New Year’s B2B Reflections and Resolutions of a CEO
Has it been 5 years already for BizzBee? Time does fly. Actually, it’s been 12 years since the company was founded, but I am counting the years since we’ve rebranded into BizzBee Solutions, as I feel that BizzBee is a story worth sharing. Hop with me on my journey where I will share my B2B reflections and resolutions for the next (hopefully way better) year. :)
Let me take you down memory lane. I bootstrapped AdvertSMS, a mobile marketing agency in 2008, at the age of 23. In the meantime, I did my best in trying to juggle all the college parties and starting a business. To start it I got a bank loan of 1.500€ and borrowed additional 500€ from my brother. And I had no idea what I was getting myself into. After all, I was still a student with zero practical experience. But the younger you start, the more energy you have, and you definitely have less to lose. I mean, back then I had no wife, no mortgage. What I did have was all the time in the world. I am still proud that I was recognised as “Global Innovator for 2009” — an international recognition by World Bank.
I did lost my focus, and got a job and worked for a few companies after that. But luckily, I had the entrepreneurial freedom to start projects, experiment and obtain significant experience. While working at SNV (Dutch Development Organization), I was involved in the creation of Agri-business-development-center (ABDC), as well as several cooperatives in Macedonia. While I was working at Retell UK — a call recording solution, I was responsible for Macedonia’s office, and product owner for the entire flagship solution. I was able to grow the team from only me to 12 people.
Most importantly, I had the opportunity to work alongside fantastic people — and some of them I dearly consider as mentors. Meeting them during that period influenced greatly in shaping my worldview. During that period, I also got a Master’s degree in Entrepreneurship and an Executive MBA.
At one point, I even worked as a freelancer. I believe the preferred word nowadays is a digital nomad. My wife and I, Euro trip, the whole deal. And it was quite exciting — working in the morning, travelling, then working in the evening again. I highly recommend it to anyone at the beginning of their career, before they decide to settle.
But the moment came when we’ve made that decision. And that is when we’ve rebranded AdvertSMS into BizzBee Solutions. But this time it was different. I had more than 7 years of intensive experience, strong academic background and I “knew” what I was doing.
At least I thought I knew…
I believe that 1 year of experience as a startup owner, equals several years of experience as an employee. Seriously. Not just the long hours. But as an owner, you have to hustle multiple areas — and you need to learn quickly. While the chances are that you can’t afford a team.
I’ve started in March 2016 with my wife and 4 interns. Rented an apartment, bought 7 desks, computers, and chairs (yeah, I was planning on growing). And we did, by July we were a team of 7. I was quite skilled at freelance platforms, so I was able to generate enough work for all of them. And then, something unexpected happened.
I got a call in August, from a potential client. They wanted a team of 10 people that would work full-time for 2 months. It was manual desk work, going over audio files, and identifying music segments. And the expected start date was… in 1 week.
It got me wondering… My 7 employee team and I were already at full capacity. If I accept this project, that would mean creating an entirely new team, within a week. And I did not have the extra office space either, so I would need to rent a second office. And I did not have the furniture nor equipment. So any normal person would reject that kind of scope. But I was not a normal person — I was an entrepreneur. As Taki Fiti was saying back at university — Risk generates revenue.
I went all-in once more, and within 1 week, I found a team, rented an office, bought equipment, furniture, etc. It was a long week. I don’t think I slept at all. But this time I was not alone. I had my existing team to support me, the best they could. Two of the interns grew into project managers — that took quite a lot from my workload. I don’t think I would have succeeded without them.
And we did it. By the next Monday, we had a team of 10 people, in a brand new office. And my team grew to 17 people. And I thought now that I have survived this storm, I can relax a bit. I mean, I did it!
But then it hit me. What am I going to do with these 10 people after 2 months? So I a new challenge came into play — I had 2 months to figure out how to keep the new team while maintaining the existing one.
Freelance platforms definitely won’t be enough to sustain that capacity. Although we were getting clients from countries with higher standards — UK, USA, Europe, at the same time we were competing with countries like Bangladesh, Philippines, India, and they tend to offer lower quotes by far.
Not to mention that marketing and sales are quite complex in the B2B world. Up to that point, beyond a basic website, our marketing effort was absolutely zero. Nobody beyond the freelance platforms world knew we even existed.
I decided to try Google ads and found them VERY expensive. I mean, a few hundred dollars per lead, is not something a bootstrapped startup can afford. And I needed lots of leads, so I can hopefully convert some of them.
