I’ve never been one for trophies or accolades. (Maybe because I sucked at sports except for a brief two years of second base awesomeness.) But I am exceptionally proud that Inc. 5000 recently named Look Left one of its fastest-growing companies, both regionally and nationally. Inc. also recognizes us as a “Best Workplace.” It reflects the amazing work of our smarty-pants team (who teach me something new every day) and our forward-thinking infrastructure technology clients who power and protect every corner of our digital lives.
Let’s be clear: We’re in a boom technology market. Lots of capital. Lots of demand. And everything is super-size me, turn it up to 11, and fields of unicorns and dragons. There’s plenty of wind for our sails. But as my brother and cousins will tell you from our somewhat feral boyhood years, it’s easy to flip a sailboat. (Fun at 10. Not fun at 52.)
Look Left’s revenue has grown by double digits every year since we started. Twenty-five percent (25%) of our clients are in year four of working with us. Our business success has been a steady climb in a market defined by rapid rockets and quick falls. We haven’t flipped the boat, and never had to bail water, and we’re part of the 50% of businesses that make it to year five.
Moments like this are great times to reflect on not just what we’ve achieved, but why. Maybe it will help others. If nothing else, it’s cathartic for me to reflect on five years of working with some of the best humans on the blue marble. And that maybe this isn’t just a hefty dose of Irish luck. Anyway, here are a handful of valuable takeaways since Look Left’s inception.
Define Good Growth
For the vast majority of my career, growth was the benchmark. A drug. A barometer to determine how we ranked against others in various trade publications. I wanted to know who was growing faster than us and whom we were beating. And why. And that competitive growth yardstick still rears its ugly head. It’s base behavior and a bad habit that returns. I catch myself asking my colleagues at other agencies for their revenues.
But I stopped making revenue the number one, two, three, and four priorities—followed by profit at numbers five, six, seven, and eight. Revenue is critical. Growth is important. But the growth-to-success ratio is determined entirely by you. We’re a focused, niche agency that excels in a few things in demand. Our growth is faster than some and slower than others. And it continues, not just because of market demand, but because we fuel and embrace it in particular ways. We’re growing at a pace that’s great for us.
Growth by Adjacent Opportunity
Only a fool eats everything at a buffet. We made that mistake in our first year by taking on clients and delivering services that weren’t in our wheelhouse. It was painful. Clearly, we needed to focus on what we did best, then find organic opportunities to expand offerings.
We were a cybersecurity public relations firm for our first two years. Then we moved, adjacently, into the areas of infrastructure with security-specific needs or where we had previous experience at former agencies and companies: networking, data, DevOps, open source, monitoring, and health tech.
It was the same for our integrated services. We started by focusing solely on public relations and writing, then content strategy and execution, then digital search and amplification. One step at a time. We honed our skills in these services for 18 months, partnered with clients on the experiments, and then featured them as official client offerings. And in every new pitch, we drew clear lines of where we begin and end.
Rewards Based on Client Satisfaction
I work with some of the smartest, hardest-working people on the planet. And our bonus pool is based on one thing: happy clients. A percentage of revenue from clients goes right back to employees twice a year. We also reward folks who deliver business or successfully add new services to existing partnerships. If our clients are happy, you make more money. If clients aren’t satisfied, something has to change.
Build Strong Peer Networks and Advisors
You have to get out of your bubble and exchange ideas with those inside and outside your organization. I am very fortunate to have a dream group of peers and counselors. Some of whom I just met on the internet and others I’ve worked with for 15 years. I’ve always found a benefit in honesty, even when it’s the brutal kind, whether from someone who works for me, a fellow agency principal, or a consultant.
It’s also beneficial to have competitors and adjacent agencies in your network. We ask quick questions, discuss difficult things, and send business to each other. And all of it is a thousand times more valuable, fun, and rewarding than a Google search.
Start at a Goal
We’re expert storytellers, and part of that is finding an exciting storyline when one isn’t smacking you—or your client—right in the face. Our mantra is “Don’t start at no. Start at the goal.” What does that mean? A client has an idea that doesn’t appear to have legs or align with the overall mission. Instead of just moving on, we take a moment to determine if there’s anything in the idea that we could build on separately. Why do we want to do this? What’s the business goal? And then we think up several ways to get there.
Clients have fantastic ideas and often raise questions that get us scratching our heads and coming up with new approaches and improvements. We learn a lot from our clients, and they uncover many opportunities we may have otherwise missed.
A supportive workplace pushes you to learn, lifts you out of stumbles, and provides interesting paths for personal and professional growth. But more importantly, it’s transparent and honest. Whether made up of new hires or veterans, our Look Left team is comfortable asking for help or speaking up when they don’t understand something. We get that “not knowing” is an inherent part of the learning process. And we’re just as comfortable asking, “Do you need help?”
So much learning happens in our industry on the job. So if you can’t grab quick help, or worse, you’re afraid to ask, it’s simply not going to work. We don’t always have the answers and even tell clients, “We don’t know, but we will figure it out.” After all, isn’t “figuring it out” the fun part?
The Next Best Decision
I saw Dewitt Jones speak a few years back. I pretend to be a photographer sometimes, so I pay attention when a hotshot National Geographic photographer speaks. He said, “There’s more than one right answer.” For years, I’ve challenged myself to +1 operations and decision-making. How can we be +1 better with our next decision? How can we do something different, even experimental, to be an even better version of ourselves? Not every push for improvement will succeed, but growth will follow over time if you continuously challenge yourself to be better. And focusing on a +1 improvement, really nailing it, adds up—especially if everyone in the agency adds a +1 each year.
We’re Not a Vendor
Not all our engagements have been stellar. But with a quarter of our clients entering their fourth year with us (2–3 times the typical engagement length for technology marketing), we believe we’re doing something right. We are not a vendor. We are a partner. We demand a seat at the table. We want in. We want access to senior management. We are not a transaction.
As a partner, we’ll go to the mat for you. We’ll drop what we’re doing immediately in your stomp-the-gas moment. We’ll ask the difficult questions. We’ll think about you during drives and while sitting in school pickup lines. And we'll ask for your help in growing our business, giving us room to try new things, and introducing us to entrepreneurs who need our help.
From time to time, employees have called us family. I love that. And families aren’t perfect. We have flaws. We have quirks. But we may be perfect for you. Your next job. Your next agency. And if not, we’re happy to help you find a place that is.
Interested in being part of the Look Left team? Here’s more on what we’re looking for.