if I could go back, I would tell myself to just not listen to anything around me, which makes you a little brazen. But now when I hear all the economy, this, the economy that. I’m like **** the economy like I’m just. Keep cracking on because I’m a small business. Like what? You gonna what you’re going to do if the pound dives? If inflation does this, like, what are you going to do? What choice do you have? So now my mentality is very different. 

Chris Simmance 

Yeah, I I I. Just to touch on the UM, the. Bit where you. But you know, you didn’t have anyone to talk to and stuff. And I I think there’s. A. There’s a a distinction. Here to be made around, you know. Speaking to someone professionally from a therapist. Point of view. Because they have a very good place in this world because an awful lot of people need someone to talk to in a in a structured way from a business point of view, they don’t often know very much about the mechanics of business. And so mentorship support, that sort of stuff, if you can find someone who’s been there and done that, or if you can find someone that that you can have a rapport with, that you can have as a bit of a a friendly face to have a chat to it. It does help because it is lonely, especially when you’re when you’re a soul director as well. Whether the times are good or the times are bad, it’s nice to share a sip of champagne with someone and and share that punch in the face. If you have to. 

Ross Tavendale 

It it is, and actually one of the things that I’ll say is the one saving grace of the pandemic because it was all digital was that after an interaction with someone, you could completely like. It was like once, once you, once we hang this up, you’re not in my room, right? So when you’re going through that stuff and you’re speaking to a team or you’re speaking to clients, you can present with, like, gregariousness. And energy and for an hour you can keep up for an hour and then the moment you hit the button you’re just like. 

Chris Simmance 

This is a. 

Ross Tavendale 

So that was the one saving grace. 

Chris Simmance 

This is a good time to to bring up Sophie Brennan’s question, actually, because like when I when when we had good times in in the agency, it felt really easy to to celebrate when there were bad times. It felt a. Little bit harder to to, to to talk through. How how do you guys how have you guys managed that sort of transparency but the balance? Of kind of fear. That you would have if you had to speak to staff Gareth. What? What your. Thoughts on there? 

Gareth Simpson 

I think it’s a really good question because I think. Your your team want that transparency because if they’re aware and you’re honest about the situation, and I think it’s can certainly help with the anxiety about what’s happening in the economy. So during the pandemic when when we we had to unfortunately make some some layoffs. We started to put, we put the whole P&L up on the town. Hall the monthly. Town Hall and said here’s the P&L this. Is this is this is how we’re doing and I. Was advised against that people. They told me, you know, they, they they won’t understand the the mechanics. They understand the numbers. You’re going to scare them. And I’m like, well, what? What have they got to lose? What they got to hide? It’s it is what it is and it’s either going to, they’re either going to leave and and which, in which case that’s, you know, fully support that because. And you need people there who are sort of committed or or they’re going to be up for the fight. And it certainly did. It does. It does divide the team that way and we started doing that in the pandemic and then we’ve been doing it ever since actually. And last year was seekers, despite being a third of the what in terms of headcount, the workforce and our our bottom line, net profit is is our was our most profitable. Yeah, in the history of the seven years that site has been running so, so while we have this, you know, fancy Deloitte award and you know that’s based on top line and thing when you’re in that growth mode, you know the margins do suffer. But I came out of that having really learned, learned some valuable lessons and. We were able to yeah able to optimise the business last year and yeah, like I said it was our best year ever and we’ve continued to put those figures on the screen. So they know. How much profit is being made in? The business and. 

Speaker 

I like to. 

Gareth Simpson 

Be I like to be transparent there because. 

Chris Simmance 

Yes, I mean that’s very transparent and. 

Gareth Simpson 

Yes, yes, yeah. 

Chris Simmance 

Which is which has its benefits as you sort of said it. Also has you. Know relatively heavy risks to a certain degree. And Ross, what? What’s your? What’s your take on this? But you know the good times and. The bad times and balancing that. 

