Category Archives: Business Growth

Follow Through

I just spent an awesome weekend in the Hawkes Bay and wound up staying in a very flash, brand new $1,200 a night apartment (yes, I know people who know people). We were out for dinner with the person who owns the apartment complex, he’s been doing this sort of thing for a while. Someone commented ‘you are always fun to be around, working on something new’. It struck me that this is both the best way to be very successful, but also to continually have a blast and challenge yourself as a person.

Totally different industry from mine, but this guy is the type of person who always pushes the boundaries, who takes risks on things (but not crazy ones), based on a really solid understanding of what he does, what people want and the niches you can create for them. He never said ‘I’ve done the hard work now, no more risks’

Contrast that to an article I read this morning about how New Zealanders are great entrepreneurs, but terrible at follow through. Even those who have ideas, seem to stick with one, create a nice and comfortable life and then focus on their nice lifestyle. The point being that being a wealthy New Zealander is comparatively easy. You don’t need much here to live an awesome life.

I suddenly realised I am the type of person to be the latter. I had a rough start. It tired me out. I’m STILL using that as an excuse for not pushing myself back to that on-edge, freaky but amazingly exciting challenge mode.

What a great guy and a great reminder that you don’t have to have everything on the line (a la the early stages) to still get the thrill of the challenge.

Are we insignificant?

I have just been made aware that I’m not as important as I thought I was. Actually I’m pretty insignificant.

This could well be true, I don’t know the stats on how much value us small businesses add to the economy in proportion to our size. Maybe we don’t add that much when being dwarfed by the larger companies amongst us? Are we sort of a waste of time?

This isn’t a rant, I just heard that the Business Advisor position at Grow Wellington has been significantly reduced. To me it seems a shame. I feel like Ruth and Marie-Claire before her have offered a HUGE amount of value to my business and that the funding I have applied for through these wonderful people will be paid off at least threefold in terms of increased revenue (and a lot of this export revenue)

I’m sure many small businesses are in the same boat, but maybe we just have grand visions of ourselves and when you multiply a $5k investment, over a lot of small companies, the council would be better off to combine that funding and invest it in a larger company?

I’d be interested to know, because i thought there was definitely room in Wellington for one person to be dedicated to helping grow small companies OUTSIDE the official incubators etc?

I totally understand there is a higher risk of growing small companies that are reliant on investment rather than earnings (we have all met ‘entrepreneurs’ who have never run a company that can break even on its own), but I think, while I was easily able to survive without funding, the boost that funding gave me to get business advice was incredibly valuable.

Two Year Anniversary

It occurred to me the other day that it’s been almost 2 years to the day since I took sole custody of Decisive Flow.

This company is my life’s work. It’s the cause of countless tears, sleepless nights, and has caused me to grow up suddenly and often painfully.

I’ve had to fight tooth and nail for it, had my personal life pulled through the mud… I think I was about 20 when I started on this journey and I do believe that I went about this whole thing just about the hardest way possible.

Sometimes, I look back and think about how much I have had to sacrifice to get here. Turning this business into the life I dreamed of was for a very long time, a nightmare. With the benefit of hindsight, I would have walked out the door two years ago without a backwards glance.

I have been taken advantage of so many times, by people I have trusted and who I have gone out of my way for. This has hurt me both financially and personally and has well and truly opened my eyes to a side of human nature i would rather remain ignorant of.

I have ended many phone conversations a shaking, nervous wreck after confrontations or sales pitches. I have woken with terror, because I quite literally did not have ANY idea how to get out of situations or any idea of WHO I could go to for advice. I have realised well and truly that at the end of the day, you are the only one who can fix your problems.

I have been in massive debt, earning next to nothing and been absolutely unsure how I was ever going to get out of that hole.

I have asked myself, often, if I could handle ONE more thing going wrong. And what actually happens to you when you can’t handle it.

I have rung my dad in tears to finally ask for a loan.

I have over-promised and under delivered.

I live life 2 steps behind where I want to be and I cant go to for a drink without work popping into my head.

I have often been on the verge of running out of money with no new work in sight and wages to pay.

Running a business, especially with the way I started out, is so stressful, demoralising and all consuming, that in the bad times, I do ask why on earth I’m doing it.

But, here is why:

I have never had anyone default on a payment. Despite having no formal contracts and often with customers on the other side of the world.

I know someone who will sit in someone’s office on my behalf until a payment is made, And I have never even met her. I have other friends who will willingly, and without payment, go into battle for me when I can’t do it any more.

