Natasha Ashton

Henry Ward Beecher once said, “It is much easier to go down a hill than up it, but the view is much better at the top.”

If you’ve ever wondered whether your workforce would band together to win an uphill battle, try relocating your headquarters. Moving a business is an extraordinary task to take on, no matter the size. At Petplan, we’ve experienced fast and furious growth in just a few short years, and relocating our company to larger digs was not without its challenges.

No one really likes change, but it is my belief — and it has been my experience — that change galvanizes people.

Finding Petplan’s new doghouse has not only sweetened our view from the top, but it has re-energized our team, brought colleagues closer and reminded everyone what our brand is all about. When it’s time to box up your company’s belongings and set out for greener pastures, consider these lessons we learned along the way.

Don’t go it alone

The importance of having a plan for everything — and I mean everything — cannot be overstated. But don’t try to untangle the logistics solo; you’re far more likely to cross all your t’s and dot all your i’s if you crowdsource some of the schematics.

Establish a “move team” comprised of members from each department in your company, and rely on them to take a hands-on role in the relocation. There’s a fine line between a team effort and too many cooks in the kitchen, so be sure that you delegate wisely — and don’t be afraid to exercise your power to veto.

Build buzz

Approach the move as if you were launching a new product to your employees; take their temperature, tailor your message and deliver it through as many touchpoints as you can along the way.

During the months leading up to our move, we teased our team with photos of the new space, sneak peeks at some of the campus perks and construction updates to build buzz and help everyone feel informed.

The week before, we gave each employee a “move packet” stuffed with maps of the new office, a list of campus amenities and coupons for local products and services — everything from nearby banks and dry cleaners to emergency veterinary clinics. Communication will help people feel easier about embracing the unknown.

Make your house a home

Infuse as much of your brand personality as you can into the design and décor of your new office. Not only will it make for a more interesting place to come and do business every day, but bringing your company culture to life in your physical space is a great reminder of why you’re all there in the first place. We put furry friends front and center with whimsical touches in our new space.

There’s no mistaking who we are and what we are all about: Pets always come first at Petplan! Every transition takes a period of adjustment — even my dogs, Wellington and Monty, have to circle several times before settling into a new spot on the couch.

But when it comes to moving to a new office, engaging your employees and investing in the right details will go a long way toward helping everyone embrace the change.

Natasha Ashton is the co-CEO and co-founder of Petplan pet insurance and its quarterly glossy pet health magazine, Fetch! — both headquartered in Newtown Square, Pa. She holds an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business. She can be reached at press@gopetplan.com. For more information, visit www.gopetplan.com/about-us.

Inspiration and innovation are traits that no successful business can do without. The ability to rise above the daily grind and see the big picture is the mark of a true leader. But no company can coast on the dreams of one or two individuals alone.

Cultivating a corporate environment where inspiration and innovation abound takes planning, communication and, yes, a willingness to fail every once in a while.

One of the key foundations for innovation is your company’s culture. Your brand is one of your most important assets in the marketplace, but it is also the driving force behind your employees’ sense of purpose; without a clear mission, and a work environment that reinforces your core values, it is easy for workers to become disengaged at best, disaffected at worst.

At Petplan, our team has taken great pains to make our brand experience inclusive of our employees. We pride ourselves on having the best-rated customer service in the industry, and so we also take care to make sure our employees feel heard and appreciated when they have concerns.

Immersing your workers in your brand experience makes them feel like a real part of the business, and when they’re invested as stakeholders, creativity, problem-solving and innovation happen naturally.

Keep the lines open

As challenging as busy schedules and competing priorities can be, it is absolutely essential to remain accessible to employees. The next big idea could come from anyone, but if you’re not around to hear it — or worse, if your team doesn’t feel they can come to you to share it — you are missing out. Encourage your workforce to ask questions and share ideas, and keep an open door to upper management. Listen, try new things and reward those who put themselves out there to make suggestions.

This is where it gets tricky, because letting people innovate means letting go; you have to be willing to risk failure (and avoid pointing fingers!).