Ross Tavendale 

I’ve changed it over time, so I mean at the start I used to give them very vague numbers as like this month we made between 1:00 and £100 million. Somewhere in the middle. Like I just was very **** with. Them the pandemic, I told them at what our losses were but not the P&L or. No absolute numbers, so I didn’t say we lost half £1,000,000 in revenue in the space of 30 days. Didn’t say that because I thought that was a bit hard to swallow because we’re a small business. But for the so interestingly same as Gareth over the last quarter, not the last year, we’ve made some big structural changes and it’s been our highest revenue and net profit that we’ve ever had in the history of the business as well. And I think we probably had to go through that because we done the same thing we were doubling year over year right up into the pandemic and then we just. Got completely knocked out so same same for us. And when we had to make our round of redundancies in Q4 last year, which is still very fresh we we actually put the hard numbers out and showed everyone and every month anyway we show everyone like what our profit is. We even have a little running joke. And I say, and this is our EBIT DA, who knows what that means. And we say it every. Go month and they still have the time. Forget what what it means. But it’s like a nice way to get. 

Chris Simmance 

Karen, it’s all played out now. 

Ross Tavendale 

Why it’s important, yeah. 

Chris Simmance 

And so I think the balance needs to be and it depends answer I guess from Sophie’s question because you you know your team’s best. So Gareth, you know you it technically is a, a, a risk doing what you did, but it’s. Also you it’s a balanced risk against the people you knew. That we’re gonna see it. And similarly like, you know, Ross, you’re you’re talking about. You know, being a little bit more clear, but you know, not hard numbers and stuff like that to a certain degree, but you’re you, you are giving updates and again that’s in balance to what the team will appreciate and what they’re recognised. And I’m not saying people are stupid because they’re not, but if you give them something which isn’t connected enough to their. Job role then potentially it can be scary because. Not just because they don’t understand that they could Google it and learn it, but it’s a case of. Any additional kind of parameters that are outside of their normal wheelhouse wheelhouse potentially, you know a little. Bit fearful, but we’ve we’ve. Grown our agencies, we’ve lost stuff in agencies. We’ve had a pandemic, we’ve changed. We’ve learned. We’ve grown. What lessons have we learned guys for the next? Crisis from a leadership perspective, what what we what we’re thinking. You know how has have have these lessons been lessons or are they all like you haven’t had a chance for the introspection that’s gonna. Allow for the. The emergence of out of survival leadership. 

Ross Tavendale 

For me, it’s really just levers. So like building a content. So The funny thing is like agencies or sales businesses, regardless of how you cut it. And then the back end, there’s the problem with that is there’s huge operational drags. So if you sell lots and lots of stuff, you need to hire lots and lots of people, train them up and there’s like a three month period before they’re any good to. To anyone inside of your world. Right. So you’re always playing this kind of operational thing versus the a front end thing? But for next time for me it’s a A content machine, so that cause the the way in which in 2019 I was all over the Internet. We’ve done incredibly well through partnerships, through content production. We had dedicated video studio, we’re pumping out crazy, crazy. Amounts and it done so well. But it was ephemeral, so news based, so like after a week it just was like proof into that. So all that work we’ve done for two years previous was actually technically useless, so building out a content machine that actually if we stop, it’ll still keep going. Overtime and building out to paid, owned and earned, that’s just the classic thing, right? So paid channels, owned channels and channels. That’s the big thing for us. And also just knowing your numbers, so we never used to forecast because we only like we typically only run 15 clients at. At a time they’re high value, but you just don’t need, you know, reams and reams of forecast data and you know, profit lines per client. And you don’t need it. But now having it. You can really start to see some things way ahead of time and it’s made me think that all this business is such a roller coaster to now. Oh, I can see there’s a dip here in September because that’s when this client’s contract end. So I need to do it XYZ or lead amount. Is it like you can just start doing a lot of really smart looking into the future, so. You still get the hits, but they’re not surprises and you’ve planned for it, which is much easier to take. 

Chris Simmance 

Yeah, and and and that’s a good lesson from like Bob, the hits, but you know you look at the roller coaster going up and down like this at the time because you’re zoomed in, you zoom out because you have forecasting, you have a strategy like how many agencies say that they’ve got one. Get a strategy, guys. If you’re watching this and you’re running an agency and you don’t have a strategy, find it. Find someone to get a strategy with you because you can zoom out and you realise that that actually looks really tiny and you can take the knocks because you know where you’re going. You know the future. You know the direction you’re travelling in, you understand that. These little things are just minor course corrections to a certain degree, obviously, but it makes your level of leadership at zoomed out approach as well. You can you can take that mini emotional hit out of the equation when you’re talking and dealing with your team. You can treat. People a little bit nicer or you can take a moment to listen to them because you know that right now today this thing hurts, but probably in a week we’ll be quite happy again. For whatever reason. Gareth. What? 

