Evolve with us to enhance your business and personal well-being
Every entrepreneur’s story is different. But at the same time, we all embark on a similar journey characterised as much by the thrill of tailwinds and smooth sailing and as by stormy seas and the possibility of sinking.
No matter where you are on your business adventure, Evolve’s aim is to partner with you to navigate the right path, both professionally and personally, with your final destination being meaningful success, which we define as ‘Good Times’.
Maybe you’re asking…
“Why should I listen to you? What do you know that I don’t?”
Well, after starting Inspire, a business and tax advisory firm, in 2004 and watching it grow into an esteemed, award-winning entity in ten years, I found myself in the valley of despair. I had worked extremely hard towards achieving the goals I thought I wanted but was left feeling empty and disillusioned.
This was probably the lowest point in my journey, but it also presented an opportunity to step back and examine what I’d done to make me feel this way.
The result was my book, ‘Evolve to Succeed – The Entrepreneur’s Journey’, which not only recounts my business experiences, but also forms part of the principles and intentions of Evolve, which you’ll hear about later.
I would love you to pick up a copy of my book to get the full insight (please excuse the shameless self-promotion!) but in lieu of that, I want to summarise right here some key insights and lessons from my journey.
I sincerely hope they’ll inspire you to either make the changes you need to avoid a similar valley of despair, or simply reinvigorate the original passion for work and life that you might have lost sight of.
Going off-course—forgetting my ideals, losing my focus and neglecting my family
The first step to positive change is admitting you made mistakes.
In the years leading up to my valley of despair, I made plenty!
Following that low point in 2004 I committed to some serious and sometimes painful introspection. I knew that if I didn’t understand and address what had made me feel this way, I was headed to oblivion.
The first thing I realised is it had become all about the money.
Before starting Inspire I had turned down an amazing opportunity with an international firm because I didn’t want to become a corporate animal. I wanted to create something different, a practice that truly cared about its clients and also inculcated a healthy office culture, one that wasn’t purely profit-focused.
And, though things started off in this vein, over time Inspire became the antithesis of these ideals.
In pursuit of growth, we had hired badly. And as growth occurred and things became more hectic, communication—both to employees and clients—deteriorated.
This led to uncertainty and bred a fear of change. Most significantly of all, through this pursuit of money and success I had neglected myself and my family.
Something that still bothers me to this day is the time I left to go back to the office just one hour after bringing our new-born daughter Alex home for the first time.
When I look back at that single episode now, it’s hard to believe I’m the same person.
But this is one of the perils of success—left unchecked, the pursuit and apparent fulfilment of it can obstruct your view to the point where you don’t even see what’s right in front of you, demanding your attention.
At this point, not only had I turned into the corporate man I was always so wary of becoming, myself and my company had lost focus, passion and belief.
Finding my waypoints—staff changes, reflection and principles
To get where I wanted to be, I had to go back to the beginning.
When I started Inspire, it had just been me, a simple laptop, a phone and a desk.
I was scared, sure, but also excited at the possibilities. I was motivated by the idea of success on my terms and creating something that had meaning, something that I could put my soul into and thus reflect my values.
So, I took my foot off the growth pedal.
We exited clients that were not in our niche market, as well as the more corporate-minded members of staff who weren’t in tune with Inspire’s values (these included one shareholder.) It was a tough process that resulted in all sorts of inner and outer conflicts but it’s something I wish I’d been brave and strong enough to initiate earlier.
Following this difficult but enlightening process, I felt like myself and Inspire had hit the refresh button. Here was an opportunity to start all over again with a different approach, and what better way to begin than by setting down some founding principles.
Reflecting once again on the very beginning of my journey and retracing those same nostalgic emotions, I created Inspire’s Purpose, Ambition, Essence, Spirit and Beliefs.
These five principles quickly became the shining lighthouses by which we navigated, no matter the conditions at sea.
Back on course—understanding empathy, rewarding employees and inspiring loyalty
It was all well and good to revise staff and set up some principles, but where to from here?