In the early days of Petplan, we had an employee make a $14,000 blunder while trying something new. At the time, that sum nearly gave me a heart attack. But in the end, the direction we went was the right one — and had we not taken that risk we wouldn’t be where we are today.  Learning from failure and course correcting as you go will help balance risk and reward as you innovate.

Finally, you have to continue to inspire your employees if you expect them to innovate. Teach them, train them, foster networking, give them opportunities to pursue continuing education, offer them the chance to do something outside of their typical job responsibilities, and sometimes, simply let them play.

The best businesses are built not just by the people who lead them, but by the individuals who clock in every day and give it their all. Create space for your employees to share their ideas and the next industry-changing innovation could be right around the corner!

Natasha Ashton is the co-CEO and co-founder of Petplan pet insurance and its quarterly glossy pet health magazine, fetch! — both headquartered in Newtown Square, Pa. She holds an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business. She can be reached at press@gopetplan.com. To learn more about Petplan, please visit www.gopetplan.com/about-us

There may still be sand in their cars from summertime beach trips. Once Labor Day has passed, however, it is time for your employees to stop practicing their paddle boarding and dive back into their duties at work.

Unfortunately, getting employees to snap out of vacation mode and renew their dedication to work can take some doing — especially after three months of being pulled in a million directions by activities and obligations (kids’ commitments, family reunions, picnics, weddings, summer camp, graduations and vacations, to name a few).

Workdays get longer while the hours of daylight get shorter. Your staff will need focus and diligence to catch up on some of the things they may have set aside. But the time off may have been more useful for you and your people than you might think.

You know how great ideas sometimes surface in the shower? Well, June, July and August are like a three-month long rinse. The combination of increased dopamine in the brain, the opportunity to relax and the many distractions during summertime months is a trifecta that science has shown to be a breeding ground for creativity and innovation.

Your employees may just find that once they return to projects they’ve stepped away from, there may be some new insight waiting to surprise them.

Here are a few suggestions to get the neurons and synapses firing in the right direction again:

Rank and file

Nothing is worse than walking into an office littered with leftovers from everything you’ve been working on over the past few years. Getting back into the game is much easier when you start with a clean slate — and an organized workspace!

Purge what you don’t need, prioritize what you do, and file the rest for safekeeping. Figuring out what to tackle first, and what can wait a few days or weeks, will help everyone take those first few steps toward actually getting some work done.

If you build it, they will come

One of the best things you can do is to build structure into the workday. Plan time to follow up on loose ends that need resolution, and schedule meetings to put deadlines to deliverables to help employees stay on-task and avoid distractions.

Meet with middle managers that have the most impact on employee engagement and come up with some creative compensation strategies for employees who bring their “A” game to the table right out of the gate. Encouraging a little friendly competition can help get everyone fired up for success.

Connect the dots

Your workers are struggling to refocus their energies as much as you are after summer vacation, give workers a boost by getting them together for an informal jam session about your business.

Ask for their insights and hear their ideas — you never know where inspiration for the next innovation will come from. With our energies more focused on friends and family during the summer, giving everyone the opportunity to reconnect and get excited about doing business together can do wonders for egging on enthusiasm and putting attention back on productivity.

No matter how passionate or motivated your employees, it is impossible to avoid the occasional slump or burnout, and summer vacation can sometimes only add fuel to the fire. Put a smart plan into place for getting everyone back on track and your well-oiled machine will be chugging to the top again in no time.

Natasha Ashton is the co-CEO and co-founder of Petplan pet insurance and its quarterly glossy pet health magazine, Fetch! — both headquartered in Philadelphia. She holds an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business. She can be reached at press@gopetplan.com.

You’ve worked, you’ve grown, and now it’s time to make a statement. For an emerging business, nothing says, “We’ve arrived” quite like a signature event.

Before you begin, don’t even look in an event planner’s direction until you answer one essential question: What are you trying to accomplish?

Consider whether an event is truly the best tactic to achieve that goal. An event can be an exciting coming out party for your company. But if your objective is at all unclear at the outset, there will be headaches.

