Five lessons learned from five years of activity

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This article was co-written with Zainab Imichi Alhassan Alli, co-founder of POP Communications.



POP communications

POP Communications co-founders Sarah Curtis and Zainab Imichi

2022 marks five years since we launched POP Communications, a Dubai-based social media, PR and influencer marketing agency. And while POP may have officially been born in August 2017, planning the corporate structure and brand vision was something we started a couple of years earlier. The two of us always envisioned working for ourselves, but we also wanted a travel partner – that’s how we came together to launch POP.

When we kicked off our entrepreneurial journey together, we were obviously excited and looked forward to the adventures that setting up and running a new business brought. As with any adventure in life, challenges will arise, but aiming to maintain a positive frame of mind will help you thrive. If you’re thinking about making the leap into entrepreneurship now, here are some lessons we’ve learned that can be applied to starting any business, regardless of industry:

1/ Get an accountant on board your company (and other key personnel too, if you can!)

We’ve been there before starting and doing everything ourselves. Marketing, your company’s actual services, billing, record keeping, the list goes on.

However, this method is not sustainable and you will reach a breaking point. Therefore, if you are planning to invest in a key hire, make it one who is good with numbers and has an understanding of your business entity and the financial requirements of the venue. Even if you have an assistant who has exceptional record keeping skills, an understanding of various business expenses, exemptions, tax requirements, and more, that person will be enough to save you from pulling your hair out. Trust us, you will thank us later.

2/ Perfect your brand ethos (i.e. your elevator pitch)

An innate knowledge of what you do and the services you offer is important. It’s critical to be able to articulate what you do, how you do it, and the value you bring to customers.

For POP, our elevator pitch is as follows: “POP Communications is a social media, public relations and influencer marketing agency. We make you ‘POP’ in a crowded market.” The first part covers our wide range of services, while the second highlights what we do.

Not only is an elevator pitch helpful in explaining your company ethos, it also opens the door to new business and connections which can then be further supported by a business background package.

One piece of advice in this regard: Invest your time in creating business credentials that clearly showcase your business services and value-add that can always be changed as the business grows or evolves. Having this document easily accessible on your website or on hand to send at any time will be a game changer – no more typing what your business is into an email.

3/ Learn what you do best and then repeat, but also diversify.

This may seem contradictory at first, but hear us out. When we started POP, we built a reputation for supporting beauty and other lifestyle brands with their marketing communications and brand awareness through tailored storytelling and strong influencer relationships.

This was an area of ​​our business that we were (and still are) very good at. However, we have learned that a strength can be both an achievement and a hindrance. It took some time to figure out how to use such a force for business development.

Having experience in the beauty/lifestyle space naturally drove portfolio growth in that sector, but as we looked to expand into other industries, we were presented with a challenge: a perceived lack of experience. Therefore, we also needed to diversify to align with changing market needs.

It was then that we decided to use our strength as a springboard to expand geographies, showcasing diversity in scope and, therefore, experience. We were then able to link beauty to wellness, health and lifestyle which then led to expansion into areas such as healthcare, business, social enterprise and more.

Related: Seven Lessons for Women in Business (From Other Women in Business)

So, let’s say your business creates bespoke children’s clothing and accessories, and you do it well. Stick to your strengths, but plan a diversification strategy that makes sense for the company.

For example, expansion into pet care accessories may perhaps be a natural progression of the line of business. Additionally, if your company has substantial data on mothers’ buying behaviors, you can capitalize on and expand on that particular unique selling point.

That said, while diversification and the ability to adapt to changes in the market are a must, don’t lose sight of what you do best and what likely inspired and drove your business opening.

4/ Invest time in building relationships

You may be wondering why we included this as a lesson learned – read on. As a new business owner, time is critical and how you spend it can impact your business.

When it comes to relationships, whether they are with prospective or current clients, industry colleagues, staff or synergistic business contacts, personal relationships still play an important role in corporate development and reputation. During our first two years in business, business growth and results were the focus. We have poured a lot of energy into customer relations.

Taking the time early in your entrepreneurial journey to fully understand the role of various relationships within your business puts you in a good position, right off the bat.

Weekly coffee time in the office with staff members to connect on a personal level, an extra 10 minutes with a client or understanding the scope of another company to report work on will benefit you in the long run.

There will always be deadlines or the need to complete another task or send the last shipment. This will never stop and your business will go on, even if you get to the business later. But quality time with good people may not always be there tomorrow, that’s the lesson.

So, here are some key relationships to invest in and how:

PERSONAL Invest time in their growth and appreciation of their work. Also, offer flexibility, which increases their support for you and your business. We implemented a ‘No Pressure Fridays’ approach in January 2022 to increase flexibility and encourage staff to take ownership of their time.

PAST AND POTENTIAL CUSTOMERS Current customers usually lead to future customers. A good track record and personal experience go a long way.

SECTOR CONTACTS Always remember that partnerships and collaborations arise from invested relationships.

5/ Schedule designated days (and stick to them)

This is really important. Not only will efficiency and productivity improve, but having a schedule will foster a (good) work-life balance.

As a small business owner, you are your own business and as a result, you are pulled in different directions and intimately involved in it. This can still occur even after years of operation and a team in place. The designation of days for different segments of your business help.

For example, at POP we aim to keep team meetings and office work on Mondays, new business meetings on Tuesday/Wednesday, and Fridays as days with no calls or meetings. Create a program that works for you and for the efficient growth of your business. Sticking to a schedule is also easier when each day is scheduled on your official business planner. If you see that Friday morning is meant to be spending time with your kids or partner, or visiting a new vendor, you’re less likely to cancel it when it’s official.

Personally, we’ve found that honoring our time and respecting it helps. If you let customers, new customers or suppliers dictate your schedule, you will get nothing. It’s okay to say no or offer an alternative. Understanding that this concept is fine and that our time is precious was a lesson that took some time.

Related: 14 Lessons I Learned In My 14 Years Of Running A Business

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