This weekend – on the 30th June 2019 – ROQ will be officially ten years old. Having started the business during the worlds’ worst recession, it was with hope, rather than expectation, that we set off on this incredible journey.
It was a big call. Coming from a well-paid job and an established career, to working from coffee shops and not getting paid, with a young family in tow was a leap of faith – mentally and in real-world terms.
I firmly believe that the one piece of advice that got me to believe in making it work was from the guy who gave me my first “career job” when I left University. It’s the simplest piece of advice, that I have shared many times since, and it was this:
“All you need to do is re-wire your brain; to believe that working for yourself is as secure as being employed.”
What he was emphasising was that most people are fearful of the “perceived” insecurities of being their own boss versus being employed by someone else. What he reiterated was that the “security” was 30 days’ notice and not even my decision! The penny suddenly dropped, and I realised that the actual security of 13 years’ straight employment was flawed at best.
Now, that was just one step, but it was the one thing that really helped me along the way. It was tough setting up the business when we did – previous clients wanted to work with us but had no money to spend. They liked what we had to offer but had their own teams unallocated and were facing redundancy themselves. We believed in what we were doing and what we were offering but struggled to get things over the line – at that point, it was probably the easiest time to quit – and I guess that’s why most businesses fail in the first 12 months. Its bloody hard and you must genuinely believe that you can turn things round or just walk away. We stayed to fight the battle.
The resolve that is required is incredible and with the added life pressures along the way, you start to create a resilience like no other. It’s also extremely lonely. You must create a persona of positivity, lead by example and consistently demonstrate all of the core values that you want your team to embrace. It’s not a falsehood, but you have to be the calm swan, sitting above the furious webbed feet, paddling at 100 mph.
I have learnt more in the last 10 years – about myself and business – than I would have done in 25 years as an employee. I’ve built up an incredible network of clients, colleagues and all-round good folk. I have also been on a personal development journey within a CEO network, that has allowed me to balance personal and business challenges in the right way - providing clarity of thinking when chaos is all around.
As well as all of the serious stuff, it’s also been great fun. From selling the first deal, getting the first client reference, buying the first kettle, putting up the first (tiny) Christmas tree and establishing a culture of ideas and teamwork – it all makes it so exciting. In fact, the smaller victories and milestones are probably the most enjoyable. One of the things that we set out to do very early on was have an annual summer event – taking the team away on a day of activities, with some food and beer to follow.
It’s a tradition that remains today. In fact, last weekend we hired a manor house in Bowness and on an incredibly sunny day, had a great time canoeing, yachting, nerf gun wars, bush craft and a whole host of other events – not to mention the beer pong in the sunshine, overlooking a stunningly calm lake!
And this is just one example of the investment we have put into the team within the business – we are also proud of other achievements like Investors in People – Gold Standard; BIBA’s best medium sized business and Top 5 Tech Business in Lancashire to name a few. All of which support the growth of the company and the recognition of what we do.
The timing of our anniversary is also in line with our next graduate programme. This year’s intake starts on the 1st July (the first day of year eleven!). This is also an area of real pride. It’s all too easy to focus on sales, profit and the numbers when in business. However, I think its vitally important to think about the positive impact you can have on the wider society.
We started our first graduate programme 6 years ago and its grown from strength to strength since then. Working closely with the universities – supporting lectures, engaging in large student events - like The Defectives - and generally being engaged within this community – we have created an enviable reputation. Even this year, we had 300 students apply for our graduate roles. To see people come on board and really develop them as people, as well as career wise, is really rewarding.
I could have written 20+ pages on the last 10 years – but I’m saving that for my book! However, I wanted to encapsulate the key parts of the journey. It’s a piece without a natural conclusion – as the journey is a long way from finished, but the 3 key things I’ve learnt so far are: re-wire your brain, look after your team and enjoy it.
When the bells go on the anniversary this weekend, I will be at a family wedding in Finland, so I will certainly be enjoying a few glasses of wine and will raise a glass and say ” Mikä saavutus”.
Stephen Johnson - Co-founder & Director