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£1m in revenue, all on gut feel

For some time I’ve wanted to tell the story of Sanctus growing profitably, yet I’ve found it difficult to truly write: “this is how we’ve done it.”

Last year we tripled our business on a profit and we are on track to do £1m+ in revenue this year (fingers crossed.)

In 2018:

  • We grew our coaching team from 6 to 32 Sanctus Coaches.
  • We tripled annual revenue.
  • We grew the team from 4 full time to 8.
  • We grew from 40 monthly coaching days to 100.
  • We achieved all of this on a small profit, whilst paying market rate salaries (founders included) with no ‘creative’ accounting.

If you asked me: “How?” I’d have to shrug my shoulders and say “I don’t really know, it just happened.

We did plan for that type of growth, but I still couldn’t clearly articulate to you step by step how we did it.

Of course we’ve got a marketing strategy, of sorts and we have a slick operation that allow us to serve our partners and coaches every day, we have wonderful coaches who are incredible at what they do and wonderful partners who really value what we do too. Yet, like I said, it’s all sort of just happened really organically.

What’s hard for me as the Founder is is that I am still so “in it” that it’s hard for me to objectively look at “How” and judge or analyse our strategy, so I’m going to shoot from the hip here, it feels like only bullet points will do:

It feels really important for me to write this and write it in this way, I’ll come onto that later.

What we have done so far:

  • We have an extremely strong set of values, that whilst they aren’t codified or written on a wall, they are lived and breathed every single day. These values guide what we do and how we do it, every single person on our team reverts to these and this is how we lead and run the business.
  • Everybody on our team wants to be here and wants to create something amazing. Everyone is passionate about what we do and why we are doing it. Everyone has some level of personal and emotional connection to our work. I think it is fair to say that this is more than just a job for every person on our team. It also means we have a team full of leaders and I don’t mean that by seniority and experience, I mean they are willing to lead in their area of work and have done so phenomenally well.
  • We tell our story very well and do so consistently with a machine gun like content marketing approach. We do this well and we are not afraid to fail.
  • We serve Sanctus Coaches (who are technically self-employed contractors) the exact same way as all of our other stakeholders. in fact we are completely obsessed by supporting them in the best possible way to the highest possible standards.
  • If I do say so myself, we have two founders (GB and I) who listen, are self-aware and want what is right for Sanctus above all else, not just what is right for us or for our ego’s.
  • We don’t compare ourselves to others or do things that we “should do” we do what is right for us, we do things our way. Like deciding not to raise venture capital when every startup under the sun does so.
  • We trust people. We have created a culture built on trust, where we trust one another and trust that everybody is here for the right reasons. This has meant that people feel a sense of ownership to their work and we can grow through people letting things go (especially founders at this stage)
  • With our partners (customers) we focus on what is right not what is revenue generating. If we need to reduce the number of coaching days with a customer, we do so, because that’s what is right AND we focus on our relationship over any transaction. We are here to serve our partners and create something amazing for them, our relationship together is paramount. Yet I would also say that we are not afraid to make it clear how we work and we never bend on our values for anyone, no matter who they are.
  • We are disciplined and focused, we could have done a million new things, but we have done one thing really well and we have said no a lot. We haven’t said yes to everything and overstretched ourselves, we’ve said yes to what feels right for us and delivered really well on that. Again, raising Venture Capital is an example here, we’ve focused on serving our customers — not on raising investment.
  • We’ve maintained our integrity and been willing to let people go, we’ve not bent or misaligned ourselves to work with someone. We’ve not created a new rule for one company or one person just to accommodate them, we’ve focused on fairness and integrity in everything that we do. This has meant being willing to say goodbye to some huge brand names or being willing to not work with people immediately.
  • We genuinely and I mean genuinely allow people to bring their whole self to work. We’ve supported people through mental health issues, through difficult times and we really have an environment where you can be vulnerable and be met with love and care from every person on the team. In this sense we have a true growth culture, where people on the team seem to grow on a personal level at rapid rates.
What our end of year “Purpose Day” looked like.

For now, that’s all I can give you for “how Sanctus got to 1m in revenue in 2 years” and I’m afraid I can’t be more coherent than that.

I could, I could turn this into a well articulated beautiful shiny blog post that makes it seem that we had it all figured out from day one, but that would be a lie.

The simple one line sentence and truth in how we’ve run our business thus far is that: We have listened to our gut and stayed true to our felt sense of values.

We’ve come all this way on gut feel and I truly mean that. Hiring decisions, customer relationships, marketing, product, coaching — every single aspect of our business to date has been lead by our gut.

Now, as we grow our team and expand what we do, we’re starting to name some of these values, codify a lot of our processes, but the truth is that in the early days it was all gut feel and a lot of it still is today.

Sounds messy doesn’t it? Just following your intuition and having no idea if what you’re doing is right or not. Well yeah, that’s how it is in the early years of growing a new business and if anyone tells you otherwise I’d contest it.

The coherent strategies and codified values will come, they’ll probably be here by the end of the year, but if I look back at 2017 and 2018, I’m telling you it was all gut feel and trying to find the door handle in the dark.

I can hardly even remember it all, it’s gone so fast, it’s been a whirlwind and throughout that whirlwind all we had was our internal compass to help guide us.

It’s brave to start and create something new, whether you’re a founder, an early employee, a contractor or a first customer — it takes guts to get involved and be part of something nascent and the we make those decisions on our inner feelings — we just follow what feels right — a lot of the time we don’t even think.

Startups are usually all about nice polished pitch decks and fancy websites with those little chat widgets that pop up asking if you want any help. I’m writing this on Medium, tapping away furiously trying to think about how we even got to this amazing place we are in — that’s the reality.

We listened to our hearts, followed our intuition and did what felt right to us. We’ve had some luck too, but mostly, I believe we created that luck. We’ve been true and authentic to us and the world has come towards us and asked for more.

It’s been hard at times too, very hard. I had a tough year last year, emotionally. I beat myself about “being a leader” and I got myself curled up in balls of stress and anxiety worrying about our team, our coaches and our business. The growth for me and George has been astronomical, we’ve had to reinvent ourselves over and over again, it’s relentless and exhausting sometimes. Like I said above, thankfully we have created an environment where we can be open about that.

I think I can speak for the whole of Sanctus here, but this has been an overwhelmingly positive experience of work and creating a business. It has allowed us and continues to allow us to be nothing other than ourselves and it means that no matter how we perform, we are always left with our integrity and values intact.

We’re led by our values, pursuing our mission and I can’t see us stopping any time soon.