Gareth Simpson 

What? What? 

Ross Tavendale 

Just to add to that, before you go on to Gareth, Chris, a little hack that I have is it’s my start page on my browser. So when I open my browser up, the first thing I see every single day is the forecast. Now I know it most days because I’m not a psycho, but it’s a reminder that’s important. You know. 

Chris Simmance 

I think if you have to. Say you’re not a psycho. Maybe to move on. 

Ross Tavendale 

Right. I’m not racist, but like you’re like, really tell me more. Yeah, I know. 

Chris Simmance 

Gareth. What? What kind of lessons have you taken away from the the, the, the, the bad times, should we say when you were having troubles and leadership to for the next round? Because it will happen eventually. That’s just nature. In this game. 

Gareth Simpson 

Yeah, it’s it’s nice for the game. It’s an occupational hazard, unfortunately, so. You need to look after. Yourself, your own lost, touched on it earlier on, but working out, eating well and your own. Your own mental health. Because if you, if you don’t, if you don’t look after that, then you can’t you. Can’t care for others. And we’ve, I’ve certainly been subject to that. I I would say in the past. And I should have done to prioritise my. Own my own, my own health. So that so that I can keep keep functioning, keep performing and amidst and the the fog of war and. The crisis and so. On so, yeah. Without that, you can’t really do. You can’t. Can’t really do much. Else and. Be prepared. Which goes back to really the. The theme of, you know, the introduction and. What? What? What you’re saying about having having your forecast checking your forecast? Flying by the numbers and and watch, watching your watching your bottom line, because even still people you know, we were at this great event last week and and people other agencies come over when they ask one of the one of the first questions when they’re they’re trying to learn more about you and your your business is and how many are you. And it’s like well, headcount or pounds or? 

Chris Simmance 

So, Mr Ning. 

Speaker 

You know top. 

Gareth Simpson 

Line, yeah. Or culturally or you know. So all there’s they’re. Focusing on headcount, it’s not, it’s not really a measure of success. I am so much more happier. A with an agency that’s a third of the size of it once was. We are so much more profitable than when when we were up to sort of 50 people. And I’m so much happier as a person. I’ve got a much better work life balance, and so my team as well and so yeah, so so fly. Get those numbers and look after yourself and. And you’re. More prepared. 

Speaker 

I think a. 

Chris Simmance 

Big part of that is take what you see externally as a with a pinch of salt to a degree, and that how, how, how many are you kind of question also translates to seeing people shout about the wins online. You see people’s holiday pictures online. You go, oh, I really wish I was having a holiday. But that’s their one. Week that they’re showing the picture so. Seeing everyone else’s holiday and you’re thinking that you’re having a terrible time. Yeah, the the the numbers bit and some something, something that kind of irks me a little bit. I speak to a lot. Of agencies and they’re I get it. Numbers are important because they’re they’re important. But what are you doing it for? Why are you running an agency is the is the primary thing? If you’re running it for money, then run it as a good business. If you’re running it for money, treat it like it deserves. If you’re not running it for money and money is part of that purpose because you just want to create good things and you really like stuff. Whatever. I don’t know what that might well be. Then money has to be involved and you know your numbers. But when someone says how is the agency going? You’ve got a yardstick for that, because it’s got to connect to whatever reason you do this for and like success, then is is bound to the thing that you want to do, not anything else. You could run an insanely profitable three person. Agency and only really be doing it because the purpose in life is to travel the world and be able to take your laptop and still service good clients. That’s what you wanna do. That’s your. That’s your sense. Ignore the the numbers you see. As long as the bottom line pays the bills and you can pay your liabilities. 

Speaker 

And if you look. 

Chris Simmance 

At it. That way problems aren’t the same. 

Speaker 

Yeah, that that’s true. 

