Nine years ago today I officially left my job and hung up a shingle that said ‘Swish Design’. And I have to say, it’s been a crazy ride. In that time we’ve ridden out the Global Financial Crisis, benefited from the obscene growth Perth experienced at the height of the mining boom … and now face the same challenges all Perth-based businesses are facing with the end of that boom.
So what have the last nine years of big ups and downs taught me about business? Glad you asked!
1. Try stuff yourself first before you outsource it
I used to do my own website programming, accounts, marketing, strategy … everything! We now outsource all these things and because I used to do them myself, it’s very easy to both appreciate the value of outsourcing them, and measure the quality of the service that is being provided to us.
2. You need to set your business up to operate without you there
We all know we should be doing this (come on, what small business owner hasn’t read The E-myth), but how many of us never do it? Don’t find yourself in the same situation I did where I didn’t have a single day off work after the birth of my first child. Don’t find yourself in the situation where you’re never able to take a holiday. God forbid, don’t find yourself in the situation where you can’t get sick. Get help with your business. Set things up so other people can keep things ticking along in your absence (forced or planned).
3. You generally have to hire before you can truly afford it
Every single time we have added someone to our team, we weren’t really in a position to afford them. There are people out there who advocate loading yourself up first, or paying existing staff for overtime before you consider adding someone new to the team. And yeah, that’s good advice so long as it’s not pushed too far. But ultimately, it’s going to be a rare situation where you find yourself so flush with cash that you can easily bring someone new in. Our experience has generally been that every time we’ve added someone to our team, we’ve made it work.
4. Everyone’s mental health needs to be looked after
This is why we’ve generally brought someone in ahead of truly being able to afford them – because we’ve noticed either our (mine and Anthony’s) mental health was at risk of tipping over into some dark territory … or the mental health of our staff was threatened. We are very clear about the fact that we want everyone in our team (including us) to be able to go home to our families at the end of the day and on weekends and not be thinking about work or how they’re going to manage their workload. If it feels like everyone has been ‘under the pump’ for an extended period of time, we don’t think ‘well that’s just small business life’ … we try to do something about it.
5. Save your sanity by empowering your clients, not babying them
In the early years of Swish I lost count of the amount of times I said to a client “oh I’ll just take care of that for you, no charge”, instead of taking some time to write up some instructions and show them how to do that thing for themselves. The situation got so bad that I was often working 10 hour days – 5 hours of doing stuff for free/being a Google substitute for my clients, and 5 hours of actual paid work. Ridiculous. The worst thing was, I created that situation, not my clients.
6. Great advice is worth every cent
I’ve always been a huge believer in this. There are people out there who know much, much more about certain (business-related) things than me. And I have always found it to be hugely economical, both in time and in dollars, to simply pay for an hour or two with these people, get them to apply their specific knowledge to my specific situation … and reap the benefits of that.
7. Learn the difference between an ‘opportunity’ and a time suck
This is something that probably took me seven years to learn. Back in the day I said yes to every single opportunity and chance to collaborate that was offered to me. The vast majority of these things were giant time sucks that netted little benefit for my business. I think you do have to go through the process of having your time sucked to fully understand what’s worth saying yes to and what’s not. But hopefully you all learn a bit faster than I did!
8. Surround yourself with good people
One thing I’ve done well over the years is get good people around me. Staff, mentors, peers – I’ve gravitated towards people who are smart, motivated, loyal, kind and have the same values that I do (that work is not life, work sets us up to have a great life). You know how they say ‘if you want to fly with the eagles you can’t be hanging out with turkeys’? There aren’t any turkeys in my life!
9. Running a business never gets easy – just easier
I wrote a whole column about this for Flying Solo but in short, I’ve come to realise that there will never come a day where any business owner gets to kick back on a beach somewhere and just watch the dollars roll in! Every business will experience highs and lows and will need to ride out challenging times. The trick is to appreciate the good times when they are there … while setting things up so you have a good buffer to get you through those times that aren’t so good.
Thanks so much to everyone who’s come along for a ride on the Swish train. Some of you have been with us for nine years, some for nine days. But no matter how long you’ve been with us, Anthony, I and the rest of our team hugely appreciate you being here. Here’s to the next nine years!