This year, we hosted the Petplan Veterinary Excellence Awards for the first time in the United States. Making this event our own was no small feat; for 13 years, Petplan U.K. has presented a similar event that’s become known as “the Oscars of the vet world.” We had big shoes to fill indeed!

Here are some lessons we learned along the way:

Make it your event

Just as a handwritten signature represents your personal identity and communicates a promise, your signature event must be a symbol of your brand and deliver on your value proposition. Recognizing and awarding extraordinary veterinary professionals dovetails perfectly with Petplan’s “Pets Come First” credo.

The Petplan Veterinary Excellence Awards let us shine a light on the extraordinary veterinarians, veterinary technicians and practice managers who help keep our four-legged family in the very best health possible. These awards recognize not just their passion and excellence, but their exceptional “wow” service. The event’s purpose spoke directly to our mission.

If your event does anything less than that, you’re wasting resources.

Strategy is king

A good event engages a carefully cultivated audience, attracts media opportunities and generates goodwill in the community your business is a part of. This is where many organizations struggle.

While it is important to determine details like when, where and what’s for dinner, the focus should be on your event strategy: how you’re getting people there, what messages to communicate once you’ve got them and how to keep the conversation going when the event is over.

A feast for the eyes

A well-dressed window will compel people to gaze, so make sure the event’s visual branding lives up to the brand personality people have come to expect from you. For Petplan, that meant translating our fresh, friendly point of view into both décor and collateral.

The visual elements deftly delivered a few fun surprises that really felt “like us.” Once your strategy is firmly in place, don’t be afraid to cross your t’s and dot your i’s with a few creative touches

Face forward

A signature event is a great opportunity to put a public face on your company; think strategically about who you want to spotlight and how they’ll communicate your company values to the audience.

At the Petplan Veterinary Excellence Awards, our honored guests came face-to-face with our long-time friends and trusted advisors, not to mention key employees. Careful consideration was given to the seating plan to ensure that connections weren’t just hoped for, but inevitable. This made our event even more personal and gave attendees good insight into what we’re all about.

So many moving parts make up a corporate event. Make sure the foundation is sound and you’ll find that things will fall into place accordingly. Once you’ve nailed down your goals and hammered out the strategy, the rest is … well, a piece of cake!

Natasha Ashton is the co-CEO and co-founder of Petplan pet insurance and its quarterly glossy pet health magazine, Fetch! — both headquartered in Philadelphia. She holds an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business. She can be reached at press@gopetplan.com.

When you’re a powerhouse player in your industry, the key to success is often the ability to step back and take stock of who you are, where you are and where you’re going. Sometimes, an existential approach is intuitive; it’s easier to self-reflect when you’re beginning a new venture or making a monumental change.

But what about when you’re experiencing success? Taking stock when you’re on top is far from redundant; in fact, figuring out where your accomplishments have come from makes you more likely to duplicate them. Here are some suggestions for seizing the moment and sizing up your business.

Don’t agonize — organize

Rather than rely on the year’s end to inspire a big-picture appraisal, set quarterly dates to dissect core activities, finances, human resources and sales/marketing strategy.

Not only will it save you from feeling overwhelmed by the immensity of an annual assessment, but it will help you reassess and realign continuously, which can help make transitions more seamless — especially when they are unexpected.

Turn projects into projections

A few years after launch, Petplan transitioned to being an entirely paperless organization. Initially the transition was a success, and operationally, the project had already paid dividends.

But as time went by, it became apparent that we needed to create a tangible product for our clients. We decided to publish a glossy pet health publication for policyholders to help communicate our company’s core values and add a “touchable” touchpoint to our customer communications.

To our delight, Fetch! magazine was an overnight success and has grown its readership from 50,000 to more than 250,000 in just a few short years. The magazine project led to some new projections about ad revenue, and we eventually began selling space in its pages.

Because of big-picture thinking in small, regular doses, we were able to take an internal project, build off it to create something new, and then leverage that to add to the company’s overall profitability.

Find a fresh set of eyes

When trends need to be changed, getting back on the right track is essential, but sometimes the people closest to the “problem” are the least likely to be able to solve it. One of the best ways to chart a new course is to bring new talent to the table. This could mean finding a mentor, hiring a new executive or perhaps finding a visionary investor.

