Words of wisdom by Tess Robinson, Smack Bang Designs
The only place busier than a business owner’s calendar is Heathrow airport. And even then I have my doubts.
On any given day, there are meetings to attend, HR issues to deal with, never-ending emails to reply to, taxes to pay, supplies to order, unpaid invoices to follow up and insurances to update.
It’s no secret that running a business is bloody hard work. Despite the shelves of self-help books, online tutorials, countless Saturdays at the studio, and teaching myself everything I possibly could about HTML, there were just some things that weren’t covered in the 2011 edition of Business for Dummies.
I had to fall flat on my face to procure a ‘PHD in biz survival’.
Being your own boss comes with steep learning curves, and most young, growing businesses don’t offer you the luxury of time to figure it all out. I’d love to tell you that there’s a magical secret to running your own show with ease and grace without you ever needing to lift a finger. How great would it be, to just press a button (so technically you’d have to lift one finger), then just sit back and watch your sole purpose in life come to fruition in front of you. But alas, I don’t have that secret, or the button.
Before you start to slowly back out of the room and into a dark corner armed with Netflix and vino, here’s the deal: I’m just scratching the surface with this whole business ‘thang’, and I don’t claim to know everything. But, in the interest of your sanity, here’s some of what I do know now and what I wished I knew earlier. Experience is the best teacher out there, so my retrospective glance will hopefully deliver some insight for some of you.
1. THERE WILL BE MOMENTS OF SEVERE BURNOUT
It is far too easy to find yourself doing the hampster-dance on a treadmill, unable to get off. Spend too long on the treadmill and you’ll risk looking 10 years your senior, landing yourself a stomach ulcer and/or quite possibly losing your mind. One lesson I’ve learned the hard way – if you’re tired, there’s a reason. Honour it and address the fatigue.
2. EMAIL WILL ACTUALLY RULE YOUR LIFE
Your inbox will explode. Not in a good way. You’ll most likely spend 20% of the time doing what you love and 80% of the time with your head buried inside your inbox replying to emails. I respond to most of my emails in a timely manner, but to be honest, I leave certain non-urgent emails sitting in my inbox for days, even weeks before I send a personal response. Why? Because my time is better spent creating and doing the things I love. Simple really.
3. YOU WILL WANT TO QUIT
You will have moments of self doubt and overwhelming anxiety. Moments of “What the hell was I thinking?” and “Why didn’t I settle for my cushy job brewing coffee on a weekend?” There’s been times when I’ve wanted to quit, escape to a solitary farm somewhere in the middle of nowhere and self-medicate with brownies, because hey, that seems way easier than running my own show. But that’s exactly when you need to pull yourself together, mix yourself a stiff drink and remember the bigger picture of why you do what you do.
4. YOU WILL FORGET TO BREATHE
I’m actually serious about this point. Skimming your eyes through important emails, checking your Instagram analytics, answering a bazillion questions, woofing down yet another meal at your desk, frantically meeting a deadline whilst planning your best friend’s bloody baby shower… and before you know it you’re blue in the face and your heart is working over time. Just stop. And breathe. You’re allowed to breathe.
5. YOU WILL NEED MORE THAN 24HRS A DAY
I have a Type A personality and I’m pretty darn organised so for me, writing to-do lists is as easy as colour coordinating my wardrobe or filing the files on my desktop. I consider time management to be up there on my list of defining traits. But for the love of all things good and holy, I cannot and will not ever manage to fit everything I would like to do in a 24 hour day. Full-stop. My main coping mechanism is to accept this fact, break each day down into digestible, bite-sized goals, and celebrate the little wins each and every day.
6. COFFEE WON’T CUT IT
It’ll hit you when you least expect it. You go to bed wired, and you wake up tired. Your eyes are glazed over, your shoulders sag under the weight of the world and your brain fogs up like your windshield on a misty morning. No amount of caffeine can bring you out of this harrowing pit of cumbersome lethargy. Sometimes, you’re so tired, even your tired is tired. And coffee just won’t cut it. You need a goddamn holiday. Call the travel agent stat.
7. THIS ROLLERCOASTER DON’T STOP
Running your own show is like riding a roller coaster that doesn’t stop. The Devil’s fire pit burns below and pink unicorn clouds float above you. I’ve had some of the highest highs and the happiest moments I can remember whilst running Smack Bang. You eventually learn to ride the ebbs and flows with grace and Zen.
8. YOU WILL NEVER REACH THE FINISH LINE
Back when I was just setting out on this dream, I believed with every fiber of my naive, go-gettin’ heart that my work ethic, talent, skills and unwavering determination would allow me to blast through a couple of years of hard work and come out the other end sipping on Sangria and changing my name to Rancho Relaxo. But the thing about running your own show, or in some people’s case, shows, is that there is always more to do. Nope, you’ll never reach the finish line, but you can employ some tactics to help keep you going on the marathon.
