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Three Years of Perago

As I started writing this, I wondered whether these annual blog posts might be a bit self-indulgent, they allow me to reflect and plan for the year ahead, and they enable me to share a bit about how I look at my work and my business. Hopefully, they may, at least in parts, also be of use to others. Anyone thinking of walking away from a permanent contract, anyone wondering what Perago’s about, anyone thinking about their career and next steps. Even anyone interested in business transformation and digital and how things are changing here in Wales.

A year of unknowns

More than ever, this has been a challenging year. We’ve all found ourselves during a global pandemic. Not something I could have predicted when I joined Perago 3 years ago. It’s influenced our work and our approach. It’s made us reconsider some of our offerings and, like many others, it’s put a question mark over our business pipeline and future. We’re lucky to have choices though, and we’re fortunate to be working with clients who have valued our input as they have been working their way through their worlds in COVID-19, we’re lucky that while some of our work dropped away at the start of lockdown, we are now picking up new contracts and new clients. We’re fortunate that the principles of what we do: focusing on user-led service design and better public services have never been more critical than they are in this COVID-19 world.

Three years of learning

The newness of being part of Perago has gone away. It feels like I have become more settled into this way of working, the good bits, the challenges, and the personal development that comes with it. In reflecting on not only the last year but the previous three years, these are the lessons I’ve learnt and continue to develop.

Network, network, network – last month we were able to bring on board a Year in Industry placement student and one of the first things I talked with her about was building networks. Supporting others and staying connected is critical to any business, but I have been struck by how much my network has helped me over the last three years. Not just from a personal perspective, but from introductions that have led to new work and some brilliant contracts doing different and exciting work. I would go as far as to say about 75% of our work comes from our networks in one way or another. Never underestimate that.

Patience – alongside your network, patience (along with capability and delivery) helps build your business. I remember in the early days of Perago being told that there was an absolute need for what we do in Wales, but no market for it. No market, as many organisations had not realised, there was a different way of doing things. As a team, we have worked hard to build networks and share insights to develop that understanding. As an example, I have loved being part of the Independent Expert Digital Panel for the Welsh Government. It has been an opportunity to help shape how Wales delivers public services differently. At Perago, we make a conscious decision to get involved in the conversations that can help change things. It may not be work that is ‘paid’ in the traditional sense, but it has the possibility of shaping our future business when what we do can help deliver public services in Wales at scale.

You are the evidence of your business brand – unless you deliver people won’t hire you. And if no one hires you, you have no business. How you present yourself, how you engage and how you run your business all matter. We pride ourselves on integrity, delivery, and a sense of fun. Those traits become our personal brand, and they become Perago’s brand.

Keep asking if you’re having fun – running your own business isn’t always fun. It’s hard, it’s frustrating, and it’s challenging. There are times when imposter syndrome kicks in, and you start to wonder whether you can add value. But those times are outweighed by the sense of achievement when you deliver to tight deadlines, see someone you have mentored fly or, what always feels like a real privilege, get asked if you’d consider talking permanent role with an organisation (the answer has always been no without hesitation but with a tremendous sense of gratitude). Within all that, having fun is essential. If you’re having fun, then that shows in your approach, attitude, and the value you add. If you are working on a contract that’s no fun, you should ask yourself why and challenge what you could do differently.

It’s all about people – sounds like a bit of a cliché but it is so true. I have met so many new people over the last three years and this year has been no different. They are what you remember once you’ve finished a contract and moved on to the next piece of work. Taking people through transformation means you get to help them through the fun stuff and the tough stuff, and you build relationships and friendships that go beyond the length of that contract. Being part of Perago has given me access to new people. I love meeting new people, and I will always be grateful for that. Lockdown made me reflect on the people I have worked with over the last few years, and it was great to drop them a line, check they were okay in all the madness and offer support.

Uncertainty never goes away – running your own business means the uncertainty never goes away. Where will the next contract come from? Are we focusing on the right things? How do we scale? Should we recruit new people? How will late payers affect our cash flow and can we manage? Living with uncertainty is part of this world. It helps to think about the worse that could happen and making sure you can live with that. It helps ground you when things are uncertain, enables you to refocus and step back into the unknown.

Be prepared to be flexible – things never quite go the way you expect them to. This year has proved that more than any other. Towards the end of 2019, I started thinking about the gap I was seeing for learning that focused on the role of communicators in change. Not just from an organisational level, but how people coped as individuals. I spent time and brainpower developing our change for communicators programme, tested it in live and put it out there. Interest and bookings came in. Then 2020 happened. The bookings were cancelled, and face to face training now seems a lifetime away. But I still believe there is a need for this training amongst communications professionals, and it is critical when it comes to organisational transformation and service delivery. So, I’ll be rethinking it. Flexing what we have done for the COVID world, we’re now living in.

A final thought 

And a final thought. Choose your teams carefully. The Perago team gives me a sense of belonging that I wouldn’t have as an independent practitioner. They give me immediate people to bounce ideas off, test thinking, and so much knowledge and experience that always make what I do better. More than that, they provide me with an outlet for frustrations and someone to let off steam with on those tough days. At times they drive me mad, but always leave me laughing. You can’t put a price on that.

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