I have steadfastly refused to work on project I disagree with and I refuse to give up on a project until the customer is happy.

I might work till midnight sometimes, but when the sun shines, I also sometimes head to the beach. I control my life, finances and work. I am free to do as I please, when I please.

I meet exceptional people who treat me like an exceptional person.

I face a new challenge every day, and the number of times I have achieved something I thought was impossible astounds me.

I am surrounded by people who will drop anything to come out for a drink, or who will hug me and spend hours helping me calm down and form a plan when I turn up at their doorstep, sobbing.

I never had to get that loan from dad, because I turned the company around and paid all my debts and (very significant) bills with profits from 6 months of hard work.

I proved to some very doubtful people that I could do it. And I proved to myself that I could.

Owning your success

So the past few months, I have struggled. I used to love what I did, but this year I’ve just found it really hard. I had big plans but as hard as I tried, it just seemed like we weren’t getting anywhere.

Until this week. This week will go down as my Week of 2009. Everything suddenly fell into place. All the hard work and worry has been totally worth it, because this week, when the good stuff happened I know that I MADE it happen.

That is what I love (and hate) about working for myself. You own all your success. No one gave it to you. Obviously you also own all your failures (which mount up big time). It is the ultimate freedom. I think it’s probably what keeps us all going.

And to top it all off, Xero now has currency conversion. What else could I possibly ever want?

PR vs Substance

I had a conversation last week about two competing businesses. One with substance, but no PR machine, the other with great PR but not a lot a lot behind it. The one with good PR is currently winning out.

Having come into contact with PR based businesses, I feel like I’ve seen first hand how vulnerable the smoke and mirrors are but how good they look from the surface. I’m a firm believer that in this case ‘slow and steady wins the race’ and startups have a tendency to boom and bust because they focus too much too early on convincing the world they are more successful than they are.

It’s a good strategy to put your competitors off, but don’t businesses need to focus on growing their customer base, not playing mind-games with other businesses?

Appreciating the good side of life

My crisis of trust last week was the result of several things, the largest being a substantial betrayal on the work front (for the sake of other people involved I wont go into it, although one day I think it would be good to put it out there).

What I learned today, after many sleepless nights and questioning everything, is that EVERY time something really bad has happened to me, other people turn around and go out of their way to step up to the plate, so that overall, it turns out to be a largely positive experience.

I think running a business speeds up the number and variety of mistakes you make and lessons you learn. Unlike the rest of life, you waiver the right to excuses, you simply cant claim ignorance or innocence, you just have to suck it up and deal with it.

In this case, I didn’t do so well. When I found out, I fled to Melbourne for the support of some of my closest friends. I didn’t want to own up and I didn’t WANT to accept responsibility for something I honestly didn’t have anything to do with. But I had to.

However, despite how bad this could have been, once again, the people I know and deal with have acted so reasonably and sympathetically that they have turned my nightmare around. This is the flipside of risk. You will be let down but you will also be incredibly boosted.

Apparently what happened to me is fairly common, so I will write about it as soon as there is enough distance to not impact anyone else’s life. Thanks guys!

Total shutoff

So the last few weeks/months have been pretty stressful.

Stress is a funny thing. It sneaks up on you, it changes the way you feel about the world, and it can make you feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders.

Running a business in this climate changes things. We have been lucky not to experience any real changes, but when we go a month without getting any new work, or when I’m too bogged down to be getting new work, instead of thinking ‘ah well, next month’ you start to panic that it’s a sign of things to come.

On top of that, we run a very free and happy ship here and when that leads pretty quickly into being too free and easy and mistakes get made and no one is accountable, you start to question your fundamental beliefs about how a business should be run and WHY you bother in the first place to expand beyond being a freelancer.

I noticed that I started to change. I didn’t feel like ‘me’. I didn’t feel happy, motivated or even like I wanted to talk to anyone. I just wanted to go home every night and sleep.

This kind of stress is new for me. I am in control of it. I KNOW I can work out of it. I just need to get my act together and motor through everything on my plate, then find something I feel excited about and run with it. The thing is, despite the groans from everyone I know that I can’t just drop everything and head to Thailand, or the US or Michael Jackson in London, I’m actually not fussed about what I have to miss out on to make this happen.

This is what I want to be doing. I love it. But I need to find a way to ensure I don’t get stuck in this stress hole, I need to get some danger signs.

