Learning by doing – creating something different

Guy Littlejohn By Guy Littlejohn -

The Facets story so far – sales consultancy to growth consultancy

A loose family friend told me “your biggest challenge with growing your business will be people”.

I thought, “you don’t know me! I’m a good judge of character, know myself better than I ever have, I can get the right talent excited about joining me…”

That was March 2020 and it’s the one thing which has stuck with me – because I was wrong.

As we come up to our second birthday, I don’t believe I have learnt much about myself. I’ve been too focused on learning how to help other people and how I can adapt a business which suits more businesses.

In January 2020, I stopped drinking – the only thing holding me back through my twenties – and I’d like to formally say “thank you” to those people who stuck by me then and even the ones who (in a work scenario) gave me chance after chance because they could see something in me….that something is ever present now.

I’m not surprised by what we have become because ‘to scale a commercial consultancy’ is what I set out to do. I sometimes think, “should I have put all the pieces in place right at the start?”. But I had no money to invest in people – and still had to believe in myself and our model, because it was so simple yet no one was doing it.

With the company incorporated on April 16th, after three months of talking to all my family and friends about this business I was going to start and working out how I would piece it all together, I got my first client.

We had met before in 2019 (on one of my good days) and when I called them to ask for some advice (with a hint of subliminal sales process), it was exactly what they were looking for. They told me they had come away from that first meeting thinking ‘I wish he worked for us’. It was a coincidence, I didn’t know that but I remember finding the founder Duncan incredibly interesting.

The Facets model was forming, a UX/CRO partnership was needed first, and we’d already ticked that box. The next clients had to have the same ideal customer profile but not compete with the first. The ecommerce platform was next, then the development agency, then the PPC agency, then the social agency…they all hired me in the first 3 months. All one day a week. I was full.

It was extremely hard. A part time Sales Director doing everything manually; researching, prospecting, hunting, cleansing data, cold emailing, cold calling, sitting multiple meetings, chatting to all clients often for hours; then re-learning how to do it all for specialist businesses I had no previous direct experience with. Don’t get me wrong: I had sold to, or with, all these services before but this was different.

It was me doing it all, with no team having to be as effective as possible in the shortest amount of time.

I had underestimated how hard it was and I had sold myself wrong. I was a glorified lead generator – that was exactly what I was trying not to be. I had worked with intermediaries before and worked for one in my recent full time position, but I had over-promised results to get the sale and was never able to reset expectations. We set similar KPIs for ourselves now, but we don’t do much manually, have data partners and multiple people working as a part time team.

We don’t work with any of those businesses anymore. I would say I did a good job for all those original clients, but really only 2 of them took away a repeatable process I put in place.

I take responsibility for all the reasons why we don’t work with past clients and would stand in front of a room and explain to anyone why with no blinkers on.

I believe I can sell any product and have nearly proven that. We have generated revenue for nearly all of our current and past clients, the difference is now our clients have a commercial model. That has to be KPI number one – improvement.

Before the Facets structure needed improving and explaining better, communication and transparency is something I now don’t fear. Previously I was scared to give the secret sauce so never showed my workings out, now we give everything to our clients – something I have learnt from people I have worked with along the way.

Some previous clients we let go of; some let go of us. But, one thing is for sure, with nearly all of them we’d have set off differently. Some we still wouldn’t be working with, some businesses just don’t resonate with their target audience as the founders believe. A poor sales team can sell a great product that fixes a problem for their clients.

Of the businesses we don’t work with now, I would say there are 3 who we/I didn’t do a good job for but would be able to explain why.

2022 Guy/Facets would have a different approach with the others, be more street smart….that’s exactly what I lacked and it’s taken me two years to learn the business of being in business.

July of 2020 saw me work with our first team member, a university friend who was recently let go from the hospitality sector. I knew him well, knew he was similar to me before I stopped drinking and knew it was a risk. We don’t speak anymore, it doesn’t hurt me when I think about it but I take much of that responsibility on myself. People who know the situation would argue I shouldn’t, but there are people in life who are problem solvers and I truly believe there is always an objective view to everything and a different turn of events that could have happened.

With support, I was able to grow to 8 clients, one day a week. What a buzz that was, the model was being proved. At the same time I started working with Sam Winsbury, a personal branding specialist…it was the first dip into ‘marketing/demand generation’ for Facets, a huge moment and I was able to sell Sam into clients, proving further that my idea of a full commercial model – not a sole focus on sales – was the way to grow businesses.

