Imagine pushing a big, heavy flywheel from a standing start: it takes a lot of effort just to get it moving and a strong, sustained effort to keep it accelerating as momentum builds.
Considering the flywheel concept in business, there are clearly quite a few ways a company can make it spin faster. Better marketing, a bigger sales team or cheaper products can all give a business more momentum. In the book ‘The Everything Store’ Brad Stone describes how the flywheel concept can be used to model Amazon’s early growth:
“Bezos and his lieutenants sketched their own virtuous cycle, which they believed powered their business. It went something like this: lower prices led to more customer visits, with increased sales attracting more commission-paying third-party sellers to the site. That allowed Amazon to make efficiencies around the website’s fulfilment centres and servers and this enabled further price reductions. Feed any part of this flywheel, they reasoned, and it should accelerate the loop.”
In an agency – especially one in a fast-moving environment like search or digital marketing – momentum feels paramount. An agency with momentum wins exciting clients who have thousands of fans; clients that deserve to rank on Google and have budgets large enough to afford amazing campaigns and a fantastic website. Larger budgets and big brand clients attract top staff who can deliver amazing results for those clients, who then renew their contracts, refer their friends and enjoy winning awards at glitzy events.
An agency without momentum is like a flywheel with a brake on: everything is much harder. The exciting clients go to the other agencies and you are stuck with the low-budget clients that nobody has ever heard of and who don’t deserve to rank. Top-tier marketers don’t want to work with small brands, so they don’t apply for jobs at your agency, and any good staff you have are quickly poached by the agency down the road with the big brand clients and higher salaries.
Ups and downs are normal and every business experiences fluctuations in momentum. We experienced the importance of momentum at Branded3, where happy clients led to happy staff, which in turn led to happy clients. We knew that if part of the chain broke, the whole thing could fall apart.
At connective3 we are doing a real-life experiment to see what happens when you launch a new business with no clients in a crowded market when all your major competitors have a 10+year head start. Plenty of businesses do the same every day, but the remarkable thing is we are doing it having owned one of those large agencies with momentum and a flywheel spinning round at seemingly unstoppable speeds. We were that agency but now here we are, sitting on the carpet on day one with no chairs, no desks and no Wi-Fi, waiting for the phone to ring.
Clearly we have some finance behind the business and a great team on board, but our flywheel is hardly moving (we are four days old as I write this). Gone are the thousands of blog subscribers and the dozens of quality inbound leads we used to get every week. Our pipeline has to be rebuilt from scratch and the site doesn’t even rank for its own name yet.
However, we believe that momentum is not the most important thing in running an agency in the long term. The single most important thing is getting the right people on the bus.
While the old footballing cliché that says “form is temporary, class is permanent” feels a bit arrogant, the whole “people are vectors” analogy resonates with us. Remember the concept in maths of a vector having both direction and magnitude? This applies to people too. So a group of people pulling in different directions are far less effective than if they all pull in the same direction. At some point in a business, your momentum will be slowed by everybody suddenly pulling in different directions.
At connective3 we’re insulating against the usual peaks and troughs. Our founding team have skin in the game and have been pulling in the same direction together for nearly 10 years. We leave our egos at the door and worry more about keeping clients happy than looking good in front of the boss. We believe that being built to last is the most effective way to run an agency, and that over the long term – even from a standing start – an agency that is built to last will excel.