5 things you need to know about starting your own business

Firstly, if you’ve taken the leap of faith, high fives all round. If you’re thinking about it, in the words of Martin Luther King, “you don’t have to see the whole staircase to take the first step.” So true, but let me tell you a bit about this staircase. Google search “Rock of Guatapé Staircase in Colombia” and you’ll have a good idea of what to expect. No, it is not easy, but it is so worth it. When you get to those platforms of relief, it is pretty amazing to look down at where you started and up to where you want to be. I’m sure we all have moments when we want to give up and call the rescue team to get us down, but if we take the time to relax, refuel and re-evaluate, something great comes of it. Somehow we always find the energy to keep going, keep stepping up and you know what, we enjoy it too!

I honestly thought I would be sleeping in, enjoying leisurely brunches and doing some unnecessary gardening in between work. I was wrong, the only sleeping in I did was after pulling an all-nighter, brunches turned out to be important meetings which required lots of prep and the only gardening I did was on Pinterest to keep the dream alive. I’m sure all of these things are all achievable but here’s what happened to me –I did it wrong, and if I could go back and give myself some advice, this is what it would be…

1. Time management is severely underrated
If you can’t manage your time correctly, you won’t be as productive, and you will find yourself adding in extra hours wherever you can. Running a business takes time, a lot of time, more time than I thought it would. The good news is that if you set your boundaries and stick to them, you may be able to achieve that elusive work-life balance. I found that I would wake up early, forget to eat all day (correction, forget to eat healthy all day, eat whatever I could all day), work late into the evenings, break for supper, which I very rarely found the time to make myself, and eventually get into bed with my laptop and continue until I felt my glasses lifted from my face and my laptop removed.

Mismanagement of time has a knock on effect I, unfortunately, got to experience on a five-day trip to the hospital. That’s how hard I pushed myself, that’s how invisible my boundaries were. I forgot that one of my reasons for starting the business was to manage my own time. I turned out to be a bad boss to myself and was sent to hospital to reflect on my bad behaviour. I still struggle, but I am mindful now more than ever that time is the most valuable resource in life. There is only one you and there is just so much you can do in a day so be kind and understanding towards yourself.

2. Did you know that you can delegate?
The moment you realise that you physically and mentally cannot do everything yourself is a pivotal one. Yes, no one can do it as you do and yes, no one knows what you know but choose your battles and focus on the role that you need to be playing. From quotations, invoices, admin, scheduling of meetings, responding to enquiries (did I say admin?) to actual creative work, learning the art of delegation will set you free and will benefit your business down the line. If you take the time to educate your team members and invest in their ability to do the job without you, it’s a massive task ticked off your very long to-do list. Now you have more time to focus on new ideas, clients, fetching the kids from school, going to gym, whatever it is, it will be easier.

3. No one will be as passionate about your business as you
Not your clients nor those around you, including your team. I will go the extra mile because I want to but the truth is, in most cases, your team will need an incentive. We work in a deadline-driven industry, so setting time aside for get-togethers is quite tricky. We have been planning a bowling trip for the past two years now, and I still believe that it will eventually happen, but even if we don’t want to go bowling, it’s the idea of taking the time to do it that freaks us out the most. The best thing we did as a team was to go on a creative weekend away to relax and talk about the business outside of the office in the tranquil setting of a beach house on the West Coast. We have regular creative meetings we affectionately call Doodle Indaba’s, where we exchange ideas and concepts and get all excited about the things we can and want to do. These meetings are not client meetings, they’re creative meetings, business meetings, including each team member and their views. My point: keep your team motivated, involved and excited about the future of the business. Always innovate and understand how important it is to evolve with the times and find ways to keep doing what you enjoy.

4. Paperwork, and not the artsy type
A hard lesson to learn (twice) but getting a handle on the paperwork is imperative. As a creative, the furthest thing from my mind was contracts and clarifications; I mean why can’t we just do what we love and get paid for it. No matter how you see the situation, someone is bound to see it differently, no matter how good your intentions. Not everyone has the same work ethics, and moral compass and misunderstandings happen all the time. Keep it professional, put everything down on paper so that everyone is on the same page and do it from the very beginning. If you don’t understand the admin or legalities of it all, get professional advice and make sure that all are in agreement, so there are no surprises down the line.

5. Positive vibes only
It’s surprising how easy it is to create a negative environment. There is only so much that coffee can cure and sugar can sweeten. Clients play a huge role in the scheme of things, and as much as we need to prioritise our clients and make sure that they are happy, you need to make sure your employees are looked after too. It was Richard Branson who said, “Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients”. True story. One of the hardest decisions we made as a team was letting one of our clients go, but the factors were beyond our control – bleeding eyelids, stomach ulcers, anxiety and zero social lives are not worth any amount of money. And what is the point if you’re spending all your hard earned money nursing medical bills? Right? You are responsible for your team and their wellbeing. Make sure that the clients you focus on appreciate the amount of effort you put in and if they disrespect, disconnect. Simple.

Like any journey, if you know what to prepare for then you’re on your way. Even though I read the books, did the research and a whole lot of Googling, I still needed to experience it myself. The journey has been crazy and chaotic, but then it’s also been thrilling and life-affirming. Keep your head up, acknowledge how much you achieve and honour the small victories. As always, we wish you all the best on your adventure.