Blog

18 years on the agency bouncy castle

By Jon Lonsdale on 24th September 2019

September 2019 marks 18 years since we started Octopus Group. And while we don’t do company birthday celebrations anymore, this one felt significant for some reason.

I suppose your 18th is always a big one.

For me, 18 years feels like a good time to reflect and share some things I (and we) have learnt as OG grows up. Here goes…

There’s an analogy I use about running an agency. It’s to do with bouncy castles (stay with me here).

As a kid, I had a love/hate relationship with them. On the one hand, I used to love taking my shoes off, diving on and running around until my legs went and I fell over. It was joyous, funny, unpredictable and exhilarating.

Until I got a knee or an elbow in the face.

Suddenly, it’s painful. And I’m wondering why I got on in the first place, sure that there must be easier, less painful ways to have fun.

But, I always went back for more.

Years on, I’m still experiencing the same thing. Albeit at work. Because while we do have a lot of fun in agencyland, I know that the knee in the face is always lurking somewhere.

So, to mark my milestone of 18 years on the bouncy castle, here’s 18 lessons and observations I’ve picked up along the way. Some fun, some knees in the face.

  1. Starting up is easy. Keeping going is harder. We celebrate the start-ups too much, not the ‘keep goings’.
  2. Always be the challenger and go for things you have no right to win. When you succeed it’s amazing, when you don’t you learn something.
  3. The best goodbye is a thank you. Clients and people come and go over time, but if they all say ‘thanks’ you’re getting it right.
  4. Remember the value of people in business and entrepreneurship. OG has helped hundreds on their way in life. Careers, weddings, babies and lifetime friendships don’t appear on a balance sheet.
  5. Being honest rarely works out badly. With colleagues, with clients, with feedback. People respect you for it.
  6. It’s tough seeing things you could do better every day. It’s the curse of being in charge but it drives you on.
  7. Make time for meeting new people. Opportunities always come from being generous with your time and expanding your network.
  8. Culture has to be cultivated. It’s a slow and deliberate process and there’s no quick fix. Oh and you can smell it when you walk into a room.
  9. Trust in inexperience and youth. They always find a way to come up with something brilliant.
  10. Always do favours for people. Recommendations, references, advice, time, introductions, whatever. It pays you back.
  11. Never put work before really important life moments. Work will always be there, other things won’t.
  12. Resign clients that make you and your people unhappy. Never tolerate bad behaviour for money.
  13. Meet everyone your agency hires. You wouldn’t invite a stranger into your home, so don’t do the same with your workplace.
  14. Have total downtime once a year. Disconnect and switch off from your work life entirely. You’ll love going back when you do.
  15. It’s never as good and never as bad as you think. Be level-headed about the successes you have as well as the failures. The margin for error in growing agencies is narrow.
  16. Get someone to look after the cash. Creative businesses are crap at managing money. When that’s sorted you can focus on growth.
  17. Take care of your work family with the little things. Time off, thank yous, gifts, nights out, a stiff drink. Whatever it is, the little things are always remembered.
  18. A problem shared. Find some trusted agency peers who you can be open with to remind yourself you’re doing a great job and wouldn’t do anything else.

So there it is. 18 years, 18 lessons. And now I’m feeling old.

Thanks to everyone who has been part of the story so far. Clients, Octopedes, friends, family. There’s too many to mention here, but they know who they are.

And a special thank you my amigos Billy and Pete who are still here on the bouncy castle with me all these years later. Happy birthday fellas.

Want to join us on the bouncy castle? See the roles we’re currently hiring for, or send us your CV.

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