2017 was (to use a technical term) a doozy.
We moved studios, launched a new website, launched our new portfolio, worked with over 100 new clients, wrote and launched an ebook and created an exciting new product (you’ll find out soon!).
I bought a house, moved out of Sydney, did some renovations, brought on a business partner for First Flight, wrote a book with my love for Urban Growers, joined Startup Creative as a business partner and celebrated my first grey hair (!!).
To say 2017 was big is like saying Beyoncé’s Lemonade was a mild hit. In hindsight, it was undoubtedly one of the biggest, juiciest and downright craziest years of my life. The proof is in the grey hair. Listing all my accomplishments and lessons learned brings both feelings of elation and exhaustion. I worked hard, I played hard and I certainly wore the pants in my relationship with 2017.
While there were some high highs, there were, as there always are in this rollercoaster ride of business, some low lows. 2017 was not without its wake up calls, anxiety attacks and late nights googling the benefits of Valium versus Xanax.
When you’re speeding through life at such an insane pace, it goes without saying that you’re going to make a few mistakes along the way. And by ‘a few’ I mean a few thousand. One of the best pieces of advice I was ever given in the early stages of my business, was to not ever make the same mistake twice. It’s okay to stuff up. That’s a part of it. But when you do, implement a solution or a system so the mistake never rears its ugly little head again.
I do my very best to live by this and encourage my team to as well. At the beginning of each year, we all look back at the previous year, with a stiff drink in hand, and ask ourselves ‘What lessons did we each learn?’.
I don’t usually share this kind of thing publicly because, well, Pride and Prestige and gotta-look-like-we’re-nailing-it, duh. But I thought this year it might be nice to share. We never know who might learn from our mistakes or at the very least, have a giggle at our misfortune.
So here they are, 8 lessons I swear we’ve learned from and will not make again this year. I promise. *Fingers may or may not be crossed behind our backs as we say this.
- EMAILS ARE THE BLACK PLAGUE OF THE MODERN DAY.
Over 100 billion emails are sent every working day. Can we just stop and fathom that for a second? They are only 7 billion people on earth and I guarantee, not all of them have a computer, let alone an inbox… Nan, I’m looking at you, you lucky, lucky woman. Keep on knitting in peace! So if there are only a few billion people actively using emails and 100 billion emails sent each day, then what the heck is going on? We all need to take a chill pill and ease off the inbox spam.We have become an open-all-hours society where we sleep with phones on our bedside tables and email alerts can buzz our brains at any given time. This is not ideal. Nor is it healthy. Whilst I whole-heartedly understand that email is a crucial part of our working life, I feel we often forget that how we engage with our inbox and how we let it rule our lives is entirely up to us.Last year I broke up my long and often tortuous relationship with my inbox. To put it simply, I stopped giving a damn. I stopped checking my inbox every second of every day. At times, I deleted the app from my phone. I became best buds with Gmail’s ‘Inbox Pause’ feature and got some real work done for the first time in a long time. I now do my best to only check emails once in the morning and once in the afternoon. And what’s more, I don’t reply to every single email anymore. Sure, if an email lands in my inbox and is important to me, I will reply. But that ever-elusive goal of ‘inbox zero’? I’m done with it and I’ve never felt more productive and more in control of my time than I do right now.
- IDEAS ARE GREAT, BUT NOT ALL OF THEM ARE WORTH PURSUING. AT ONCE.
If you know me, you know that I’m a total sucker for an ideation sesh. My General Manager calls it ‘confetti’. She thinks I walk around just throwing confetti ideas into the world 24/7 a la Taylor Swift on tour. I call it fireworks – you can read more about that here.Here’s how it usually goes – I’m knee deep in the implementation of an idea, then another killer idea strikes! This new idea is a bajillion times better than the old one; it’s the fast train to utopia! I skip the strategy, forgo the fore-thought and throw myself headlong into making it a reality. Whilst I’m going a million miles an hour making that particular dream come true, an entirely new bright, shiny idea hurls itself across my brain and there I go again. Wash, rinse, repeat.I end up with fifty thousand half-baked projects and a tornado mess behind me. 2017 taught me to narrow my focus, work intentionally, lay off the coffees and stop to consider which of these million ideas will actually propel me closer to my purpose.
- IF 7 PEOPLE ARE KINDA-MAYBE-HALF DOING A JOB, IT’S WORTH HIRING SOMEONE TO DO IT FULL-TIME.
Wanna know who looked after Smack Bang’s marketing in 2017? Four of my staff, plus two contractors and I. We all had our hands on it. Fun? Kinda. Impactful? Definitely not. Ever heard of the saying too many cooks in the kitchen? Yeah, our kitchen was like a game of sardines in a doll’s house.There were literally seven people handling an array of different marketing activities. No-one really knew who was responsible for what and our marketing calendar was even more of a hot mess than the 2017 online census debacle. One of the biggest lessons my General Manager and I learnt last year was that streamlining job roles is so important, not just for everyone’s sanity, but for the business’ bottom line. I don’t even want to imagine how much moolah we wasted operating with a motley crew of a team rather than one person taking it by the reins and nailing it. This year, we’ve got an amazing Marketing Manager starting and she is going to handle everything. I can’t wait.
