Expert tips from a uni dropout who went from $400 to $45 million

Nick Bell

Rewind back to 2008 and I was a uni dropout struggling to keep my skincare business afloat, with $400 to my name. At that time, I decided to give it “one last crack” and started what is now WME, Australia’s largest digital marketing agency. With 150 employees here in Australia and 450 worldwide, we’re now in six countries turning over $45 million. Here are four pieces of advice for other business owners starting out, drawn from my own humble beginnings.

Learn from your mistakes and blaze forward

One of the biggest fears as a small business owner is failure. A bruised ego is a welcomed casualty if it leads to long-term success. When you’re trying to get a new business off the ground, you’ve got to move fast and make quick decisions. One result of this is you will make mistakes. On the flipside, you will probably make some really good decisions, or at least have the opportunity to use past mistakes as a platform for what’s next. If I had let my first experience in business stop me from trying again, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

Don’t go it alone

Don’t be afraid to surround yourself with people who are more skilled than you. Whether it’s hiring employees or finding a business partner or mentor, you’ll find that their skills and smarts will have a positive influence. Whether you’re winning or losing, having someone around to share the journey is preferable to going it alone. Six months after I started WME, I used what income I was generating to invest back into the business and hire a young man from New Zealand. That young man was not only good to have around – he also played a key role in bringing processes to the business and is still with the company today.

Remember why you started on this journey and visualise the spoils of its eventual triumph.

Home in on your goal and don’t lose sight

Maintaining focus is critical. Home in on your goal and don’t lose sight of your objectives. Inevitably, there will be bumps along the road, and this can be challenging and disheartening. Motivate yourself to rise above it and continue driving your business forward. Over the years, I have seen too many new business owners lose faith, even as they have stood right on the edge of having it all. To anyone working tirelessly to get their first business off the ground, my advice is remember why you started on this journey and visualise the spoils of its eventual triumph.

Cultivate a sense of urgency

Without doubt, a sense of urgency helped me get to where I am today. It’s a quality that distinguishes all the great entrepreneurs and business owners I’ve met, and gives them a competitive edge. Consumers are spoiled for choice, so you must move quickly to survive. If you minimise your response times and treat all of your customers like VIPs, then you should start to see the results. As you grow your team, that same sense of urgency must also develop as part of your culture. Your ability to engage employees with a sense of urgency will see you shine as a great leader, and should have a positive impact on your company’s brand and performance. 

Nick Bell

Nick Bell is founder and managing director of WME, Australia’s largest digital marketing agency.

Image: Courtesy of WME