Six things I’ve learnt in six years of business. My top learnings as a founder and agency-owner to-date.

Natalie Dean-Weymark


September 5, 2023

Somehow, another year has passed and today marks Compass’ 6th birthday. This is a milestone that feels significant to me as we are no longer a “new” business, and no longer (technically) a “small-business”. Compass Studio is an ever-growing collection of people who are constantly learning as we go – sometimes to our detriment, but more often, to our strength. We think big, deliver even better, and are always exceeding expectations of what is required of any agency or business of our size.

I’m particularly proud of this past year. We became carbon-positive (that’s the good one!), started our Reconciliation Action Plan, re-applied for our B Corp certification and were shortlisted on the Smart50 Places to Work for 2023. 

But that’s the highlight reel, of course. At the same time, this last 12 months has been *a year*...

As a society, we have been balanced precariously on the edge of an economic recession, consumer spending has slowed, and consequently brand spend tightened. It’s been the year that we “went back to normal”, and navigating this in terms of YOY comparisons has been impossible. Basically, our compass dial has been wildly spinning and we are only just beginning to see some clear paths emerge as an industry. 

So, in the spirit of sharing, and in the knowledge that we are better together, here are six things that I’ve learnt in the past six years. 

Who you say no to is just as important as who you say yes to

Without intention, our USP has become not our portfolio of brands that we work with – but more importantly, those not included on this list. From the very start, we knew what we wanted to cultivate and also clearly, what we didn’t. Both internally and externally, this has modelled how we moved forward. Honestly, sticking to the original blueprint has opened up far more doors than it’s closed over the past six years. Of course, saying “no” can feel wrong in the first instance. Trust me, the more you do it, the easier it gets. We find that this steadfast approach to sticking to our values empowers both our business and our people. 

Know your one percent difference

I’m a big believer that there is space in the market for everyone, and I’m often inspired to do-better by our competitors. Competition is healthy, inspiring, empowering, validating. It’s so helpful to reframe your thinking around competition. While acknowledging this, I still believe that in the truest sense, Compass has no direct competitors. 

How? Because I truly know and understand our 1%, and we speak to it often. 

Understanding the 1% rule changed our business, as well as the way my co-founder and co-director Luke and I personally work. Now, 6 years in, we have a brilliant team that could do most of the work for us. But our role as leaders is to identify “What’s the 1% that no one but Compass can do, both now in and in the future?” My advice? Find it, and focus on that. 

It’s not about what you say, it’s about what you do

We are marketers. This means that it’s our job to make brands look good externally, us included. That’s not to say our efforts don’t count internally. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Over the last six years, I’ve learnt that our company should be and feel better internally than it looks externally. Thinking less on our external facing brand and more so on our internal one has in turn built a stronger, more trustworthy and authentic brand in-market as we have nothing to hide. We have embraced the fact that third-party accreditation and audited measures of impact and credibility are 100% necessary. Particularly in the current industry landscape, which is awash with all the greens, from “washing” to “hushing”. If you can get your bones right, the shiney exterior will follow without too much effort. 

Listen to the conversation

Much to my team’s dismay, I often break things. In the process of rethinking and reiterating, I often mess up all the systems and processes we currently have in place. Annoying? Potentially. Necessary? Absolutely. If you are listening to the conversation both within your company and on an industry level, the only consistent will be change. This continual process requires a lot of “I thought we had this right, but we don’t”, and “I’m sorry, but that way no longer works”. For this to be well received, it’s crucial to surround yourself with team members who see the value in transparency, and strive to “do better”.

Let it land

Agency culture is inherently fast-paced. At Compass, we pride ourselves on our nimbleness. Importantly, we recognise the (vast) difference between responsiveness and recklessness. Very few decisions need to be made in the moment, so give yourself the time to formulate a response. I’ve been given the excellent advice that if something happens to evoke an emotion in you, sleep on it before responding. Frankly, I’m not good at this and never will be. But, six years in, I’ve learnt to request synopsis pre-meeting, build in thinking time to my review periods, and anticipate this “sleeping on it” time wherever possible. This has allowed me to “let the idea land” before jumping in with a response. No matter what size of organisation, I find this concept is beneficial and allows for better outcomes across the board. 

Ask yourself often: Is this still what I want to be doing?

This is a crucial question, and one Luke and I ask ourselves regularly. Business ownership can sometimes feel like a rollercoaster with very tight loops – but the answer is unequivocally “yes!” When we started Compass Studio, we began with a simple rule - the Dinner Party Rule. The concept is simple, “Would we be proud enough to share what we’re working on, and who we’re working with over a meal with our friends and family?” We’ve stayed true to this rule, and can honestly say “yes” to every single brand that we have partnered with over the last six years passes the test. Point is, if your “why” is regularly re-visited and enacted on the daily, success can only follow.  

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