20 things I’ve learned during 20 years of running a music company

The following MBW blog comes from Henry Semmence (pictured), the founder and MD of UK-based Absolute Label Services, which works with artists, labels and managers to market, distribute and manage music releases. The company is currently celebrating its 20th anniversary in business – which explains why Semmence has picked the biggest 20 lessons he’s learned over the past two decades.

1) Great staff are everything. Empower staff

If you give staff the ability to make their own decisions, they not only learn more about their roles, they care more about the business and become more engaged with it.

2) Don’t be afraid to lead, and to praise where praise is due

As a boss you must be able to lead your team and have them all working towards the same goals. Praising all elements of the things they do well is vital as it encourages them to follow your lead.

3) Teach down and learn up within a business hierarchy

Our business is embracing new ideas on a constant basis. Younger members of staff know more than I do in some of these areas. My role is to give them my advice and my experience, theirs is to teach and inform me of new skills and ideas.

4) Keep meetings short

Keep agendas short, focus on the key points, keep people’s interest and things will get done.

5) Be willing to take advice

I want to learn – to grow my knowledge and business. This is done by listening to people who have done it before.

6) Don’t run away from problems, run towards them

No problem has ever been resolved by avoiding it. Get to the cause of the problem as soon as possible, resolve it and move forward.

7) Don’t be afraid

Being independent is daunting. Take chances, be innovative – and do it!

8) Running a business is hard, rewarding and should be fun

There is no point in having your own business if you don’t enjoy it. There are days when it is challenging, but if you don’t stretch yourself you won’t appreciate the success.

9) Don’t sweat on the small stuff

Try to look at the overall objectives and focus on those. The small things will never be that important, so don’t worry about them. Look at the bigger picture. Move onwards.

10) Don’t fret if you lose a deal. There is always another one around the corner

Don’t worry if the deal you were after doesn’t land. Learn from what you did or didn’t do and then move on to another. If you have a good business model you will get more opportunities.

11) What is important today will not always be important tomorrow

Cassette singles and Woolworths orders were vital 15 years ago. DSPs are vital today. Change and adapt, or die.

12) Protect margins, control overheads and always be aware of your cash flow

Cash is king and your lifeblood. Keep an eye on costs and re-examine constantly. Margins drive your profit and sustainability – always protect them.

13) A good deal is one where both parties are happy

Never stay in business with someone if you aren’t getting value for what you bring to the table. The same applies to clients – they want service and value.

14) Relationships are key. Communicate. Don’t hide behind emails. Call people

E-mails are fantastic and without them we wouldn’t have a business. However, we need to have relationships with our clients. They want to hear a voice, they want to meet, they don’t want to be an anonymous name attached to an email address.

15) Be transparent

Show people what you do and how you do it. Let them know you have nothing to hide. Trust is vital in business.

16) Give yourself time to think

Don’t run into situations head-first and hastily. Stand back, think about the end goal and the best route to get there.

17) Take calculated risks. Try to innovate

No risk, no reward. Invest some risk in the new in order to move your business forward – but be sure to properly weigh the potential costs and benefits of any big decision.

18 ) Learn from the past

We all make mistakes. We wouldn’t be normal if we didn’t. The trick is not to dwell on them, but learn from them and do it better next time.

19) It’s never as bad as it seems. Be positive.

Even in the worst situation, there is always a positive to be found. Be strong, positive and look for the up side.

20) Giving time back to your industry and charity is fulfilling

Having had a wonderful career in the industry, I believe giving something back is important for both others and yourself.Music Business Worldwide

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