When we launched Petplan, we focused almost exclusively on sales, and all of our customer communications reflected that. Soon, it became clear that we needed to rework strategy to include not just sales but customer service.

To help us course-correct, we turned to Vernon W. Hill, the founder of Commerce Bank. Vernon joined our board as chairman and brought extraordinary experience around customer satisfaction to the company.

This year, in an effort to evolve partner veterinarian relationships, we’ve placed a heavyweight at the helm of our veterinary channel: Steve Shell. A fresh set of eyes can invigorate vision — whether it comes from the people above you or the employees you entrust with managing the daily activities of your business.

When you commit to unplugging from the daily drudgery to assess the scope of your operations a few times throughout the year, you’ll soon find that the only place to go is up.

Natasha Ashton is the co-CEO and co-founder of Petplan pet insurance and its quarterly glossy pet health magazine, Fetch! — both headquartered in Philadelphia. She holds an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business. She can be reached at press@gopetplan.com.

It’s no secret that some companies struggle with creating an effective presence on social media. Navigating the tightrope between overt sales messaging and empty musings is tricky; turn your fans and followers off, and they’ll abandon your page as fast as they can click “unlike.” Inadvertently create a controversy, and, well, the consequences can be ugly (not to mention cached forever, thanks to Google).

The simple fact that most social media is “free” does not mean that we, as business leaders, don’t need to invest in a strategy. While we all know what not to do, it’s much more difficult to create a road map for what will drive engagement across social media.

At Petplan, we integrate our company culture and brand values into our social media activities at every opportunity.

But we don’t just talk about ourselves — we share stories of our fans and family members and invite our community to join in the conversation. We don’t just give news updates; we create destinations that are rich with exclusive content that is truly useful to our community members.

With social media, the driving force behind our approach, as it is with everything else we do, is our core value: Pets come first.

Our approach seems to be working, both in terms of driving incremental traffic to our company and also in raising our profile in traditional media. Two months after creating our Pinterest presence, Social Media Delivered, a social media consulting organization, included Petplan on its list of top 20 companies globally using the site.

Content is king

Content is the currency of social media, so you need to make sure that every tweet, post and pin has value. What makes it worthwhile? If the information you are sharing enables your audience to act on your shared values, it’s worth posting.

For Petplan, that means delivering content that helps people provide the very best for their four-legged family members. It matters to them, and it matters to us — this synergy drives engagement and earns us those ever-important likes, retweets, shares and pins.

Don’t copy, complement

Many businesses make the mistake of putting exactly the same content on all of their social media channels, but this one-size-fits-all approach simply doesn’t work.

Each social media site has a distinct character and a unique audience who favors it; if you’re not playing to the medium, chances are you’re missing the message. Share industry and personnel news on LinkedIn, tweet breaking news and updates, post interesting photos and calls to action on Facebook, and pin your most engaging images related to trending topics on Pinterest.

Think of each channel as another facet of your business’s personality and tailor your content to that.

Optimize

If you want to harness the power of social media, you need to make it easy for your audience to share — and easy for the content to be attributed to you. Optimize all your communication channels to include both “share” and “follow” buttons. Make sure your retweet widgets include your Twitter handle.

Use websites like sharethis.com to integrate social media into the content you produce. It will make your customer experience more meaningful and your social media standing more robust.

A solid social media strategy takes planning, time and a lot of attention, but if you invest the resources in building an effective presence, you’ll capture new customers, fans, friends and influencers.

Whatever you do, don’t forget the most important piece of the social media puzzle: analytics. Gaining quantifiable data gives you insight into social sharing behavior that will tell you what you’re doing right (and wrong!), reveal where improvements can be made and keep you on the path to becoming a brand powerhouse in the future.

Natasha Ashton is the co-CEO and co-founder of Petplan pet insurance and its quarterly glossy pet health magazine, Fetch! — both headquartered in Philadelphia. Originally from the U.K., she holds an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business. She can be reached at press@gopetplan.com.