I was still selling it wrong, the pressure on sales and consistent lead gen was unwavering and I still didn’t have the confidence to say “hey, you haven’t ever done this for your own business, I’m working one day a week, get real” – I do now. We manage expectations and for about 6 months have turned down businesses who don’t know where they sit in the market and there is any chance we set ourselves up for a fall / their expectations are unrealistic.

We got our first three day a week client in December 2020. It elevated Facets immediately to nearly £20k per month. Just person-one and I running around like mad men on the sales consultancy side, Sam doing personal branding for half of them – it was incredible.

One of the reasons person-one doesn’t work with us anymore happened in January 2021. It was the first time the ‘people will be your biggest challenge’ became apparent. It set us back big time, we under delivered (by my standards) for many clients just when the going started to get good. It was my name on the door. I worked 20 hour days to make it right, but running 10 days of work a week was tough to keep up with.

I started recruiting other sales people, and had two come in who I totally misjudged. We started a brand creation process, a new website, my personal branding was bringing people in through LinkedIn so the revolving door started.

Looking back, I got my first 4 hires wrong. The CVs were brilliant but I overlooked what I already knew – good commercial people are incredibly hard to find and we weren’t setting expectations right with clients, so again I take some responsibility. I’ve only got one hire wrong since then – we’re a team of 12 now.

The foundations started to be set when rather than look for people I didn’t know, with the confidence that the model worked and was attracting clients to us, I started to look for people I knew. We were approaching our first birthday.

That’s when Gary came into the business. Having worked with him before, I knew he was good and he was open to joining me on the journey.

We’ve become great friends and have the same ‘move fast, break stuff, imperfect action > perfect inaction’ attitude. He’s been a huge solidifying factor.

He came in as our first whale £15k per month client landed. I was excited, interviewed (a loose use of the word) and brought in some other people to help. We had our first client who asked “do you do marketing too?”’ – the time was right. That’s when I met our marketing lead, Pete, another huge solidifying factor. I had interviewed dozens of marketeers, none of them right, Gary knew Pete and vouched for him.

We started off slow with ‘proper’ B2B marketing, I was cautious, the wage bill had started to creep up towards £20k per month and I had never been in business to worry about paying the wages. Not at all sorry for that. There have been times when I’ve thought ‘we’re running month to month here’, but that’s because we were billing wrong, for the last 4 months we have billed all new clients upfront.

The summer and Q3 of 2021 were nuts, the business grew, arguably too fast. I couldn’t keep up. The revolving door was in full flow, I was fighting fires everywhere and those foundations I thought were in place started to shake, internally and externally.

I knew I would get it right eventually. When you’re building something no one else ever has there is no one to speak to, no one quite gets it. Even clients aren’t sure what to expect, they’ve never worked in this way before – it hadn’t been available before.

We only take on a very specific type of person, that has been defined through – unfortunately – trial and error. I would now say, we have the highest level of expectations of any sales consultancy in the UK and we’re generating the kind of results on a part time basis that I know for a fact full time teams are not.

In late Q3 of last year, I put a stop on new business acquisition. No new clients, that weren’t already starting with us, for 4 months.

We let go of 6 clients, let go of 2 people and the focus was to make sure 60% of our current clients were using the full commercial model, sales and marketing. They would be sticky because we would do the best work for them. It took 18 months to say, “this is how we work”.

We haven’t had any disappointed clients since. Of course there are challenges and as we have a huge responsibility to our clients, the pressure is greater than ever. It’s an enormous privilege and honour to be leading / playing a significant role in our clients’ commercial growth.

Q1 2022, two years on from my scribbling madness of a business model is where Facets became the growth consultancy (a name I nearly landed on originally) it was always meant to be. We added Talent into the mix. And I couldn’t have made a better decision than bringing in the best recruiter I have ever met, my sister, into the business.

People have always been a huge challenge for any business and too many businesses don’t have a commercial strategy running alongside a workforce plan. Many don’t have either.

Facets have an MO. To have clients punch above their weight by allowing them access to a level of person, from a commercial standpoint, previously unobtainable to them.

Sales, Partnerships, Marketing, Client Development and Talent. That’s the full Facets model. That’s a full commercial model. And anyone can have it. It’s our opinion that if you have senior people running it and they get their hands dirty, you only need them on a part time basis.

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