10 things I know now that I wish I’d known then

With Magenta celebrating its tenth year in business in 2021, it’s given me the opportunity to reflect on the past decade. In my last blog, I talked about the 10 people who’ve had the most impact on the business over the past ten years. This time I’m focusing on the 10 things that I know now about starting a business which I wish I’d known then.

Don’t be a control freak – delegate more

We have a brilliant team now at Magenta but in the early years we weren’t always able to attract experienced people. I found myself let down a few times which meant I became something of a control freak. I didn’t take a holiday for the first six years as I was convinced it would all fall down if I wasn’t always on emails. That had a detrimental effect as I didn’t always trust people to do the job properly and tended to either micro manage or hold onto tasks I should have delegated. But growth and development only comes when you delegate and let people make their own mistakes. Our company has grown exponentially since I started letting go. No-one isindispensable.

Creating a business where people come first will pay off

We’ve all had good bosses and bad bosses, and worked for great organisations and frankly corrupt ones. The great joy of starting a business of my own was the ability to create the type of culture where I wanted to work – and would feel proud to say I worked for. Treating our people how I would want to be treated has always been absolutely core to Magenta – but it does cost time and money. In the end happy people are engaged and productive and do their best work for happy clients. It really does pay off to put your people first.

Lean on the experts

We have a brilliant accountant now (Lewis Back at Pentins) who is an integral part of our decision-making. But I didn’t always use our expert partners such as accountants, lawyers and business coaches as well as I should. Doing so has really helped Magenta move up to the next level. Never be afraid to ask the stupid questions – that’s what your advisers are there for.

Focus on the profit line, not the income

It sounds an obvious one, but in the first few years I used to get so excited about money coming in, that I didn’t always focus attention on what was going out. This resulted in a few close shaves which definitely focused my mind on what really matters: cash in the bank.

Keep the niche

Although we started in the facilities management sector, we occasionally took on clients in other B2B sectors, especially in the early days. I saw that as an opportunity for growth, but the reality is that there are more than enough opportunities for development in the built environment, and that’s why we now support businesses in other sub-sectors, including but not limited to architecture & design, construction and PropTech. Growth comes from expanding our service offering. We’ve moved from an agency focused on PR and media relations to an integrated communications consultancy supporting organisations with earned, owned, shared and paid channels. Keeping our niche is what makes us different.

Running a business and being a Mum would actually be good for my kids

Every working parent knows the guilt from not being able to always be the best parent you can be because of work pressures. There have been times when I’ve missed sports days, not been able to hand make a last-minute Viking costume or forgotten packed lunches. But overall I think setting up Magenta has been great for my children. When my son was studying for his GCSE business studies, I talked him through a P&L using Magenta’s live example and he’s done valuable work experience in the business. My younger children have loved having being part of a business where their mum and dad both work. Magenta has shown my children what hard work and a bit of luck can achieve. And of course it’s given them an endless supply of ‘free’ stationery.

People want to help, I just needed to ask

Seven years of editing FM World, now Facilitate magazine, meant that I had a pretty good network. But somehow in those early years I felt awkward and embarrassed to ask for help – even if that help was just asking for an introduction to someone in their network. The reality is that people want to help. I can’t think of a time I’ve ever turned down anyone who’s asked for my help – and I could have made my life easier by doing so.

The person who set up the business is not always the right person to take it to its next stage

In the early years of Magenta it felt like something new happened every day. I made loads of decisions on the hop and rushed through every day. One day I looked up and the business was eight years old and we employed ten people. I didn’t really have a plan on where to go next. Fortunately, my fellow director Jo Sutherland, who had joined the business a few years before, did. Watching her take Magenta to the next level has been hugely exciting. And I don’t think it’s something I could have done myself.

We would get through the pandemic and there would be a silver lining

A few months after I stepped back as MD, Covid hit. Those first few weeks were nail-biting stuff. Our MD Jo and I would look at each other on Zoom like rabbits in headlights wondering what the next day would bring, all while trying to present a calm exterior to our colleagues – and constantly scenario planning. But the pandemic brought us closer to our clients and our colleagues. We’d all gone through a life-changing experience together and people showed their vulnerable side.

Going it alone would be the best thing I ever did

Ten years down the line, I recognise that setting up Magenta was a great career move. When I tell people I launched a PR agency without having ever worked in one, they think I must have been mad. But I set up an agency that journalists and organisations would want to work with – not a copy of other agencies. There have been scary times along the way and times that I wish I’d taken an easier path, but with the fantastic benefit of hindsight, Magenta has given me enormous personal and professional joy and I’m thrilled I took the leap.

I’d love to hear your experience of starting a business. Connect with me on LinkedIn or find me on Twitter @cathy_magenta.

Cathy Hayward