Ross Tavendale 

But like just just to like spar with you a little bit on that. It it is and it isn’t right because The funny thing is, if someone starts a business, there’s always this little like Angel and devil on your shoulder. And it’s like, yeah, but you could do more. You could make more. And you’re not really sure why, but it’s just. Like if you’re a Taipei person, it’s like the mountains there. Let’s climb it. Why? Just because. It’s there. Let’s go. Like there’s I think there’s a lot with business owners like, that’s a thing that they want. So the idea of like being content just does not jive with me at all. Now maybe this is something that I need to pay for like 100 pounds or to. Therapist to work out. Right. I think a lot of people like that like this, this striving, the struggle is actually something that is the selling point to doing stuff almost and now we’ll all complain about it and see how hard. It is, but the idea of being like contented like that with your little 3. Person thing is a very idealised view because when you’re 3 people or 10 people, wherever you are, you feel everything. So if you if a client goes or like a a leader in your team goes. Really noticed that if you’re 50 people, you don’t. You guys, maybe you can talk about that a little more. So like you feel the waves less than a big boat and so that for me is something that I’m personally striving for just to grow a big boat, albeit slowly. And and I I don’t like the idea of. Having a small. Company because I just think it makes us very vulnerable. 

Chris Simmance 

I I agree, I agree, I think. Not to disparage agency owners because I don’t think that’s the right thing to to to do, and most agency owners are agency owners because they’re really good at a thing that they deliver and they learn to be a business owner eventually. At a certain point, whether it’s. With problems or not? And the ideology aspect should probably remain, but you should then go. OK, well, I wanna have. I wanna travel the world and run the agency at the same time. I need this many monies in order to do that and not feel unhappy or feel the pain of something. Lost you can. Still run your three person agency, but you don’t. Have the other things to. With. But if you start the agency based on, I’m really good at delivering this service. Give me all the money. Give me all the money. Then eventually you end up with an agency. With people problems you end. Up with an agency, then. Sorry, that has lots of. Client turnover and yeah, you’ve got a big boat, but you’re in a typhoon. And so yeah, it doesn’t really matter. It’s still a problem. I think the lessons that you can learn from the bad times will help you go. I need to run this like a business. I need to. Know the numbers I need to. Or where I’m going, I need to see the distance and those are the changes that will make you like a better leader and a better listener. 

Ross Tavendale 

Yeah, agreed. And I I deliberately used boat and not submarine. Touchy. 

Chris Simmance 

Yeah, currently maybe not. And so. You you’ve come out of the growth mode, you come out of the hard times, whatever that might, might might well be. You might have done, you know, high. Growth time into a bad era or whatever, but now you’re in this kind of where where we want to be, we need to kind of maintain the. Status quo to a degree. Obviously, you’re not saying state exactly. Saying you just don’t want to change a huge amount. This is the time when you can be that kind of more visionary leader. That’s the time when you can be a little more transformational. You can be a bit more democratic and things like that. So how do you have? How do you, how have you? Identify when the right time is to go. From my stupid punny survival to survive survival. But you know Gareth, when? When you’ve come out of those times when? How? How have you sort of? Shifted gears. Have you done it? Intentionally. Has it been a natural state? 

Speaker 

I have. 

Gareth Simpson 

Well, first I went back into the trenches and back on client strategy. I first identified what? What needed to be fixed and to to get out of that core functional. Operation operating state that we are in and then Ross talked. Earlier on about. Getting your head down for I forgot how. You described it. But ducking down for six months focus. That’s basically what. I did and actually switched off social media, switched off the media, the news as well because I was very susceptible. To to all of that and the the doomsday, you know, with the the pandemic and things and and then now saying I don’t, I don’t really watch. Don’t listen to what’s going on in the. In the news now, it doesn’t really influence. My business decisions. It’s it’s the forecast and it’s the pipeline and it’s getting my clients results now. So so I did. That and then I came. Up, I guess I came up for air after a while when I was like, right, we’re we’re back in back in the green now and we’re taking over now. What’s the next stage? And I always think back to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Which obviously for for individual needs and at the bottom you’ve got your physiological needs, food, shelter, water, etcetera. Safety. That’s very much that once you’ve once you’ve achieved that, then you can move up to the next layer. Which is I. Forgot what it is actually. Is it growth? Or self actualization or something like that, but anyway. 