How to implement these changes without upsetting the flow of business as well as getting staff on-board and motivated?
The great springboard, the thing that made the single greatest difference, was recognising the importance of and putting a spotlight on the team.
This included understanding how vital their empathy is towards our clients. In 2016, we launched the Inspire Business Academy—an internal initiative delivering bespoke skills training and sessions and getting entrepreneurs to tell their stories to our employees.
In a similar manner, we developed a robust rewards and recognition scheme with incentives that actually meant something to staff, rather than being an obvious afterthought.
I think it’s so important to remember that business is never one-size-fits-all; to get the best out of each member of staff, you need to know them, recognise and nurture their strengths and make room for their weaknesses, and be informed and mindful about their own individual ambitions and motivations.
The moment you do that, the gulf between management and staff recedes and that sense of openness and care can only evoke dedication, creativity and loyalty.
To further encourage this, we began a stand-up Monday morning meeting, in which any member of the team can voice their opinion on something, good or bad. This is something we continue to this day and it’s something staff look forward to. I have gained incredible insight from these gatherings.
Another thing we did was become more client-centric.
I realised that often myself and the team had been so wrapped up in the day-to-day running of the business that we had actually somewhat neglected the very people who made it happen!
We conducted an NPS survey and the invaluable feedback we received made it possible to develop an incredibly powerful and client-focused internal terminology around ‘client delight’.
We realised that it’s not necessarily the grand gestures that keep clients happy and loyal, but rather the small acts of kindness—again, that recognition of the individual—that can turn an ordinary service into an extraordinary one.
The next step in this client-centric approach was redefining our events programme to appeal solely to the entrepreneur.
We did this with our quarterly Entrepreneurs’ Forum, and the Entrepreneurs’ Conference which, since its launch in 2015, has gone from strength to strength. Last year over 250 business owners and entrepreneurs attended.
As a consequence of making these changes, our current NPS score is 61, which puts us up there in terms of client service with John Lewis and Apple. Yes, Apple. This is something I’m enormously proud of.
From all of this comes an over-arching message, which is that a sense of belonging naturally leads to closer bonds, greater belief and a true affinity for what an organisation is setting out to achieve.
A new way to navigate—the value of conscious wellbeing and living in the present
The period since these changes were instilled at Inspire have been the happiest of my professional life.
But what about my personal life?
How did I address and reverse the neglect I felt I brought upon my family and myself during those dark days?
As business owners, we all know there’s no such thing as work/life balance. This might sound strange, considering what you’ve just read but the truth is, no matter how hard you try, you cannot avoid being a business owner.
What we’ve taken on isn’t a 9-5 job; we don’t have the luxury of being assured every weeknight and weekend with our family and friends.
We’ve chosen this path because, for us, work is not just work, it’s life, it gives us meaning and sense of destiny. However, this should not stop you from placing that same focus and energy on things outside of work.
How to do this?
It’s simple—be present. Be present, 100 percent present, in everything you do. So whether it’s an hour here and an hour there, or a well-deserved week’s holiday, learn to be in the moment that’s happening.
Remember that you can’t change the past, nor can you control the future (no matter how much we convince ourselves we can!), so really train yourself to do whatever you’re doing right now in the best—and rightest—way you can.
I have also learnt the importance of looking after myself physically—eating right, exercising and, yes, taking regular time off.
I’ve often found it’s during these physical and mental ‘downtimes’ that I end up with renewed and clearer visions of who I am and where I want to go, both personally and professionally.
If you’re doing things right, this sort of reflection will leave you feeling inspired and excited, and ready for the next great challenge of your life.
Share your journey with Evolve and see your personal and professional life flourish
It is through my experiences and the writing of my book that Evolve was born. I wanted to create a platform where entrepreneurs, business owners and business leaders can come together to grow and develop as individuals and also develop their businesses in exciting and inspiring ways.
Stimulating content and insights, a national conference and events agenda and a holistic coaching and development programme—Evolve offers all of this and much, much more.
We’re very excited about the possibilities and would love for you to share your journey with us.
I hope to meet you soon.