10 years, 10 mistakes, 10 lessons by Mandy Sharp, CEO and founder, Tin Man

10 years, 10 mistakes, 10 lessons by Mandy Sharp, CEO and founder, Tin Man

It’s been a decade since I set up Tin Man Communications.

10 years, 2 offices, over 200 clients, 500 awards and shortlists, 5 office dogs, around 5,200 cups of coffee and 1,560 Pret egg and cress sandwiches. There have been highs, there have been lows and a whole lot of blood, sweat, tears, joy and laughter in between.

As I look back, there is so much I’m proud of, but also so many things I wish I’d known. So here are my top ten mistakes of the last decade for anyone embarking on their own path (or yellow brick road in our case).

Mistake 1: Ignoring The Gut

When something didn’t feel right, it usually wasn’t. Whether that was people, process, profit - whatever. Every bad business decision I’ve made has always been when I haven’t paid attention to the signs. I’ve got a good gut. I’ve learned to tune into it more.

Mistake 2: Trying to do it all (successfully), all of the time

Mourning over pitch losses or cancelled campaigns is normal but there needs to be a time limit on the wallowing and over-analysing, and an acceptance that things don’t always go to plan. And, this is a tough one for a CEO, but there needs to be an understanding that you can’t control everything. Business is about risk. Learn. Give yourself a break. Move on. Use your energy on the positive, not the negative.

Mistake 3: Not letting go

This one is closely aligned with mistake number 2. As an agency founder, it’s been hard to let go of my baby sometimes. But I’ve had to, so we can grow. Building a good senior team and letting them shine has been the key to our success.

Mistake 4: Focussing on pennies over prosperity

Again, see mistakes 2 and 3. In the early years, I used to agonise over every penny in the P&L sheet, sometimes to the detriment of growth. Thankfully, I had good finance people around me and they taught me to let them worry about the absolute minutiae of the numbers so I could focus on building the dream. It worked.

Mistake 5: Trying to keep up with the Joneses

Just to be clear, I don’t know anyone called Jones. But I do know that any time I’ve got sucked into industry noise, rather than staying true to my own agency path, it hasn’t ended well. It’s about knowing who you are and what you want, rather than getting blinded by competitors’ lights.

Mistake 6: Forgetting that acorns can grow into trees

In the early days, it can be easy to focus on big wins and dismiss the smaller opportunities. But some of our best work and client relationships have started small but led to award-winning work, fruitful budgets and long-standing friendships. The lesson here is to pick your acorn wisely. Don’t plant too many or you’ll spend too much time watering them and hoping to God they grow.

Mistake 7: Don’t mix business with pleasure

This old caveat is such bad advice. The fact is, business should be a pleasure. We spend so much time at work, we must enjoy it. One of the perks of a job in PR is meeting so many amazing and interesting people from all walks of life. Make sure your colleagues are also your friends, who will support you during the good times and the bad. Similarly with clients. People buy into people so spending time building those relationships will be the most important string in your bow as your business grows.

Mistake 8: “Right person, wrong time”

Ah, I’m remembering a few people here and there who I would love to have hired, but didn’t, because it didn’t feel like the right time. Sometimes you have to take a punt. The lesson I learned is to adopt a ‘build it and they will come’ mentality. If my gut tells me their approach and experience could add a sprinkle of Tin Man magic, I hire them and build the work around them.

Mistake 9: Bending rules that matter

It’s often easy to get swept up in the excitement of a big client win. And sometimes this meant agreeing to payment terms, notice periods and contracts that didn’t work for us as an agency. Never be bullied into unreasonable terms. Some blue-chip companies will always try. But they won’t be happy if you go under, so fight for what’s fair to run your business effectively.

Mistake 10: Being too busy to celebrate the wins

We’re busy. We like what we do. We’re all about cracking on. But remember to take a minute. Even after 10 years, I’m still not very good at this, but I’ve tried to learn to stand back, appreciate and applaud when it’s due. Business success is no mean feat. It doesn’t come easily and it doesn’t come to everyone, so you have to celebrate the wins. A new client, an award, hitting targets or even just a damn good coconut latte. Remember, life is short and before you know it, those 10 years will have flown by.

In fact, it feels like I’ve sneezed and suddenly Tin Man has become a 50-person agency, about to move into our third office. Now, we're looking ahead to the next, exhilarating decade of risk, reward and really good egg and cress sarnies.

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