• James

Choices — Looking back & looking forward

Updated: a day ago

Life seems to boil down to a series of difficult decisions that, when looked back on, either prove successful or leave you with regret for a choice not made or a path not taken.


Photo by Vladislav Babienko on Unsplash

Life seems to boil down to a series of difficult decisions that, when looked back on, either prove successful or leave you with regret for a choice not made or a path not taken.

In the past month I have made one of the most difficult choices of my working life; to continue with something fine or to strive for something great. To accept ‘good enough’ or shoot for something better.


Eleven years ago I made the decision to start a new business during one of the most challenging times we’d seen (up until then!). The banking crisis had caused numerous businesses to fold and I was working for one such business at the time. With the support of my former boss and a couple of clients, I decided to take a step into the ridiculously overcrowded marketing agency space.

It wasn’t something I’d really planned to do, I wasn’t the guy who thought he could do it better than his boss, I wasn’t going to ‘shake up the North West marketing scene’, in truth I wanted what we all want; to be happy, provide for my family and to live a good life.

The next eleven years went remarkably quickly. Cunning Plan was born, the team grew, we worked with some brilliant people, we struck out in different directions focusing in the last few years on ‘destinations’ (an astute reader may be able to see where this is heading!). Our work with hotels and retail spaces was complimented by place branding for towns like Warrington.


That all sounds pretty straight forward, but in reality it was a bumpy road, made more nebulous by the fact that, in truth, I didn’t start on the journey with the clarity and vision that I try to instil in my clients. I didn’t know my audience, I didn’t define my point of difference and I didn’t cement my values. I just cracked on like so many do. The business grew, but in truth, I know it would have grown faster if I’d done the basics at the start. Eventually with a little help from some outside support, I was able to firm up those values and create a point of difference for my business that saw it progress — but I probably wasted five years along the way.



Then 2020 happened.


Photo by Alex Motoc on Unsplash

Our destination business evaporated over night. Whilst some great clients continued to work with us to get through the lockdown, others cut and ran, leaving us, like so many others, with more people than work and more bills than sales. I had another decision to make; to push forward, take out a loan and try to weather the storm or take a moment and consider what my next step should be.


During this time I had the opportunity to work with some smaller businesses to help them with their branding, positioning and audiences and I realised that there are a lot of people out there in the exact position I was in just over a decade ago. I started to wonder if I could help them get a head start and shave a few years off their process. I also took some time to really think about my business, something I hadn’t really done since I started over a decade ago. The reality was that when I lost my previous job, I got off one treadmill straight onto another one — just this time one I built for myself. And I’m tired.


Tony Robbins says, what if life didn’t happen to you, it happened for you. Much like the opportunity presented to me in 2009, now might just be the perfect time to choose a better life, a focus on happiness and in turn, be able to give something back and help other businesses achieve success.


So I made a choice. A choice to focus on what makes Cunning Plan a great business. A choice to scale back in size but not in quality. In impossibly hard choice, knowing the impact it would have on the people that wouldn’t continue on the journey with me. A choice to live by the words ‘Side by Side’ written on our boardroom wall and only work with clients that really share our values and truly consider us partners. I’m immensely proud of everything we’ve achieved, especially some of the work we’ve produced in the past year and some that has still yet to be revealed.


And a choice to do something new as well.


And for the first time in a long time. I’m really excited. It’s a chance to build something from the ground up, with purpose, with values and the I genuinely believe will make an impact and help people like me from 11 years ago.


I can’t wait to tell you about it.

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