12 lessons from 12 years

If you are thinking about starting a business, our co-CEO shares the 12 key lessons he has learnt from 12 years of running Instant Impact.


Written by Felix Mitchell, co-CEO and co-Founder

It feels like a lifetime ago that my best mate from university Rob and I decided to set up Instant Impact. We were sitting in a café just off Bondi Beach having graduated 6 months earlier. It was 2010 and the economy was still clawing its way out of recession, but the time felt right. After all – if not now, when?

To anyone out there thinking about starting their own business I thought it would be useful for me to share some of our key learnings.

Here they are – in no particular order:

1. Build trusting relationships

I can honestly say that Instant Impact wouldn’t be here today if Rob and I didn't put so much time and effort into relationship building. I think that they're the real secret to success, both in business and in life. As they say – it's not who you know but how you know them.

Over the past 12 years we've built an incredibly strong relationship – one that is key to the success of the business itself. I've heard more than once that we're like a married couple – we know each other inside and out, speak for one another, and (on occasion) bicker. To maintain the closeness of our relationship we need to actively work on it. We make sure that we provide one another with regular feedback and that we spend quality time together outside of the workplace – usually with our kids who are also best mates!

Outside of that, investments into professional relationships have borne fruit again and again. Both of our C-level hires (Ben Donovan-Aitken our Chief Delivery Officer, and Pete Donaldson our Chief Growth Officer) happened to be people that we met at industry events. Of course, we ran fair and open application processes but, in both cases, it was our relationships that allowed us to attract a calibre of candidate who would have been unlikely to be interested in joining such a small company without the foundations of trust that we built over the years.

Over the last 12 years we’ve built up some amazing relationships with our clients. We partnered with Octopus Energy when they were a team of 6; they’ve since gone on to become a double unicorn and we make hundreds of hires together each year.

You never know where a relationship is going to lead!

2. Make the most out of every opportunity

One of our big lessons came from following the example of our Non Exec Director Sean Williams. He was a hugely successful businessman in his own right, having built and sold a computer leasing company called Syscap. Outside of work he was larger than life, he never did things by halves.  

He loved cycling so he regularly cycled across continents including North America and Australia. 

He loved fishing so he was a key investor in a sport fishing company that won a tender to catch and release the highly protected (and HUGE) blue fin tuna. 

He also loved to advise us and, even when he was in the most brutal courses of chemotherapy, he'd never miss a board meeting. He even came to a couple with the drip in his arm.  

Sadly, Sean died two years ago but the impact that he had on us will remain with us for the rest of our lives.  

3. Ask for help

I can't count the number of people who have helped me over the last 12 years. Whether that's one of the many times that one of my friends have gone out of their way to introduce me to a new potential client or a myriad of free advice sessions over a coffee, lunch, or a couple of beers.

Never feel embarrassed or worried about asking for help – the worst that someone can say is "no" and in my experience, people actually love helping out. Just remember to thank them afterwards!

4. To be the best you need the best around you

To have the disruptive impact that we want to on the Talent Solutions industry we need to be able to consistently hire, train, and retain the very best talent. That requires a tireless focus on creating a company that people love to be a part, paying competitively, and ensuring that every person can see an attractive career pathway.

It also means recognizing early when someone isn't right for the business. Hiring mistakes happen and sometimes an employee who was right for the business in one phase isn't in the next. It's never fair to a team member to keep them in a role where they're failing even if they have all of the support they need. So be fair but act quickly.

5. Enjoy the wins

Building a business is a rollercoaster. So is life.

It's all too easy to focus on the lows and, believe me, there will always be lows.

But it's critical to take time focusing on the wins too. Recognizing the victories feels great, creates momentum, and helps to rally your team around you.

6. Specialize - you can't be everything to everybody

Saying no is hard, really hard when you're building a business and every penny of new revenue matters.

We've learnt that specializing in a particular market (in our case small and mid-sized businesses) makes it much easier to really understand them. The more your clients have in common, the better you'll be at tailoring a solution to their challenges and the faster you'll grow your brand.

What you lose in potential target market, you'll gain in new business.

7. Continue learning

No matter how smart you are, someone has almost certainly dedicated years to solving each problem that you're likely to face.

Read books regularly.

8. Some things are more important

Growing a business can be all consuming and it's important to remember that it's not the be all and end all.

Family and health (mental and physical) must always come first.

9. Focus

Every entrepreneur that I know suffers from magpie syndrome, Rob and I were no exception.

In the first 4 years of running Instant Impact we'd launched 3 other companies.

We founded BizHub, a B2B services market place and a joint venture with a US headhunter called Elm Talent resulted in Elm Talent UK and Instant Impact US. The recruitment companies were mildly successful but drained a significant amount of resource from our fledgling start up. BizHub was a different business entirely and we'd already lost so much time when we realized how much resource we'd need to make it a success.

These days, although we keep a running list of business ideas, Rob and I both know that they're unlikely to see the light of day.

10. You can never make more time – prioritize!

There's always so much to do and no matter how productive you are the list just gets longer and longer.

Know the feeling?

Having a young family has forced both Rob and I to be brutal with prioritizing our time. We no longer want to work until the wee hours of the night (some things are more important) but we've become expert at culling tasks that won't add value or that can be done by someone else.

Become an expert delegator and merciless in cutting tasks that aren't worth your time.

11. The little things are the big things so be proud of everything you do!

"How you do anything is how you do everything!" I first heard that expression from my Peloton instructor but apparently it first came from T. Harv Eker – a Canadian business author.  

Maintain high standards whether you're writing an internal email or delivering a keynote. By expecting as much from the smallest activities as you would from the most significant you create an environment where excellence is second nature.  

12. Be constructively dissatisfied

During periods where growth is coming easily it's easy to take your foot off the improvement pedal and just assume that the good times will always keep rolling. It's certainly a trap that we've fallen into more recently than I'd care to admit.

When things are going well, double down on asking yourself what you can do better, where the industry is going, and how you can beat your competitors. The good times will end and when they do you want to hit the bad times with the best solution, the best team, and the best strategy out there.

That's what separates good from great.

We’re so proud of the business that we’ve built so far but know that we have a long way to go.

If the next 12 years are anything like as exciting as the last, it’s going to be an amazing ride!