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Quantico Stories October: being transparent, our changing focus and how to scale a service business

Updated: Jan 3


If you know me well you may have already realised that I'm a little crazy.

One of my stranger habits is that I write an email to myself once each week, usually on a Friday afternoon or Saturday morning.


Nobody ever reads the email, and I usually don't even re-open it myself, but it's a technique that I find really helpful. By taking whatever thoughts come into my head and committing them to paper (or screen) I seem to be able to stop them from whirling around my skull and crashing into each other. It also reminds me to take a moment to stop and look back at what I'm doing.


Being transparent


For the first time I’m going to start sharing a few of these weekly reports to myself.

It’s very tempting as a company founder to take every opportunity to present a carefully polished image, like teenagers curating their Instagram profiles. But that’s not what real life is like. We want to run Quantico as transparently as we can, and publishing these articles is one small part of that.


Our changing business model


We held our first ever full team day on Monday. In a way it was kind of surprising to notice that we’ve suddenly become a team of seven incredibly talented people. As the change had been happening so gradually it was only when we physically brought all of those people into one room that it really sank in.


The fact that we’ve grown the business with zero investment has meant that we’ve had to reinvent ourselves a few times along the way.


At the start I was basically a contractor selling my own time for money. Later we had to set up systems to allow me to collaborate with people in different areas. When Ju-Vern joined those systems improved, but I had absolutely no idea how to sell a service that I was not personally involved in. This led to a lot of misunderstanding when entrepreneurs got the (misguided) idea that they would like me to personally work on their company.


Now we’re at a stage where we’ve proven we can sell to our target buyers, and we’ve got the systems and the track record to deliver the work.


But it’s becoming ever clearer that our ability as founders to deliver the work is completely irrelevant to the future of this business model.


For our business model to operate at the size we’re targeting it needs two things: One is setting up systems and software that make it easy for people to collaborate and succeed. We’ve been aware of the importance of this for a long time and have already made a lot of great progress on it.


What we need to focus on now


Secondly, we need to be able to find accountants with raw talent, and to turn them into world class Finance Business Partners. We always knew we would have to do this, but I’ve only just come to appreciate how quickly this would become the single most important part of my job.


I believe that you can boil down any business to one key competency that makes it work. For Quantico I believe it will be our ability to invest in junior team members until they pay dividends.


On-boarding our first employee we got some things right and some things wrong. It worked really well getting him to spend a fortnight shadowing and working as a remote accountant behind the scenes. But we were wrong in our assumption that we could, or should, be able to supervise him remotely part of the time whilst he worked at a client site.


We made the assumption that our clients wouldn’t like to see us coaching our staff, as it would imply that they weren’t already complete experts in their field.


Thankfully one of our key clients gave us honest feedback and opened our eyes to the fact that we were making a mistake. The coaching, supervision and development of our team is a large part of our value proposition, and we were wrong to hide it from our clients. As usual the more transparent you can be the better it works for all parties.


How to scale a service business


By working alongside our team we create opportunities for them to ask us questions at any time, and for us to provide real time feedback on any aspect of their jobs. They can also watch us operate, hear how we interact with our clients and hopefully pick up good habits.


Systems and processes are essential for scaling a service-based business. But it’s equally important to establish a set of standards, cultures and relationships built on mutual trust. Looking back we were crazy to attempt this based only on the 20% of our time that we spent working together in our office and to ignore the 80% of the time the team spend with clients.


I’m really pleased with the changes we’ve been able to make, and on a personal level I’m really excited about investing time in my own skills as a coach and leader.


Leaving your ego at the door


Something in my upbringing has made it really difficult for me to use the word leader in connection with myself without feeling deeply embarrassed. It feels like admitting to a playground bully that I think I'm really good at maths.


In fact I struggle with talking about our successes in general without using self deprecating humour or putting myself down. I've just realised that I said I was crazy in the very first line of this article!


Sometimes putting your ego to one side doesn't mean being modest, sometimes it actually means being honest about your own strengths. Putting your ego aside means assessing a situation objectively, regardless of your own position within it.


What does leadership mean


Therefore I'm going to make an effort to put my ego aside, and to embrace the fact that I know how the privilege and responsibility of becoming a leader.


You can read a lot of books about leadership without getting a very clear idea of what it involves. There's no single definition and no one style that works. As far as I can work out everyone needs to develop their own style that suits them, their team and their current position.


Working out what leadership looks like to me is going to be a big focus in the months ahead. I hope that it's a transition that will make me more productive and fulfilled both at work and at home.


If I had to define leadership today I would say that it means making sure that I've done something to make everyone in the team, myself and my co-founder included, slightly better at their job next week than they are now.


Putting leadership on your to-do list also brings about a natural change in perception. Once I would have considered listening to a colleague moan about their job a frustrating distraction. Now I can see that it's the most important part of my day. If ranting to me for thirty minutes can help them feel supported and organised then it's time well spent for both of us.


That's all for now


Dan

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