No matter what size your business, your employees probably rub elbows a bit in their workspace. It’s both a fact of life and of space limitations. If you create the right company culture, they’ll become more like a functioning family than a bunch of bickering siblings.

But even the most collaborative colleagues will wrestle with pet peeves from time to time. Whether it’s impromptu office social hours that are too close for comfort or phone chatter happening at a few decibels too many, noise pollution tops the list of many workers’ gripes about their neighbors.

At Petplan, we’ve tackled this topic head-on, as our employees share an open workspace that encompasses a call center, claims adjusters, a marketing and creative team, a sales force and managers alike (not to mention our four-legged office mates).

With so many people working for so many different facets of the business, it takes a delicate balance of tolerance and consideration to keep varying noise preferences in check. Here are some of the lessons we’ve learned — loud and clear — about sounding off at work.

If you love them, set them free

Setting up your staff so everyone has the option to “go mobile” will help ease tensions when exuberance reaches intolerable proportions for quieter folks. At Petplan, all of our employees have a laptop they can take to less high-traffic areas, such as meeting and conference rooms, if they need some serenity during the day.

Carving out a few quiet places within the workspace gives your employees the option to retreat when they need to nix the noise and get down to business.

Open Pandora’s Box

Streaming music or white noise can greatly reduce the stress of a noisy co-worker and help increase focus and concentration, so we’ve adopted a permissive policy regarding headphone use by employees.

Drowning out the distraction is sometimes enough to manage the situation and keep frustrations in check, and studies have shown that music in the workplace can actually boost motivation and increase productivity. If bandwidth is an issue and you need to block Pandora or other music-streaming sites, radios (with a headphone jack), iPods and CDs can still do the trick.

Communication is key

Create opportunities for regular social interaction among your employees, across all departments. At Petplan, we host a handful of employee outings throughout the year, but we also encourage everyday mingling, with perks like picnic lunches and Friday cupcakes.

Fostering friendships — or at least friendly acquaintance-ships — can help workers manage differing noise preferences themselves. After all, it’s much easier to ask someone you’re friendly with to keep it down than someone you don’t know well.

Practice strategic eavesdropping

At Petplan, being able to hear everything has at times been beneficial. Our marketing department overhears our sales force answering common questions, which has helped shape some of our prospect communications. Our claims manager can hear our “happiness managers” servicing policyholders with pending claims, which has given her better insight into the customer experience.

Never underestimate the power of strategic eavesdropping — mining the melee for useful information can often turn up gold.

As the saying goes, you can’t please all the people all the time, so no matter how you try to accommodate your employees, there are bound to be issues around noise levels in every office. Acknowledging and making allowances for varying preferences can help solve some of the discord, but if all else fails, consider adopting an officewide noise management policy.

As part of an overall approach to providing a positive working environment, an official policy can help make sure everyone’s noise concerns are — ahem — heard.

Natasha Ashton is the co-CEO and co-founder of Petplan pet insurance and its quarterly glossy pet health magazine, Fetch! — both headquartered in Philadelphia. Originally from the U.K., she holds an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business. She can be reached at press@gopetplan.com.

Hiring the right talent to manage and operate your business is one of the biggest challenges any executive faces. No matter how amazing your product or how visionary your plans, success won’t come easily without a workforce in place who can cultivate and enrich your company’s core values.

Figuring out how to attract and employ this talent can be tricky — candidates who look good on paper aren’t always the best fit in person.

Here’s how Petplan picks winning personalities who support and sustain our company’s culture.

Know thyself

When your company’s core values are clearly defined, hiring decisions become much easier. At Petplan, we have established ourselves not as an insurance company but as a pet health company that sells insurance. Putting pets first is the central idea from which our entire company culture has evolved. Thus, our staff absolutely must have a passion for pets.

Our goal to help pet parents afford the best care for their pets is something that resonates with all our employees personally, and this personal investment drives our customer service, helps determine our business partners and defines our marketing and communications strategies.

Understand your needs

To make the best hiring decisions, you need to know what you need. Because we are a business with a start-up culture, Petplan needs people who are excited about building solid, scalable infrastructure to accommodate explosive growth.

