In any given business, growth and cash flower the core of what provides security for the owners and staff. At the start of this financial year, despite an immediate Brexit drop-off of pipeline business, the year ahead looked good. I had managed to secure great corporate brand names to pay interest in gamification through former contacts, clients and a hell of a lot of pitching in various places for their business. Hence hiring and looking at better systems to support the processes to deliver.
As a small company dealing with the big corporate sector is like riding a rollercoaster where the free fall loop is in constant sight or pending around the corner, the upturns also seem to go mighty slow and with a lot of groaning noises. What people never tell you about dealing with big businesses is that they change their mind quite frequently. So what is guaranteed work one day or even a started project, another day with new bosses in town, workload challenges or personnel changes, it can all come to a grinding halt. And obviously that is after the scrutiny of processes, risks and other fun stuff in the procurement process and contractual negotiations.
I don’t mind if it happens once or twice, but in one financial year I have now been on the receiving end 7 or 8 times and still counting. For a large consultancy, the pivot to other project is maybe easier. For a small business you are always mindful of being able to deliver and having enough pipeline to keep you going. I definitely felt under major pressure with all of a sudden being responsible for several families and clients pulling back projects or pushing them forward to late 2017 or early 2018. From a cash flow perspective, this year is proving a massive stretch from feast to famine any given month. I have to admit there have been times this year I have passionately hated the business, including my decisions around it and then at other times loved it, been proud of the work we did, the team I had etc.
To go from looking at an 8 figure turnover thanks to a blossoming pipeline to all of a sudden scraping the barrel to survive, is sure not what I had in mind. I am disappointed in myself for taking some decisions and maybe as a result causing some of the hardship, but then I am also mindful of it being the first time I played a game at this level. In previous businesses and experiences, the pressure was less high to deliver new business, top work and feed several families, it just seemed that by aiming higher the risk also increased and getting it right first time didn’t work. I have grown and stretched to another level too, which is the upside. Maybe the initial passion has been covered with a duller sense of the hard graft, which is normal in playing games at new levels.
As I am trying to work my way out of the hole in more than one sense from mental mind loops to the practical delivery and business aspects, I have analysed and probably over-thought what I could have done differently. For the clients that have started, 95% of them will work with us again, which is a testament to the quality of the work and the relationship. The small percentage that will not, has very specific reasons and possible expectation management at its root cause. From a suppliers perspective, I figured out the platform world ain’t as good as they say they are. If you are not allowed to see or play around with the system, don’t believe it is there. I didn’t expect to enter a fantasy world in that regard. When it comes to pipeline business, especially when dealing with bigger customers building for three times what you can handle, may be just enough to keep the business working. It may be a stretch on the other side if they all do decide to actually go ahead and keep going, rather that challenge than the other way.
Whilst the ambition has been dented, pride replaced by guilt and shame for what has gone on, I am determined to turn it around and revise some of the foundations and a very clear focus. All it takes is two or three big deals to start and put the deposit in place to get back on track. Winning them in some cases feels like a 9 month pregnancy, so some short wins would seriously help. I still have some outstanding proposals that could yet convert, so no fear. There is ongoing work, only I had to let go of some of the top team, mainly because of cash flow. In the game of business, resource management is crucial and cash is the ultimate winner.
I love the work I do and get excited by the projects we have delivered successfully. The process of winning the business is one I am consistently improving until I have a winning formula. So far I have taken a few too many risks and they didn’t pay off, but like all strategies, it is from implementing them that you learn the ultimate lessons. For me to put this in writing is also a bit of a stretch, I prefer to keep my stuff private, even if I do share a lot on social media, what really matters to me I keep preciously close to myself normally. The reason why I am being open is because someone challenged me this week to build forwards from a place of integrity and let that be a guide to whoever it helps go forward.
I have had my brushes with burnout and depression in the past, what has been different is the mindset I managed to keep this time around. The realisation that when I started playing a bigger game, a mind shift happened too and it took some time to accept that my role would change. Finding my groove in the new role is still an exploratory process. From talking to others in a similar boat, it is actually rather normal and I found that by opening up a little to some people you can trust, gives you amazing insights in how normal this growth process actually is. Even though the rollercoaster ride is at times very scary and unpleasant, looking for a job in a big corporation for me is even scarier. My projects still make me get up in the morning, when I see the end-results and the client feedback after a job well done, it makes all the rides worthwhile.
I hope that in the world of gamification design, there is a consistent place for the small and ambitious business looking to play big and potentially grow big. My style is possibly a lot more subtle than some of the guys in the industry, but the relationships I build are also for the long run and I am hoping that those will stand the test of the rollercoaster days. As a lady in business, the rollercoaster ride has hidden biases and a lot of obstacles that really in the 21st century should be a thing of the past, but hey just ask the men that worked for me on how it plays out, because it ain’t pretty! It is ironic that it was also one of the very reasons why I decided to add a feminine voice to a rather masculine world of gamification.
All messages of hope and inspiration as a result of reading this are obviously always welcome, maybe the story can inspire you and make a day for someone. If not have a fun day and I will keep riding the rollercoasters…