I also considered Facebook ads, but as a B2B service provider, we needed landing pages, assets (eBooks, white-papers) that we didn’t have back then. We also needed a clear value ladder to drive prospects through the pipeline, which we also missed.
So instead of waiting for the phone to ring (actually email request to arrive, as we didn’t really have a fixed-line at the time), I decided to place my bet on outreach. We were creating databases of prospects for our clients, so we had the needed skills. We just needed to upgrade our knowledge to create the messages so that we can do the email outreach.
Learning to do email outreach was relatively easy — build a database, create messages, and send them with the help of some email automation tool. But mastering the art of email outreach — that took years.
A well-crafted database of highly qualified leads is equal to a gold mine. Thoughtful and engaging message sequence — skyrockets the response rate. Using the right automation tool — ensures deliverability. We’ve learned all this the hard way.
Anyway, to keep the story short, we did it. After the initial 2 months, we have closed enough deals so that we could keep the 10 new employees. And it was a painful process, as I was the only person within BizzBee responsible for both marketing and sales. Jumping from call to call, preparing proposals and closing clients. By December of the same year, BizzBee grew to 20 people.
And then as stories go, something happened to shake things up once more. The same client asked for another project that needed 10 people for the next 3–4 months. However, the initial 10 people were already committed to other projects. And here was I again, with the same entrepreneurial dilemma. New office, new people, and new equipment — will I be able to pull it off? Will BizzBee grow to 30 people in 3 different offices in its first 9 months of existence? And how will I keep up with that big team after the project is finished? Oh, and did I mentioned that my wife was pregnant at that point?
And we did it again. From that point, I’ve realised that I am on the route of unhealthy growth and need to slow down. As we got to 30+ employees, we were still not a real business. Beyond the quantity, we were lacking almost everything else a normal business should have. We didn’t have real HR policies, nor clear understanding and standardisation of the services. Nor the right tools for marketing, sales, and project management. We also lacked any strategic direction of the company — in terms of innovation, service improvement, and mid-long term direction of where we are headed.
And as a management consultant, that bothered me, a lot. When consulting clients, I insist that they should have a business plan (even a general direction), which I didn’t have. We were a team for hire. This was the moment when I decided that I will focus on working on the business, rather than in the business. So I brought people in sales, marketing, and administration — to help me keep the business operational — while I focus on building a healthy business.
And it was a long and painful process. Based on the market feedback, we introduced new services (LinkedIn outreach was revolutionary in how we help clients). We’ve invested in marketing activities, and in a marketing team that will ensure long-term consistency in our message — rather than a burst of ads. We build our sales team — yeah, we’ve failed a few times, but all the insights we’ve learned helped us work even smarter the next time.
I moved all our offices in the same building, as it was really a headache to have 3 offices in 3 different locations. We also introduced 6-months strategic plans that help us to reflect on where we are and where we want to be. And I still don’t think I am finished — it is an ongoing improvement process. But now I am not alone — instead of me doing everything, the team is also involved in the strategic direction, the service improvement — all for supporting BizzBee’s growth.
Fast forward — 2020 was a double-edged sword. Like any other business, we were also impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
On the one end, we’ve lost a few clients. Their services were dependent on travelling and physical meetings, so there was no point for them to continue our work. In addition, a few clients that were in the onboarding process paused their activity. And I understand them — during uncertain times, it is hard to invest. It is sometimes better to wait and see how things will play out.
On the other hand, we’ve got quite a lot of new clients. Other B2B companies, were left without the traditional sales channels — participation in B2B conferences and events. Unable to travel, they were pushed to find new digital sales channels — and find them fast. So we had a lot of new B2B service providers whose services were digital. And we really enjoyed serving them and managed to provide fantastic results.
Having said that, we’ve realised that that is our niche — that is who we want to serve. And that these type of companies get the best results from our approach. During the lockdown, we strategically decided to move from generalist to specialist, mid-2020.
We re-structured the website. Refined our messaging. Specialised in B2B outreach, helping high-ticket service providers (agencies, consultants, software companies). And we really deliver fantastic results to this target — we have examples with x10 ROI. Why do I share all of this? Because these 5 years were like an out of this world rollercoaster. But I must say, during this period, I learned some of the best lessons in my life. While some of my B2B reflections and resolutions from the previous years became a reality.
What I’ve learned is that at the beginning, you need to take care of everything — and I tried my best to do it all by myself.
