GK’s 10 year anniversary and lessons learned

As GK celebrates its tenth anniversary, I’m incredibly proud of where the business is now. Our timing was awful when we started this business, just as financial Armageddon hit in 2009. I gave up my job at a well-established Public Affairs company and joined my business partner Luke Kennedy to begin the GK journey.

Fast forward ten years and GK has 30 staff, we have worked with a multitude of clients, we’ve successfully expanded our service offering and we are recognised as the leading consultancy for investor backed and high growth businesses. Whilst we approach the end of our tenth consecutive year of growth, it hasn’t all been plain sailing and we’ve learnt important lessons at each of the different stages of the business. Here I share some of these lessons which might prove useful to others.

 

  1. Culture is key. We decided the type of culture we wanted at GK at the very start and keeping this at the heart of the company as we have grown has been vital. Whilst some things will inevitably need to change as any company gets bigger, we have always kept the spirit of innovation at our heart and we continue to hire staff who share the same spirit of creativity, ambition and a desire to do things differently.
  2. Make sure everyone wants to come on the same journey. Setting out a vision for the company and making sure every single member of staff embraces this is so important. GK was set up to deliver a brand-new product to the market, political due diligence. Since then we have always aimed to be the leading provider of risk and consultancy services to investor backed and high growth businesses. Articulating a company’s USP both internally and externally may seem obvious, but it is fundamental to taking a business from 2 people to 30+.
  3. Have a desire to grow and act on it. GK has grown year on year since it was established in the midst of the last financial crisis. Some might think this is down to luck, but I’ve learned that it is out of a desire to grow and a decision to invest in growth. Many agencies do not have the ambition to grow or have the skills to do so. I can’t imagine running an agency that is happy to just stay as it is. Growth brings opportunities for staff and clients.
  4. Take advice. No one likes a know-it-all. There are many people out there who will charge you thousands to advise you on your business, choose wisely, don’t spend absurd amounts of cash, but get someone in who’s been there and done it before; a non-exec, or a chairman or just a mentor. Don’t be afraid to ask stupid questions, to be vulnerable, to allow yourself to be wrong and always listen and learn.
  5. Only accept the best. Ensuring you hold yourself and your staff to the highest standards is key. We want our company to be the best in the industry and to do this we need the best staff. We hire people based on ability not age and not based on their little black book. We have some of the best minds in the industry at GK and I am incredibly proud of every member of staff, whether they’re meeting with MPs, briefing journalists or presenting their assessment of political risk to investors.
  6. Get the right systems and processes in place to allow you to grow. It can be scary to add cost into your business, but the right costs will help you grow. We recently brought in a head of people & culture, I wish I had done this earlier.
  7. Change is good. Innovate, ask clients what more you can do for them, then build products and services around that. Our industry has evolved significantly over the past 10 years. Don’t get complacent, don’t stand still, don’t get stale. Listen, don’t just transmit.
  8. Take time off. Since the start we have encouraged all our staff to maintain a work/life balance. We give our team two hours off each week to do what they want – leave early and see their friends or spend time with their family, it’s up to them. It’s something I’ve got better and better as the business has grown and I have delegated more to people I trust. I get a much better perspective by being out of the office doing things that aren’t business related.
  9. Promote diversity. From our entry level graduates to our senior team, being the right candidate for the role is the determining factor in considering who to employ, but we are very proud of our record in supporting gender equality. Take our gender pay gap statistics – we do not have any disparity. Central to this is that we have created a flexible working environment (28 days annual leave, flexi time, weekly two hours of personal time) and a supportive culture, and within this, all consultants are given the same opportunities to grow, take on responsibility and transition into leadership roles within the business.
  10. Be different. I set up a business wanting to do things differently. We have never wanted to replicate any other comms agency. That’s not to say that other agencies haven’t copied what we have done, but we have always taken that as a compliment and instead focused on developing and delivering the latest innovation in the industry. In 2009 we established political due diligence as a product to the investment community. Since then we have launched ESG advisory, introduced digital to our offer years ahead of many in the sector and have plenty more interesting ideas in the pipeline.
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