In the meantime, I ‘dealt’ with it by abandoning my cellphone, computer and all internet and electricity and went to the Marlborough Sounds for Easter. Despite having a million messages on my answering machine and more emails than anyone could handle on my return, I think it was worth it.

My head is clear, I remembered that the reason I do this is so that I can do that. And when you are faced with a pod of bottlenose dolphins desperately showing off, or leaping off the wharf into the pitch black ocean in the middle of the night, or dashing up and down a bush track finding clues for our easter egg hunt, it kind of puts stress in perspective.

Lesson of the month: Stress is awful. Getting de-stressed is top priority as is taking FULL advantage of the brilliance of your friends and business mentor to yell and scream and vent on for weeks on end until you see the light again.

As per ususal, I owe you guys a great big thanks.

Update (thanks to postsecret)
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I HATE (company) Tax

I’m normally a great proponent of tax. It’s an important part of a functioning society with a decent health system and support available for those who need it.

But when I get hit with a massive tax bill (which I was kind of waiting for) it does get me thinking.

After my accountant had me sit down so as he could deliver the tax blow, and after I stopped gasping for air, he explained that EVERY TIME you get paid $1, put HALF of it aside for tax.

That’s a lot of money.

I’m going to split my rant in 2. I think that personal tax is pretty much at a state where everyone hates it equally (which is probably the best you can hope for).

But profit tax is where I have my issue.

The profits that Decisive Flow makes are not taken out of the business. They are left in the business to enable us to have some cashflow, some ability to work on other projects (i.e powerkiwi). This money is not lining any of our pockets, it’s going towards getting some other cool things started and will eventually go towards trips to the US to build on the export revenue we are already bringing into the country. This money is being used not just to help me, but in it’s own little way, boosting our economy.

We are tiny. The profit we make is probably what a lot of government departments spend on stuff like corporate lunches. And it hurts when so much of it leaves our account.

I’m really appreciative to have been given a grant by NZTE but it did strike me as a little odd today that the money I got from them is far less than the tax I paid, money I WOULD have spend on the same stuff anyway.

I know I’m not the only one who suffers from my tax bill, and I would hate to be the guy who has to figure it all out. However, it does seem to me that especially now there would be some benefit in significantly reducing company tax or removing it altogether until it is removed from the company by means of dividends or anything that doesn’t go towards growing it.

And I am only talking about small businesses. We could limit it to the first $50-$100,000 in profits or something and everything above that is taxed as per normal.

Is that totally selfish?

Team bonding. It works.

Last week I dragged the team along to meet with Alan (business coach extrodinare) for a team strategy meeting. The others are used to my weird ideas and I believe they were a tad hesitant to believe that spending an afternoon away from Photoshop would be, in any way helpful.

I think Alan converted them.

Outside of all remarks as to how wonderful and nice he was in response to our (well probably ‘my’) stupid questions, the process of sitting down around a big table and figuring out what we are all about was hugely eye opening and really beneficial.

Out of the 2 hour meetup, we came away with some stuff that we have blatantly been just plain stupid about, some stuff that we realised about each other, and some easy, quick ways to restructure the whole business to sort them out:

  1. Have daily team meetings. Yup we are a small business, we thought we were too small to need them. But there is a difference between yelling at each other across the room (or skyping each other) and moving away from our keyboards, facing each other and plotting our day’s plan for world domination. The latter is much more effective for resolving issues, staying on track and knowing where each other is at.
  2. Setting daily goals. Why think big, when you can think small? I think we’ve probably knocked out 25% more work today than any other day in the past few months. Knowing what’s on your plate and setting aside time to fully explain it to each other prior to kickoff is saving us huge amounts of valuable time.
  3. Time tracking. It’s not the time tracking that really matters (although it’s a helpful tool to aid in understanding pricing levels and profitability). It’s the way you automatically re-structure your day into more productive blocks when you manage you time. Gone is my 5 second attention plan. Now I focus on one thing for at least 15 minutes and set aside TIME TO DO SMALL TASKS in a block. Which means NO MORE DISTRACTIONS.
  4. Work with people you like. I rave about my co-workers daily. I enjoy going to the office because I KNOW I get to catch up with some interesting people and work on cool projects with talented designers. I also like how we share the same philosophies on sleep, money and ethics. It means we are on the same page and we have a clear idea of who will and will not be working with us in the future. We may even get together a list of interview questions for the next hire!

Every time I go to meet with Alan, I convince myself I have 900 more important things on my plate at that exact second. Every time I leave, I’m convinced that there was nothing more important.