10 business lessons we learned from Winston Churchill [1/2]

Last week my fellow co-founder and Managing Partner Niels Schillewaert and I had the honor of receiving the Alumni of the Year award from VOSEKO, the alumni association of Ghent University (Faculty of Economic and Applied Economic Sciences). I guess the main rationale for granting us this prestigious award is the fact that we successfully translated an academic career into an entrepreneurial one. During our talk at the alumni event we shared failures, successes and challenges in making InSites Consulting grow into what it is now.
In this twofold blog series we’ll be sharing 10 quotes from Winston Churchill which have inspired and still inspire us to take our business forward, hope you find some inspiration in them as well! What follows are the first 5 quotes:

To build may have to be the slow and laborious task of years. To destroy can be the thoughtless act of a single day.

While today we are a fully independent marketing research agency that self-finances its growth, this has not always been the case. During our start-up years, we allowed an investor company to enter as a significant shareholder of our small organization with the intention of accelerating growth and professionalizing the way we ran our business. While in hindsight this has been a good decision in many respects, it nearly destroyed us as well. Do you know the Friedman matrix? This matrix plots the source of your spending (your own money or someone else’s) versus the beneficiary of your spending (yourself or someone else). Being backed by an investor who brought along extra financial resources, we lost some of our self-criticism along the way, spending too much money too soon.

However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.

Looking back, we have done pretty well in terms of achieving results. Over the last 15 years, we organically grew our business to close to 20 million euro and received international recognition from within and outside our industry. At a certain point, we were investing in so many different areas at the same time (international expansion, corporate services, method innovation, marketing thought leadership) that we ran the risk of becoming that elephant walking on thin ice. Growing a successful business requires a balancing act of topline growth, bottom-line profits and strategic investments for the longer term.

The problems of victory are more agreeable than those of defeat, but they are no less difficult.

With any growing business come growing pains and this has been no different for us. Of all growing pains we witnessed, maybe the most difficult one to overcome was the audacity to focus. Anyone knows that, if you want to be really successful on a global scale, you need to focus on something which you can become the best of the best at. But when you are on a victory path, it is harder to let go of things you are actually successful in. I’m glad our focus has become very sharp now, transforming marketing research into consumer collaboration, but it took us quite some time to get there.

Continuous effort – not strength or intelligence – is the key to unlocking our potential.

Efforts breed results’ has always been our credo. While not always that easy, we try to make our efforts independent of context such as existing workload or an economic crisis. Moreover, we measure all possible efforts so that we are able to link them back to achieved results. For example, we managed to calculate that the mere act of picking up the phone and calling a client or prospect (even if you cannot reach them) is worth € 156 for the company. Knowing the value of efforts has changed the mindset of our people, driving organizational resilience. 

Success is going from failure to failure without a loss of enthusiasm.

Try, fail, try again and keep smiling. While it is not enjoyable, every mistake we have made has helped us to become smarter. Back in 2001, our first international expansion was not a great success. We moved into the Dutch market at a time when it was too soon for many different reasons: our business was not stable enough in our home market, we picked a bad time given the burst of the Internet bubble back then and we could not benefit from strong existing relationships with Dutch customers. We tried again 7 years later, this time way more successfully, with our Dutch office now responsible for about 30% of our corporate revenues.
Stay tuned as on Thursday March 27, we’ll be sharing 5 more quotes from Winston Churchill which have inspired and still inspire us to take our business forward, hope you find some inspiration in them as well.

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