Ross Tavendale 

I was gonna say are you are you about to tell? Us yourself, actualised. 

Gareth Simpson 

No, absolutely not. Well, see. We’re not. 

Chris Simmance 

Just me. It’s fine, no? 

Speaker 

No, just me. 

Gareth Simpson 

Yeah. So, so then that gave me the opportunity to then think about, OK, we’ve got, you know we hired. And send a new team, train them up again and got them working. 

Speaker 

Really, really well and. 

Gareth Simpson 

They’re strong culture. Which aligns with the the values that I always. You know, originally sort of set. And then and and then. I got to think then I had the first opportunity. Really. Yeah. Maybe I am this. Is what I’m. Going to say what? What’s in it? What? What’s in it for me now? Now the. Team Mercedes, we’ve got. You know, we’re not a financial risk. We’ve mitigated the threats as best as we possibly can and that’s when back in January. I I thought, well, I’ve always wanted to. Go travelling. Not forever. I don’t wanna live in. Mainland all of my life. So yeah, I moved out of my place in January, and I’ve been. I’ve been on the move on the move since travelling around mostly around Europe for now. Spent most of my most of my year in Spain and going to the events. And getting back out there. The events, by the way, is. I would say absolutely. Crucial for me similar similar I. Think what was Ross? Ross was. Saying earlier on I didn’t, I didn’t. Really ask for help from anyone. I was living on my own during lockdown. I had. I was allowed out for an hour a day of going through a really tough redundancy process. I didn’t want to bother anyone, and that was. That that, that was the wrong decision. Actually it was it took. Her like whole year or so. To actually come out. And I published a post on LinkedIn and told them what lockdown was was like, and what those times were like for. Me and the I had a. Hundreds of lights on the post and you know, thousands, Tens, 10s of thousands of impressions on it and so many people, you know, offering their support and DM me as like Gareth had no idea if you’d if you told me I would have been straight there and and then getting back out. To the events I. Realised actually, yeah. People, people, people have. People have got time for me and. Yeah, like we mentioned earlier on, Chris, about social media, everyone’s doing fantastic, but when you go. To these events. And you, you sit down and have a have a beer with people and you start to have a one one to one conversation with your. Other fellow agencies and people saying, yeah, things are hard. Times are tough. I’ve just made some layoffs, so I’ve just lost a huge client and that’s that’s really validating and you can offer your your support. There was certainly lots of last last week me offering support to others and they were they. I also got a tonne of support in the areas that I felt I needed it. 

Speaker 

You know. 

Gareth Simpson 

I’ve completely forgotten what the point. Of the question was, but hopefully. This is helpful insight. 

Chris Simmance 

Gears and I think a big part of being able to do that is to kind of go. His I I know where I was. I’m not there now if that makes any sense at all. What about you? Is there, like, a clear switch? Is there something that happens or is it ebbs into? 

Ross Tavendale 

You know, I I haven’t. Actually went back into survival mode from Survival mode, yet my I’m a shadow my former self from 2019 still. But one of the things that has kind of tipped me back into the world a bit more and start to do more marketing, be a public face, start caring. There is community and people. So it was a real. Horrific thing to be locked up way like Gareth says, for like with only an hour out. Not connect to people. So for me, now the thriving comes from being part of the community, meeting people, talking about new like tips and tricks, and how the businesses are going and stuff like that. There’s actually new year, I think two years ago or three years ago. Where I decided to set and just not go out because I just like. I don’t want to be around people. And I heard fireworks go. I was invited to things, but I was seeing fireworks going off and stuff like that. And I wrote down, I have maybe 50 more of these to see in my lifetime. I have maybe 50 more summers to enjoy and and that really was a bit of a reframe for me. It’s like the. Thriving was a reframe to, well, what does that? Driving actually mean for you, because I’m not. You would never change anything in the company. You’re always. You’ve always got the armour on because you need it, cause you’re always gonna get the another punch in the face. Coming up any moment. I’m sure so you build things in for security, so you’re always in this kind of like ready state, just in case something’s going to kick off at any moment. But between things kicking off, making more of it and being around more people, being more in the community, I think is such a for me enemy such a huge thing. I get a massive kick out of. Meeting people and, you know, shooting the ship. 