- TAKING TIME OFF ALLOWS YOU TO RECALIBRATE.
I feel like I learn this lesson every single year. But it truly does pay to take a holiday. People are constantly busying themselves with…. well, being busy, and I believe it’s a serious plague of the first-world kind. Simply doing for the sake of doing, filling calendars because we think we should, running on that hamster wheel because somebody suggested it’s normal – these are the very poisons that hold us back from learning and experiencing and recalibrating. We need to take time out and go fill up our cup of inspiration every now and then. This year my partner and I are planning on going to Japan and Hawaii. Watch this space.
- BEING A SUCCESS ON INSTAGRAM IS LIKE BEING RICH IN MONOPOLY.
In 2017 our Instagram audience doubled. It was exciting, thrilling and such a testament to all the love, passion and hard work we’ve poured into this business over the last 6 or so years. But much to our surprise, attaining this incredible feat did not result in fireworks, baskets of puppies, or an entry into the legends hall of fame. There wasn’t even a congratulatory bunch of blooms from Kevin Systrom. What an anti-climax.Back when Instagram was really finding its wings, I, like many other naive business owners, believed that your Instagram engagement was a sure sign of your business success. More followers = more revenue. Right?! Wrong.At that time, my confidence in our business depended on the amount of engagement our most recent post had received. If a post did well, we were thriving. If a post did terribly, well I wasn’t destined for entrepreneurship and I should just go get a job at the local chicken shop. It sounds a little crazy to say, but whether I deemed myself as successful in my own business was based on the amount of ‘likes’ I got from total strangers.Social media is an amazing tool that can facilitate and amplify word of mouth marketing like never before. It can and should be used to grow your business, but it shouldn’t be used to define what you do well. But always remember that getting all the engagement in the world doesn’t mean anything if it’s not turning into sales.Finding out that being famous on Instagram is like being rich in Monopoly was a little like finding out that Santa is not real, but at the same time, it was like realising that our worth is not necessarily determined by the active thumb of a pretty girl behind a screen.
- YOU ARE MORE THAN YOUR BUSINESS.
Last year a good friend of mine said something to me that really spoke to my soul. She said, “You know, Tess, you are more than your business”. Simple I know, but my heart seized up and I had this sun-coming-out-of-the-clouds moment where I realised that I had been living as my business for years. Sure, I have a personal life, an amazing family, beautiful friends and a big ass list of things I find enjoyment in outside of work, but my business had become so big within me that it had swelled up and I carried it with me as though it was my entire identity.Being an entrepreneur and building a job from something that you love is downright amazing, but no matter how much you love it, it can’t become your all. You are more than your business.Creating a business is creating your own mini utopia. It’s your game, you set the rules. Make your business work for you. If you wanna spend every Monday at the beach, you can. Just find the right support, systems and solutions to allow that to happen.
- YOU CAN GROW WITHOUT GROWING
In a traditional agency model, the assumed way to grow your business is to grow your team. More clients means more designers. It’s hardly a scalable business model… unless you’re excited by the thought of managing a small army. Which, as much as I love my team, the thought of managing a huge amount of people doesn’t excite me. I love knowing each member of my team personally. I love knowing what drives them and what excites them. I love hearing about what they had for breakfast and what their Mum’s cousin’s next door neighbours favourite song is. Truly, I do.Never say never, but I never want to have a team of 30 or 40 staff. That’s not to say that I don’t want to grow my business! Quite the opposite, in fact. One of the biggest business learnings from last year was that it’s possible to grow your bottom line without growing the number of seats in my studio.That’s exactly what we did. And boy does it feel good!You don’t need to grow your team to grow your revenue – You just get better at what you do, invest more power in what you already have, and find ways to make your existing efforts 10 times more impactful. Trust me, it’s eleventy thousand times better than turning to the vast land of LinkedIn to scout for talent.
- EXPERIMENTATION SHOULD NOT JUST BE RESERVED FOR YOUR DOPE-SMOKING TEEN YEARS.
In 2017 we launched an ebook. We didn’t reinvent the wheel, and ebooks themselves aren’t a ground-breaking new idea. But for us, this ebook was revolutionary. It was the first time we created and sold something to an entirely new audience. Some time a few years ago, I realised that a huge portion of our audience were never going to come onboard for a branding package with us. Upsetting, but painfully true. These guys are the early stage entrepreneurs, the doers and dreamers and the kick-ass biz owners that are in their first stages of world domination.I love these guys and have been wanting to be of service to them for the last few years. Our ebook was exactly that. We collaborated with some amazing partners and together, created a juicy AF compendium of advice to get schooled in the art of biz-niz.The best part about creating this ebook was that its success surprised us all. The day we launched it our website crashed. Not by pure coincidence or Mercury in damn retrograde, but because we literally had too many people trying to access the book at once and our server melted into a pool of exhaustion and despair.I almost fell off my bloody chair. And, if I didn’t, I certainly needed help getting up off it.We had created something that hundreds of people actually wanted. I couldn’t have dreamed of that degree of success had I tried. Lesson learned: it pays to experiment. If you never try, you never know.