Experience and introspection are what Clayton Cross considers, owner of Predikkta and several other businesses, as his teachers, which guided him in his business endeavours. For him, it was a road full of trial-and-error that honed his capabilities as a business owner.
“I failed a lot more than most people did, and the pain and embarrassment have helped drive me to learn, up-skill and educate myself,” Clayton stated. He never had a mentor or a manual on how to start and manage a business. In truth, he ran his businesses very isolated, as he puts it, preferring to try things by himself. His whole education on entrepreneurship he acquired through practical learnings. From those experiences, he reviewed what happened, why it happened, and how he could improve.
Building a business of his own was what Clayton always wanted from the beginning. It’s what he has dreamed of doing, and it was just a matter of how he would go about it. But from where he came from, there were fewer options at that time for the entrepreneurial type of path. At a young age, when he was in his teens, he began looking for ways to earn some money. Back then, he wasn’t encouraged by others to try that route. “If you said you wanted to do something different, everyone would say, ‘Don't do it. No, you can't do that. You got to study harder, go to university, and be a doctor or a lawyer,” quipped the ardent business owner.
So, he went about becoming a lawyer, where he earned well, as he became a partner in that profession. But the call to entrepreneurship was too strong that he couldn’t resist deviating from the traditional route. Also, changes in his life and priorities led him towards the world of IT and business. When Clayton knew he would be having a daughter, who is seven years old now, he studied everything about the digital space, immersed himself about the ins and outs of the industry, and went to carve a path for himself.
With determination, he went ahead and gave it a crack. While he found the business environment highly competitive, he saw an opportunity because there are niches. According to Clayton, “There are two key challenges: firstly, staff; and secondly, the worldwide forces that impact you, which I struggled to foresee. They come from left field, and you have to address and deal with them. These are things beyond your control. You have to remember that they're coming, only that you don't know what they are and when they will come. So, make sure you have a backup plan, which is something I have not done properly. I was too focused on the micro aspect of the delivery to the customer, rather than the macro of the business opportunity.”
Another challenge for him as a business owner is staff management. But having been able to learn that part of the trade, Clayton considers staff retention and having good team members that work well and deliver customer satisfaction as among his biggest wins.
One key element he cited with his business is building a vertical skill set and expertise on areas where he wants to focus and grow. He likens the changing digital setting with the medical field. “Hundred years ago, one doctor could operate on your toe and also do brain surgery. Nowadays, there are about 500 medical professions. That’s the same with digital. It started off with one person doing mostly all things digital. But today, digital is a long way from that. You have to be an expert at one element because it’s impossible to be good at ten. Several years ago, there were three to four types of digital agencies. Now, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of speciality subsets,” described Clayton.
He pointed out a few simple things that have become their best practices, attracting more customers to their fold. “The digital space still lacks professionalism, hence taking all phone calls, answering all emails, doing the work, and being truthful are still the key ingredients to success. If there's a technological problem, and they happen, you bring it to the attention of your client straight away. Do not tell them of a delay over an incident that occurred weeks ago. Tell them at the time it occurred. In many ways, if you do that, you can be the best breed in the space as there are still many cowboys in digital. So, professionalism, investing in experts in their fields, education and backing them are the key ingredients to success.”
Another factor that has brought Clayton this far in his entrepreneurial journey is his love for continuous learning. He recently joined EO Melbourne, hopeful to learn more as he surrounds himself with like-minded people who would encourage him in macro business-driven decisions, unlike those he met who said, ‘No, don’t do that. It’s too risky.’
Part of that professional development is his constant learning about things in his industry. “Upskilling and learning in the digital landscape, making sure that we stay on top of all that, we can keep our clients ahead of the pack. We want to acquire more knowledge so that we can give the right advice at the right time to the right people,” he remarked. His number one agenda for his businesses is to keep them going and growing to serve his clients’ best interests. “We want to make sure that our clients are getting accelerated growth through their digital channel with the right strategy that helps future-proof their business,” he added.
With his experiences and learnings from failures, Clayton underscores what an entrepreneur should have to be able to bring his businesses to success. “The first element is being mentally tough. If you're not prepared to get 99 bits of bad news for every one bit of good news, you shouldn't start. Two, you've got to be prepared to fail. Work off the mantra that ‘every time you fail, you're one step closer to success.’ Three, follow your gut. Be stubborn. If you think it will work, have a crack. Hopefully, it will bring itself to its conclusion in a reasonable fashion. However, if it is not going to work, and you have examined it from all angles, not just ‘I've had a bad day moment,’ move on quickly.”
One thing he realised is that the journey is not always smooth, and he learned to accept whatever entrepreneurship brings to his path. “You can have some good days and a lot of challenging days. You must be prepared to embrace them all and enjoy the challenge. Get all the facts in, make your considered decision, and then off you go again. Sometimes the numbers lie, sometimes they are spot on, but overlay everything that the data have set with your intuition. You’re continually resurrecting yourself, or rebuilding yourself, or changing the model to fit your circumstances. Out of the experience, I learned not to expect the expected. You may make decision Y and think that it’s going to correlate with Z. But quite often, you get a tangential outcome. So, you have to be prepared to embrace whatever comes your way,” Clayton shared.
And for those who are still preparing to embark on their entrepreneurial adventure, his recommendation is this, “Start as soon as you can, start learning, get in, and get your hands dirty. Make sure you understand the processes and machinations of your business. Know the numbers. Then once you have a grasp of the model, start picking up snippets and bits of information, and talk to people. Join organisations like EO, where the shared experiences may fast track you. Hopefully, with all that, you will be unstoppable.”
Clayton has learned from the failures he has experienced and turned them into success. It’s his passion and determination that fuel him to accomplish many things for his businesses. Most of all, it is something that he finds joy in doing. “I love thinking about work. I love the vast opportunities I see out there. I get stressed when I'm not working. There is nothing better, using all your learnings to create a strategy within the confines of a client’s capacities and then improving the client’s business and seeing the positive tangible results. I love accelerated growth – sometimes they are even still grumpy paying your bill, but that’s okay because they are winning as well,” the passionate entrepreneur imparted.