Ajay Pattani is an Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO) member from Chicago and founder (and reigning ping pong champion) of Perfect Search Media, a search and social agency named one of Inc.'s Best Workplaces 2018. As an entrepreneur who has dedicated himself to both personal and professional growth, we asked Ajay how his business has evolved in its first eight years. Here's what he shared:

I can hardly believe that the digital marketing agency I founded way back in 2010 is already eight years old. We've endured our share of challenges, but overall have experienced more ups than downs, and I'm grateful for that.

Sometimes, it's fun to reminisce about the good old days when my naivety made business easier. Eight years ago, we only cared about two things: doing good work and getting paid for it. Now, we obviously still care about those things--but our industry has gotten considerably more complex. Still, our focus on doing good work reminds me of what matters in the end.

As a leader, I understand the value of reflection and review in determining our future direction. As I was examining how things have changed over eight years, six critical areas stood out:

1. Our website

A website is like a work of art that has to be updated regularly. Ours has gone through many iterations over the years. Whenever we talk about how our website used to look, it feels like we're discussing our old hairstyles--yes, some of us admit to rocking the Bieber--or bold clothing choices from the 90s. While on-trend at the time, in hindsight, we cringe.

Our first website cost a whopping $600. Now, every time we update the site, it involves a lot of opinions, resources, beta testing and considerably more than $600. Our team is constantly tweaking, analyzing and redesigning the site. It's a worthwhile investment that has enabled our brand to evolve and reflects how we've grown and changed. I'm especially fond of the custom elements which reveal how close-knit our team is, including baby pictures and a team video.

2. Our internship program

We've definitely enjoyed a major evolution since our early days when the majority of individuals who applied got a coveted internship role with us. Unfortunately, back then we were a bit disorganized and didn't have processes in place to thoroughly train our interns.

Fast forward to today and it's a different story. We've developed a thorough interview process and even scout career fairs to find the best talent. Our team has built a comprehensive internship program that includes a welcome lunch, training, check-ins, mock calls and social events. We're proud to offer stellar search engine optimization and pay-per-click training programs that give every intern a well-rounded digital marketing foundation.

3. Our physical space

To be frank, our first company "office" was probably me sitting with my laptop on Oak Street Beach in Chicago. Next, we moved to a small but considerably less sandy office nearby.

Now, we occupy 5,300 beautiful square feet in River North. Our team has customized the space into one that inspires creativity, collaboration and teamwork. We have a mural featuring our core values, a ping-pong table, fitness equipment, snacks and drinks for days, and possibly too many large TVs.

4. Our sales process

While hustling in startup mode circa 2010, I never considered the possibility of clients canceling. I thought we'd sign our first client, then another, then another--and that this business thing was super-easy. It's safe to say I was mistaken in that thought.

Still, we grew. And now, we put a tremendous amount of effort into our sales process. We've put together sales decks, gathered testimonials, crafted case studies, researched sales triggers, and tried to address every factor that might sway potential clients. Building our sales process and sales team is something we're always tweaking and revamping since it's integral to company growth.

5.  Our tools and technology

True story: I made our very first invoice in a Word document. It wasn't super sleek, but it got us paid. In retrospect, that invoice probably didn't instill a lot of confidence in our first client.

Now, as our team, client list and expertise has expanded, so has our toolkit and technology base. We leverage internal tools including Slack, Basecamp, Salesforce, Apollo and Grasshopper, which enable us to communicate, collaborate, strategize and design. As for client-facing tools, AdWords Power Editor, seoClarity, SEMrush and VWO help maximize the effectiveness of digital marketing campaigns for individual clients.

6.   Our leadership

If I'm being honest, another thing that has grown and improved a lot is much more personal--because it's me. I started this company with innovative ideas to help other companies, but I didn't know much about running my own company because I'd never done it. So, I made a commitment to enhance my leadership skills and overall business knowledge through reading top business books, listening to entrepreneurial podcasts and attending executive education programs. And I'm still learning.

Our company has come a long way in eight years. We wouldn't have reached this level without an A-team who embrace our core values, get excited about the new challenges our industry continuously presents, and dedicate themselves to the highest level of customer service. I wouldn't have it any other way--I'm optimistic about our next eight years and beyond!

I do miss the beach sometimes, though.

Published on: Oct 2, 2018