Chris Simmance 

So last few minutes, one tip each. Gareth, any tips, advice to your fellow leader friends around you know that that times of survival leadership because there’s a lot going on right now. And I suspect that people listening to this and thinking they recognise some of the things that we’ve all talked about. Yeah. So. Any tip from you? 

Gareth Simpson 

Yeah, Community as well as well. So no, no, like get involved with the community. And if you’re running an agency, don’t don’t always see other agencies as competitors and don’t don’t play, you know, play play the game but play it cleanly and fairly. You know, there’s lots of underhand tactics going on there. 

Speaker 

It’s it. 

Gareth Simpson 

And unfortunately I you know, I I believe. In karma and. There’s poaching and I intellectual property being, you know, stolen and replicated and things that stuff, and the word gets around that and that you’re burning bridges. So yeah, play the game fairly and actually other other agencies are super, super nice and helpful and want you want you to. To want you to succeed as well, you know. 

Chris Simmance 

Yeah, absolutely. I I think you’re. You’re right. Sometimes you’re pitched against some other agencies because obviously and but that doesn’t mean you’re aggressive competitors and there are some underhand things that go on, but the vast majority of people who run agencies are just good human beings and they just want to get by and they want to have a nice life as well. And people actually want to help. So reach out to people. Cause sometimes leadership’s hard most of the time, or ask what’s your. What’s your tip? 

Ross Tavendale 

Means it’s boring. Sorry, it’s said. Do not look at absolute numbers. Look at ratios. So you’ll have a burn rate in your company and you’ll have it. So you’re a top line and you’ll have a bottom line and a ratio between them. One of the real moments where I realised that I was a ******* was I was really concerned with net profit and getting our OpEx. Which is not what to focus on. It’s getting your gross profit right because the OpEx is such a small thing. So that was a big like light bulb moment that I should have known from day one. But I didn’t and also burn rate. So that’s personal burn rate and business burn rate. If your lifestyle is not expensive. And you can take pleasure in things that are not expensive. Then you’re you’re much more likely to be resilient and able to take. Risks turning the pandemic I moved in a three bedroom Riverside flat in in east London. That was a mistake. The burn rate on that was 3 grand a month just to, and that wasn’t before the lights went on. That was stupid. You could live your entire existence for that in a month, and that’s what you should do unless you get into these. You know, unless you’re selling your big baller. But just watch your lifestyle. Inflation in your lifestyle creep and watch your ratios as my. Back tap. 

Chris Simmance 

That’s awesome. I think the only tip I’ve got is ask people for help if you need it. There is no such thing as a perfect leader, however, coming up very soon. A nice plug for control alt lead. 

Ross Tavendale 

The digital agency leadership. 

Chris Simmance 

Book it’s not a guide. It is not a how to. There you go. You got a copy? Look already. 

Speaker 

I feel left out now. Where’s? I’ve got no, I’ve not got. An address for you. 

Gareth Simpson 

OK, well that, yeah. That I have a I have a virtual mailbox thing so I can go and. Collect it from there and it’s. 

Speaker 

All right. 

Chris Simmance 

It’s it’s not a guide, it’s not like one of those books where it’s it’s kind of half teaching you something. It’s a book. Where you’re having some trouble at a certain point, you can open the page around that thing. Read a little bit and it helps kind of frame some other stuff. That’s that’s one there adapting to change. That’s a good chapter. Thanks very much guys. Really great having a chat and having some nice open conversation. Hopefully this starts a good bit of conversation in the OG community as well, so thanks very much for your time and thanks everyone. For listening to us. 

Ross Tavendale 

Thank you very much, Chris. And just as a parting word, if anyone wants to talk or they ever go through any of the things? That Gareth and I have been through, I’m sure I’m probably speaking for Gareth here as well. Please do reach out. Happy to talk. I’m very transparent. I’ll show you numbers. We’ll go through it and even. It’s just a little more. Happy to do that too. 

Gareth Simpson 

Likewise same here. 

Chris Simmance 

Thank you guys and speak to you. All soon. Thank you. 

Gareth Simpson 

Thank you very much. Thanks Chris.