Because we are dedicated to advancing pet health, we need people who have the vision to identify key partnerships and who have an inherent passion for the product.

Above all, we need people who can think and communicate in the brand’s fun and friendly voice, whether connecting with our customers, our partners or each other.

Don’t be afraid to pass over talented people who may not be a great fit for your company’s culture. There’s more to a great team than talent. While skills can be taught, passion and personality tend to be part of the package or not.

Pass it on

Once you’ve determined your company’s modus operandi, you must effectively communicate it to your employees. For Petplan, culture is king. We strive to maintain the classic start-up culture — an environment in which everyone is a hands-on contributor and shares ideas. We use an open floor plan that promotes interaction throughout the staff, managers and executives alike.

We balance productivity and play. Our offices feature a plethora of pet-inspired décor, plus a treat table we keep filled with staff and visitor favorites. When one of our claims adjusters passes an exam, we order mini cupcakes for everyone.

When we debuted at No. 123 on Inc. magazine’s list of the fastest-growing privately held companies last year, we filled the office with balloons and had a party.

These are small perks, but they reinforce our belief that hard work can be punctuated by playful pick-me-ups now and then.

The rules of attraction

Find the sweet spot in your company’s culture for wooing the talent you want. For Petplan, one of the biggest perks we offer is that we allow pets in the workplace. Encouraging our employees to bring their pets to work helps foster a uniquely creative work environment and has given us a distinct advantage in attracting new talent.

So many prospective employees place a real premium on being able to bring their pets to work as it provides more quality time with their beloved companions and reduces expenses like dog walkers.

Most importantly, we have found that sharing our office with pets serves to reaffirm our commitment to pet health and well-being — and keeps our “pets first” philosophy at the heart of everything we do.

Natasha Ashton is the co-CEO and co-founder of Petplan pet insurance and its quarterly glossy pet health magazine, Fetch! — both headquartered in Philadelphia. Originally from the U.K., she holds an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business. She can be reached at press@gopetplan.com.

Friday, 31 August 2012 20:01

Natasha Ashton: Blink and it's grown

Every entrepreneur dreams of going big, fast. However, few recognize that the dream of rapid growth can, if managed incorrectly, turn monumental momentum into inexorable inertia. The fact is, whether a business ultimately succeeds or fails comes down to how well the CEO plans for growth — especially rapid growth.

As CEOs of a company that has experienced 2,200 percent growth in revenue during a three-year period, with a workforce that feels as if it is multiplying faster than cells divide, my husband Chris and I have learned that having the best product in the marketplace helps but can’t guarantee long-term success. You sometimes need to take a leap of faith. But, at all times, you need passion, vision and a plan. Here are some tips on managing growth.

Communicate your vision

Before your team members can help fulfill your vision, they need to know what it is. Communicate your long-term goals, and set the bar high. Establish strategic milestones along the way, and celebrate each one.

Clearly define your core values, and ensure each decision you make as a leader can be supported by those values. Lead by example, and choose key staff and managers who do the same.

Power to the people

One of the best things you can do as CEO is hire experienced talent that understand your business model and can develop the key areas of operation. Resist the urge to keep a hand in everything — you simply won’t add as much value to details as you could to the big picture.

In the early days of Petplan, Chris and I were accustomed to doing everything from answering the phones to marketing, from accounting to recruiting. Eventually, we were so immersed in day-to-day tasks that we became further and further removed from the strategic vision that fueled our initial growth.

We adjusted our focus back into driving the business forward and created the structure to allow our managers to lead their teams. It was difficult at first, but everything that’s worth doing is.

Maximize your mentors

Creating strong external partnerships is important to any business, but an internal partner who can focus on driving growth is invaluable.

When Vernon W. Hill II, founder and retired chairman and CEO of Commerce Bancorp, agreed to join Petplan as chairman in 2008, his get-it-done philosophy increased the pace of our decision-making significantly.

The right mentor can push you outside your comfort zone and help you grow in ways you never imagined.

Take advantage of technology

The importance of understanding when and how to make investments in technology can’t be overstated.

