A Thank-you to Focus. How doing less saved our business.
How we’ve learnt to keep the reins on diversification in a creative business.
In the seven or so years we’ve officially been in business the sun of our ‘universe’ has always been our website, www.itsnicethat.com. The source of energy and life for all other parts of what we do.
In that time, (as all creative businesses do) we have flirted with more than our fair share different projects and diversifications, or planets around our original sun.
Some have been very successful and grown into great entities in their own right (our creative agency INT Works, or our annual event Here London), and others have been much less successful and been paused or stopped completely (our events listings site This at There or summer workshop idea Field Trip).
Along the way we’ve learnt that with all of these diversifications, that analysing the importance of each of them to our overall mission and strategy is critical to stop them sapping the life out of the other parts. Stealing all the sunshine.
It’s easy to put lots of time and effort into a new, sexy part that looks beautiful, or get a good initial response and ignore their actual benefit to the ecosystem. Each new idea has the potential to convince your vanity into keeping it going just because it felt like a good idea once (and you probably ploughed a whole chunk of time into getting it off the ground).
But, on the back of a very tricky year in 2014 we forced ourselves to brutally examine what was working and what wasn’t. We weren’t making money, and had just taken on a huge new studio overhead and needed to find the holes in our model and plug them quickly.
We had been slow to realise we weren’t really concentrating as hard as we should have been on the most important things.
Our response was to focus on the core of our business again; www.itsnicethat.com. Concentrate on the solid, loyal audience and platform that we had been trying to diversify around. Stop pursuing projects that we were trying to cram into our, and our team’s already busy schedules. Take the budget we were allocating on side projects and pour it back into the core of the business and really look after our plateauing online audience.
The process of implementing the changes was sizeable and even felt brutal at times. We made structural, organisational and personnel changes, paused or killed projects some people loved, and upset some of our audience who got great value from some of those side projects.
The effect was monumental.
Our team had more time to do their jobs better than before.
We became less stressed and thinly spread.
We freed up budget to finally redevelop the website properly.
We concentrated more on developing our team, the culture and the things that mattered.
We got time to analyse the effect of the changes.
And, crucially, we started to make money again.
Now, our focus continues to remain steadfastly on our online offering, with our numbers growing steadily quarter to quarter. The new site we launched last year has brought more editorial value to our audience and commercial opportunities through a better structured native advertising and partnership offering.
The two years following have been our best ever both from a financial and business growth perspective, but also from an audience and quality of output perspective.
We haven’t stifled ambition. The door is always open to new ideas and innovations, and in that time we introduced a small annual fund for innovation that encourages our workforce to come up with new, innovative experiments that can enhance our current business. We’ve also freed up some of our time as directors to really pursue some new opportunities.
What we’ve really learnt about new ventures it that anything we think is worth diversifying for needs to be given appropriate time for it to be loved, groomed. Considered rather than tacked onto the end of someone’s day.
I look back now and can’t believe we were so beautifully naive, enthusiastic and ultimately idiotic to try and juggle so many different things at once.
We’ve learnt that it’s not about whether to explore new avenues or not, that’s the easy bit (you should) — the art is in deciding when you pursue them, and how you make sure that they get the attention they deserve preventing them from becoming a distraction.
And, as we prove the success of what we’re currently doing I know that innovative diversification will happen again, and I’m excited to feel that we are more capable of making a success of whatever we come up with next than we ever have before.
Thank you focus.
p.s I felt compelled to write this the week after our latest issue of Printed Pages, our printed incarnation of It’s Nice That has had it’s quickest ever sell-out online— 5 days. And that was just the preorder.
This is relevant to mention here because it’s something that benefitted from our new found focus in 2015 by simplifying its editorial strategy and being smart with it’s resource and ambition. It is a shining example of where renewed focus, and keeping an offer simple can reap huge rewards if done properly, made possible by a talented and empowered workforce.