9. NOT EVERYONE WILL LIKE YOU
What?! That statement in itself is enough to make you voyage to Coles on autodrive and pick up a litre of vanilla Connoisseur to wallow in the sadness. But your job is simple: create solutions, and know who you’re creating them for. As Kermie the Frog once said, “Maybe you don’t need the whole world to love you, you know? Maybe you just need one person.” Trying to convert the peeps who aren’t your peeps is a losing battle. Find your clan of peeps and love ‘em sick. Then watch ‘em love ya right back.
10. YOU WILL FAIL
Um, excuse me? It’s a hard pill to swallow, but an important one: you will make crappy decisions. Ones that will end with you in a pile of salty tears on the ground swearing at your loved ones. The best things about epic mistakes? The learning curve they afford you. This constant refinement and sharpening of your skills as you ‘live and learn’ serves to better your processes, your services and your product. Yes, you will fail, but you’ll also get up the next day, you’ll face your staff with a smile, write your next post, create your next offering, and answer your inbox with yet another lesson learned under your belt.
11. YOU NEED TO BECOME A MARKETING MAESTRO
I know you just want to spend all your days making hipster burnt-sage-scented hair wax, or crocheted baby bloomers for Etsy, or sewing your entire collection of Star Wars costumes for kids parties, or writing your choose your own ending vegan recipe book. Who doesn’t! However, if you don’t spend some serious time marketing yourself, you will not be able to pay your rent. Massive bummer. Become educated in the nuances of marketing; how to promote your brand and sell your product. Take a course, read a book (or ten), talk to everyone, become a student. Your product or service won’t sell itself, no matter how snazzy your design or slogan.
12. YOU WILL HAVE TO GO ON WITHOUT THEM
Your business will require you to grow – to grow up, to grow out, to grow tall. You might find that you outgrow some of the people in your life, and that’s okay. Not everyone is meant to take this journey with you and not everyone will want to. You’ll make new friendships and they’ll be just as amazing for this period of your life.
13. YOU’LL HAVE FAR LESS MONEY THAN EVERYONE THINKS
People you know will assume you are rich because you run your own show. People will also think that because you run your own show, you have no boss, which is completely wrong – you have many. Your bills are your boss, and your clients are your priority. Their needs are your driving force. That black Range Rover Evoque might have to wait a couple more years.
14. EATING WILL BECOME AN OPERATION RATHER THAN A SAVOURED EXPERIENCE
Almost every lunch will be gobbled up while sitting in front of your screen, or in the back of an Uber. You’ll sometimes scoff down an entire meal and not even take a moment to consider what it tastes like. Mindful eating has been on my New Year’s resolution list since I started the business in 2011, and I have a slight suspicion it will be making an appearance on 2017’s list too. What is life? And what is food? So many questions.
15. YOU WILL HAVE TO BE YOUR BIGGEST FAN
Next time you pass a mirror, take a moment to stop and tell your reflection that you’re a dead set legend. Sometimes that’s the only affirmation you’ll feel like you’re receiving, and often you won’t even believe the words coming out of your own mouth. Time and time again you’ll run into fears, insecurities, limitations, excuses and inefficiency, and it’s too flipping easy to grovel in a deep well of self-loathing if you don’t snap out of it and get a bloody grip. Channel your mum and become your own biggest fan.
16. TIM FERRIS LIED TO US
There’s no such thing as a 4-Hour Work Week. As much as I love the concepts outlined in Tim’s book, if I were to work a 4-hour working week I would have to become a hell of a lot more accustomed to Mi Goreng noodles and tinned spaghetti. Tim, I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed.
17. NOBODY KNOWS WHAT THEY’RE DOING
Yes, even that entrepreneurial dude you know that seems to run such a tight ship – he needs a stiff drink every time he has to lodge his BAS as well, don’t you worry. Please know that you are certainly not the only one muddling through it all and positively sweating bricks on the inside. Find people on the same path as you who are just as simultaneously talented and clueless, and share a laugh over both the struggles and the victories.
18. THE GRIND IS REAL
Working from sunup to sundown is sometimes what it takes to get it done. Working 70 hour weeks for two and a half years it what it took to get Smack Bang going. Whilst I don’t condone those kind of work hours forever, I do acknowledge that business requires sheer dedication and a real hunger for action. If you’re young and full of fire, channel it into hard work. If you’ve got a family or other important responsibilities, you will need to juggle accordingly. We all have different capacities at different times in life!
19. TAX WILL EAT YOUR SOUL
Notorious B.I.G was right, more money = more problems. As your business grows and you become more profitable, taxes get more complicated and more extreme. And ouchie-mumma it hurts to pay it! The ATO have their hands in your pockets and will eat you alive from the inside out. My one piece of advice here is to hire an accountant who is as boss with money.
20. YOU WILL SWEAR AT YOUR COMPUTER
Technology is a real bitch sometimes. It will fail on you when you need it most and leave you for dead when all you need to do is send the goddamn file. When WiFi says that it’s connected, it doesn’t always mean that it is (why lie, WiFi??). I still swear at my screen daily and I’m cool with that, it just means I care about being productive. People all over the world are hurling insults at their screens, and I figure it’s better to take out my frustrations on inanimate objects rather than living, breathing humans!