I found out that you need to keep the finances in order, regardless if you have an accountant. Their job is to ensure you are complying with the existing laws. It is not their job to tell you if you have enough money to cover the month, or whether to buy a new laptop. You also need to figure out your marketing, and the ways of bringing potential clients to you. Otherwise, it would be game over.
You need to master the art of sales, as well. Talking with clients, negotiation and scoping are essential for startup survival. So instead of one boss, now you serve a lot of clients.
You must survive at management — making a balance between employee needs and wants versus client expectations and satisfaction. This is a constant struggle.
And you need to be patient at HR — I can do everything better, at least I thought I could. But delegating, coaching and inspiring employees, is the only way that they will surpass you. On top of this, you need to keep the strategic hat — looking at industry trends, changes in the market needs, and the introduction of new services.
It is quite an intensive and stressful experience. Especially if you are doing it alone. Well, I had my wife by my side, so we did all this together.
But it gets better. As I grew, I started delegating. I first recruited employees — to get the execution off my back. This saved me a lot of time so that I could focus on the other parts of the business. Then I got a project manager — to take care of the HR and the management of the projects. Quickly enough, I got a marketing and sales manager. Only then I was actually able to work on the business and not in the business. And to strategically grow BizzBee Solutions.
And I was growing my family in parallel. Fiancée => Wife => pregnancy => baby => toddler. I’ve seen other people going through this transformative process, but until you experience it, you don’t know what you are getting yourself into. For me, it was a driving force to push even harder in life — both professional and personal.
Another lesson I’ve learned the hard way is that growing a business is easy — as long as there are clients. But creating a healthy company that is the painful process. As clients come and leave. Building a culture around the team, an international brand, ensuring quality, and keep innovating in your business — it is an ongoing neverending process.
As 2021 approaches, I am trying to wrap my head around all the things that happened. As a business owner, here are my strategic goals for 2021.
Thought Authority — The main effort in marketing would be to put BizzBee and me on the world map as the best outreach company when it comes to B2B high-ticket service providers.
It includes spreading the word about BizzBee — participation in guest interviews, audio podcasts, and written interviews. This way, we are reaching out to an audience that we don’t have direct access to.
In addition, we are also going to create our own content — to draw the audience toward us. We already have quite active social media content, and a bi-weekly blog and newsletter. In 2021 we will expand in the audio/video content — creating our own video/audio shows as well as online courses and webinars.
On a personal level, I also hope that in 2021 I will finally finish my book on B2B outreach. I have been working on it for more than a year now, and I think it will help us reach out to an, even more, broader audience. If I knew how much effort it is to publish a book — I probably wouldn’t have started it. Luckily, I didn’t know, so here I am…
LinkedIn/Email Outreach => Relationship => Loyal client — We are our own clients. :) We believe that in the B2B world, LinkedIn and Email outreach are the best sales techniques.
For 2021, our goal is to focus on fewer clients, but at a depth that was not seen before. We’ve worked with almost 400 clients since BizzBee was established, and believe me, I chose quality over quantity — every time.
It will also affect our pricing, but then we would be able to focus on being a partner, rather than just a supplier. There are so many variables in the B2B sales process, so only as partners, we can dive deeper and figure out how to get x10 or more for our clients. When we are serving too many clients, we are too stretched, and the client becomes just a number. We would rather be a company that you can actually entrust your sales and growth to.
As we are growing and heavily using our services — we are learning new things. We have the luxury to experiment on our campaigns, before recommending it to a client.
Based on what we’ve experienced so far, by doing outreach for ourselves, and for our clients — we’ve noticed that particular patterns emerge. Email and LinkedIn outreach are great channels. But if you are relying entirely on outreach, it has limited results. On the other hand, when it is sync with your marketing effort — then it gives fantastic results.
So for 2021, I believe we will work with clients in building their content and social presence — in order to position them as the authority in the field.
In conclusion, being an entrepreneur has its ups and downs. You can’t avoid turbulences and mistakes — you can just embrace them and learn from them. I am sure that there will be plenty of new turbulences in BizzBee in 2021, but hopefully, we will overcome them as they arise. And I think it is the only way a company grows to the next level. Turbulence => Stabilization => New turbulence.
I am so excited about all the things we plan to do in 2021. I am positive that BizzBee is headed towards the right path, and can’t wait to roll up my sleeves and do some magic in 2021…
This story was originally published on BizzBee Blog. :)