In the early days, many of our administrative systems were manual. The office was coping fine, but our teams were overstretched. By investing in technology and automating administrative tasks, we reduced the opportunity for human error and focused our human resources on other key areas, such as exceeding customer expectations.

While the initial investment was not insignificant, we ultimately saw a cost savings of more than 90 percent, which allowed us to make key investments in other areas.

Don’t just get customers, make fans

Take good care of your customers and they’ll tell their friends. Transform your customers into fans and they won’t just tell their friends, they’ll speak so passionately about your product, service, culture and core values that their friends will wonder if they’re getting a commission.

Putting our policyholders’ needs front and center has codified our position as the top-ranked pet insurance company in North America since 2008. Keeping their needs in focus during periods of rapid growth has ensured we not just maintain that position but fortify it.

To an entrepreneur, a rapidly growing business is both the challenge and the reward. And with an unwavering vision and the right people to help execute it, you can harness the momentum to achieve even greater heights.

Natasha Ashton is the co-CEO and co-founder of Petplan pet insurance and its quarterly glossy pet health magazine, “Fetch!” — both headquartered in Philadelphia. Originally from the U.K., she holds an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business. She can be reached at press@gopetplan.com.

Whether your business is just getting started or just hitting its stride, finding the right office space is one of the most important decisions a CEO can make. And not just because office space is one of the biggest fixed costs for a company — or, for that matter, because the average CEO spends one third of their waking life in their workspace.

The truth is, your office is much more than just space. It can affect what talent you attract, which vendors you’ll do business with, which mentors you’ll gain access to and just how effectively you’ll transform your customers into fans.

As a young business in the midst of explosive growth, with a workforce that has more than doubled in the past two years, discussions about office space are a near-daily occurrence at Petplan. As a result, we’ve learned a few critical points to consider when choosing office space:

Location, location, location

Legendary actor and comedian Bob Hope once said, “I’ve always been in the right place and time. Of course, I steered myself there.” The location you choose for your business — whether it is your corporate headquarters, regional offices, customer care center or brick-and-mortar retail outlets — will, quite simply, impact every other aspect of your business.

If you’re getting started, your office location will impact the employees you’ll attract, the suppliers you can use and the customers you’ll win over with your competitive advantage — all of which are critical to the pace you’ll set for your business and the successes you’ll achieve.

If you’re already established and are considering a move to accommodate future growth, location becomes an even more critical part of your decision-making process. The right location is an opportunity to reinvigorate your teams, advance productivity and increase employee satisfaction. The wrong location has potential to turn a minor disruption into an HR crisis. When considering potential office space, place the most importance on its location.

Culture cultivator

A close second to location in terms of importance is culture. What kind of culture do you want to create with your organization? Do you really need individual offices? How can the space be optimized for collaboration and productivity? For Petplan, culture is king. We strive to maintain the classic “start-up culture” — an open culture in which everyone is a hands-on contributor and shares ideas and opinions. So for our office, we prefer an open floor plan that promotes interaction across all employees, including staff, managers and executives alike.

 Your office space is more than a place to work. Consider how it can solve the needs of both your business and your employees. Does the building have adequate parking? Access to ground transportation? Proximity to rail or air transport? Are there facilities, such as restaurants, shops, dry cleaners and overnight couriers on site or nearby? Is it safe? Does it allow pets (obviously, an important one for us)? Seek space that answers questions critical to the needs of your business.

One to grow on

Just as you wouldn’t seek a technology solution that merely answered today’s needs without any consideration for the future, seek space that allows you to be nimble. Is there contiguous space available? Is the landlord willing to work with you as you grow? Picture your business 24 months from now — does the space support your needs? Can the building provide additional solutions?

Make a good impression

Your office is an extension of your brand. If your office is dull and disheveled, chances are your business will follow suit. Choose a space that reflects your brand’s personality, and will allow your team to communicate that personality, and your business’ core values, to the world at large.

Natasha Ashton is the co-CEO and co-founder of Petplan pet insurance and its quarterly glossy pet health magazine, Fetch! — both headquartered in Philadelphia. Originally from the U.K., she holds an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business. She can be reached at press@gopetplan.com.

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