Letting go of Control

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David Bowers is the Managing Director of Lo + Behold, a branding and digital design agency in Manchester.

Biggest fuck up?

Growing too quickly. Or at least, in hindsight, growing too quickly without a strategy.

Before we were Lo + Behold, we were Evolutia, and there was a spell for a couple of years where we snowballed from about 6 of us to 22. We had brought search marketing in-house, having been left red-faced by outsourcing to crappy agencies, but we’d underestimated the thirst for decent quality SEO/PPC at the time.

Scrabbling around for web project work was all we’d known, and now people were flocking to us for search marketing on lovely, secure 12-month contracts, and there was a lot of work out there. Naturally, we got giddy and took on everything we could.

This didn’t look to be an issue as there was also an abundance of brilliant young digital marketers around who we could bring on board. The issue came with the fact we didn’t have experience in managing this resource.

The four directors were comfortable man-marking one or so staff members each, but soon it transpired we needed extra tiers of management, non-fee-earners.

this was a big decision that we shied away from.

The upshot was we couldn’t scale up quality and efficiency. Our search marketing offering was suffering, and before we got lumbered with a bad reputation for it, we wound it back down again over the course of a couple of years before finally selling off the remaining contracts and re-branding as L+B. Now we concentrate on making creative websites and apps as best we can. We have a great network of suppliers around us – including a brilliant search agency that we can finally rely on – each of whom allows us to do our jobs better.

Lightbulb moment

I’d been Creative Director for 14 years, so when it came to moving into the Managing Director role, I found it hard to let go of my creative duties. Part of it was habit, but mainly it was due to being a control freak.

I had no lack of faith in the design team, but something in me just couldn’t commit to completely relinquishing control. It resulted in a fuzzy handover, where responsibilities were ambiguous, and our new Creative Director, Adam, kept having to tolerate me poking my nose in.

After six months or so, it became obvious to me this was an elephant in the room, and I finally decided to make a clear and definite step back. I moved out of the design studio into a different space and made sure all clients knew that anything organisational came to me, and anything design-related went to Adam.

This was an absolute revelation. The faith that I’d finally shown was being repaid with interest, removing me as a bottleneck from the process, and the creative freedom suddenly afforded to our design guys was evident in the quality of the work they were putting out when I wasn’t hovering over their shoulders.

Useful advice

Be generous to people. Obviously, you need a bit of judgement on this — you don’t want to constantly get rolled over.

A friend of mine, Mark Stringer of Ahoy Digital, said a great thing to me about people mistaking kindness for a weakness and not allowing this to happen. But if you know and like someone or just have a good feeling about them, be generous with your time and knowledge, it’ll come back around in some form at some point.

As we all get older, I see a lot of people that get more self-serving, crueller and meaner. I’m trying to do the opposite.

There’s a great book called The Go-Giver by Bob Burg. It’s not a big reader, you could smash it in an evening — I’d recommend it, as it could well change the way you conduct yourself and react to situations with positive results.

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