Photo by Sergey ZolkinWe're in our ninth year in business for The Creative Collective this year. It’s got us feeling pretty nostalgic. I mean people don't stick at anything in their lives for nine years very often, apart from maybe school that we HAVE to do, and perhaps a long term relationship.
And as we think ahead to next year and maybe (maybe) hosting a 10th birthday bash, I’ve started reflecting on all the things people told me along the way, especially in my early days in business, when I was wide eyed and eager for guidance from anyone who had been in business longer than me.
Some of the advice was really dumb, but when you're that new to it all and impressionable, it can feel a little uncomfortable not agreeing with the advice. After all, aren't they supposed to be more experienced than you. Aren't they supposed to know things you may not? Are you being too pig headed not to listen? You can certainly start to wonder.
I've got some great advice over the years but I've got some crap advice too. Here’s 5 pieces of business advice I could have listened to and didn’t, and things have worked out pretty okay (in fact great).Maybe some of it will be helpful to you, even if it is only, not to listen to everyone all of the time. Listen to your intuition instead. It’s always right. And also listen to people who have already done EXACTLY what you want to do. Otherwise who are they to tell you anyway??!
ADVICE #1 – "Franchising this business will never work. You need to get reps in each city and manage the brand"
Early on in my business I explored what options there were to get help from my State Government. I engaged in a mentoring program, and an older gentleman (beware, many mentoring services are full of these) imparted the advice that franchising the business would never work and that I should instead hire a bunch of reps in each city or state, and get them to rep the brand in them.
Err buddy this may have worked well for you in your illustrious days in the FMCG sector, but in case you haven’t noticed, I’m a boot strapper, I have no cash, and its 2007 and there is no one in Australia speaking words such as ‘venture capitalist’ or ‘angel investor’.
So I did franchise. For four years. And I learnt a lot. And the best thing? I picked up an amazing business partner out of it – Katrina Lees who now owns 50% of The Creative Collective and who is based out of our Newcastle office. I can’t imagine business without her now, and I’m so glad I franchised to build this business relationship with her in the first place.
ADVICE #2 – "Your business name The Creative Collective sux. Calling it a ‘Collective’ will suggest to people you’re a bunch of hippies running a co-op. People won’t take you seriously."
Ahhh funny. Calling a business The Creative Collective back in 2006 and trademarking it thereafter might have sounded fairly hippie to a bunch of traditional suit types but guess what happened? People liked it! It had a friendly ring to it. People were seeking something new. They were seeking creativity. Or a bunch of creatives. And an eclectic collective of them. Who had come together for the collective good. To collectively improve other businesses.
And what do you know the word collective even became trendy when the hipster phase kicked in! I mean a magazine pops up called The Collective Hub (run by a woman I've had the pleasure of meeting and remain in touch with - Lisa Messenger), a band compete in X Factor called The Collective and our name starts trending on Twitter, and now everywhere you turn it appears some other Collective something-a-rather has popped up. But let it be known we were the first. And we’re not a bunch of hippies (well some of us are, but what’s wrong with hippies anyway?)
ADVICE #3 – You’re offering too many services – you need to specialise in one or you’ll never be any good at anything and people will be confused on what to come to you for.
Errr wrong again. We started offering a lot of services because, well, we could. I had a diverse background in events, PR, marketing, I could build websites, shoot photos, do graphic design ok and I quickly found other people who had skills I didn’t have or who were better than me at things and I wasn’t too precious to admit it or too uptight to delegate/outsource it. And guess what? People loved it! Coming to the ‘one stop shop’ and not having to go from an ad agency to a designer to a photographer to an event planner like they did back in the day was a welcome relief to most clients we dealt with. We could do it all – online or offline marketing services.
Several renditions of our website EXPLAINING what we do and how we do it, also helped people get their heads around it. As did us continually evolving and starting to offer new services as new technologies like social media platforms emerged. And we continue to do this today.
In fact it’s what we’re known for. Evolving and innovating as our fast moving industry does.
ADVICE #4 – You can’t rely on a bunch of contractors. They’ll let you down every time. You should employ staff over contractors. Always.Back in 2007 it was definitely NOT the done thing to (heaven forbid) to run a home based office and a perceived death sentence to outsource to contractors. Websites like freelancer.com were a dark underworld where people outsourced work to those ‘foreign lands’ and ‘who knew’ what might be the outcome of such activity. And accepting paypal and sending money via it? Totally dodgy (well so everybody thought).
And then the GFC hit in 2008 and all those smug people saying those smug things about outsourcing and the contractor model came tumbling down like a pack of cards along with their massive payrolls they were obligated to make each and every week.
And us? Well the GFC never affected us at all. We kept growing, and we kept outsourcing. But I can’t say our team were ever sourced from sites like fiverr.com or freelancer.com. We set up our careers page early on saying we were open to hearing from talented people who were happy to work on a freelance basis, and what do you know, there’s plenty of them!
Some people who started with us way back in 2007, 2008 and 2009 are still with us today and enjoy regular work from us, and live the ultimate lifestyle. Everybody is happy. Especially the clients who get work produced by people who are talented and entrepreneurial to have a job, and too in demand to access direct, and who love getting a steady stream of work via us.
And we now employ a bunch of people too. :)
ADVICE #5 – "You’ll never scale a business like yours. You don’t have what it takes."Ahem. I’m not quite sure what you were getting at when you said that you so called business adviser, but I’m going to take a stab in the dark and guess that you said this to me because I was a young, enthusiastic and a female. Seriously, this sexism stuff and ageist stuff? It’s there alright and I've had dumb stuff like this said to me on more occasions than I care to remember. It is not an easy road in business as a young female and when people say stuff like this under a veil of ‘well meaning’ it's enough to make anyone's blood boil. The best response? Prove them wrong.
I was 30 years old when I started The Creative Collective, and had a 3 year old and a newborn that I used to take to business events and juggle in the background as we grew. Seriously. Sometimes I had a pram that I would rock while I networked! It was mad but I was a woman on a mission!
I may have looked baby-faced but I’d already lived out of home for 13 years, travelled the world for 7 and I knew I had to create an income from home around the kids and that was exactly what I was going to do. And some!
My amazing business partner Kat (who is still only 31 now and I’m still in my 30s nine years into the business) both have kids we adore, and have scaled the business over and over and over again, and will continue doing so until we don’t want to do it no more.
I guess ‘scaling’ does depend on what you regard as scaling. But we have two physical offices, clients in every state, many new international clients coming on as we speak, 8 staff, posting 20-30% turnover growth each year, a healthy net profit and well, most importantly we’re having fun doing it.
So if you have got to the end of this post, and remember nothing else, remember this: over the years in business you will hear many pieces of business advice. It’s up to you what you choose to take on and what you don’t. If it doesn’t resonate, don’t listen, no matter how experienced, or well meaning the person providing the advice may be. You and only you know what you want and what the best way to go about this is. So be clear in your vision. Be defiant in your quest to achieve it. And in nine years time look back, smile and write a blog post like this sharing the five pieces of business advice you totally turned your back on too.