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It’s mind-blowing for me to say this phrase out loud: I just passed my one year mark as Director of Growth at TEN7. (Or… my TEN7versary, as we call it!) How is that even possible!?

Our CEO, Ivan, recently said to me, “It simultaneously feels like you’ve been here forever, but also that you just started.” I feel the exact same way. At my one-year mark I’m in that sweet spot. I’m comfortably part of the team, but also new enough that I spent the better part of this past year in learning mode – an immense gift, and something I won’t have the opportunity to do again anytime soon.

As I set my sights on year two, I wanted to pause, reflect, and gather some of the lessons I’ve taken away from year number one:

#1 Put people at the forefront of decision-making.

When you’re operating a professional services company, growing the business means adding more people to your team. In a perfect world, you have systems in place to seamlessly bring in new talent to handle the workload. But in reality it doesn’t work this way. Here’s how it tends to work:

  • Pain point #1: You win more business and suddenly need to add people to take on that work.
  • Pain point #2: You hire new talent as quickly as possible, but don’t have processes in place to manage them effectively.
  • Pain point #3: You create these new processes on the fly and end up impacting both work and people in ways you can’t anticipate.

The result? Despite your best efforts, you spend a lot of time in problem-solving mode.

One way I’ve found to alleviate these pain points is to put people at the forefront of your solutions. This seems obvious, but in my experience it’s actually a bit more nuanced. What it really means is that if your current rate of growth is causing an undue burden on your team, you should probably pause, rethink your growth goals and iron out your internal processes before pressing forward. It usually goes much smoother when you take the time to ask for feedback from your team and then start again with a more sustainable approach.

Yes, growth is hard, but it doesn’t have to hurt. Putting people first ensures a sustainable rate of growth and a much happier team.

#2 Throw things and see what sticks.

Make mistakes! Try new things! Fail a little bit!

As a recovering perfectionist, the word “failure” has always been hard for me to accept. But it’s a crucial part of any growth process and I’m starting to think there’s no way around it!

Over the past year:

  • I spent time on social media ideas that failed to take off.
  • I tweaked our proposals in ways that didn’t resonate.
  • I suggested new service offerings that weren’t useful.

And on and on.

But out of each failure – you guessed it! – came valuable learning. Through these lessons we were able to develop better ideas that actually did resonate.

#3 Get clear(er) on positioning.

This has been said before, but it’s worth repeating again: knowing who you are as a company makes it a thousand times easier to sell your product.

Working at a growing company can sometimes feel like you're going through adolescence again. It’s often hard to pinpoint exactly who you are at each stage of growth, and who you want to become. Like any teenager, we’re still finding our way, so to speak. We design and build custom websites, but what about all the maintenance work we do? The security and accessibility audits? The tech stack recommendations? The key is finding the balance between clearly defining your position and remaining flexible enough for an opportunistic turn.

At the outset of the year, we refined our company tagline to: “We are a technology studio whose mission is to Make Things That Matter.” What is a “technology studio,” you may ask? It’s equal parts creative and technical, modern and nimble, tech-centric yet web-focused. In fact, we have an upcoming blog post planned around this exact topic!

Getting clearer on our positioning has been instrumental in helping us pinpoint where we can provide the most value for our clients and our community at-large. This is the roadmap that helps us Make Things That Matter.

#4 Define your priorities and stick to them.

As the Director of Growth for a small company, I wear many hats, but there aren’t enough hours in the day to wear them all. Some hats are crucial for warmth, while others are just for show. Some hats are really expensive. (I can keep going with this hat metaphor… I really like hats.) The point is, you need to prioritize so you’re wearing the right hat when you need it.

There are a million ways to prioritize — personally, I’m a fan of the Eisenhower Matrix — but the central idea of any good system is identifying importance and urgency. I went down more than a few rabbit holes this year, some fruitful, some not. Defining priorities and sticking to them, by and large*, would have kept me from uselessly veering off track.

(*By and large included because I firmly believe excellent things can come out of seemingly useless rabbit holes. But indulging in this habit needs to be kept under control.)

#5 Know when to let it go!

Oh, hello B2B (business-to-business) sales!

Working primarily in B2C (business-to-consumer) before starting at TEN7, I knew I’d have a tall task ahead of me — but I didn’t know exactly what to expect. B2C had taught me critical sales skills that would seamlessly transfer into B2B, right? Yes and no.

One critical difference that seems obvious in retrospect is that each lead, each account, each potential deal is simply bigger. Because the deals are bigger, they take more time and they require more communication. Introductory meetings, Q&A sessions, proposals, interviews, oh my! There’s a higher degree of complexity involved that results in a longer sales cycle. More resources are needed.

So what did all of this teach me? It taught me that letting go isn’t such a bad thing. You can’t win them all. You have to trust your intuition and direct your resources wisely. That dusty deal that never felt like the right fit for that client, despite a deep-seated desire to work with them? Let it go.

There’s always next year. ☺️