This morning, as I waited for my daily caffeine fix at my local cafe, I met a wonderful woman with bright eyes, vivid white teeth and that insanely curly hair that makes you wonder if human DNA could have been infused with strands of Maggie Noodles at some point in history.
I got chatting to Miss Curly Sue about the weather, as you do.
It’s a drizzly rainy day here so we talked about what a perfect day it was to stay indoors, manhandle your doona around your bod and get shit done. She asked me what kinda shit I get done for a living, and naturally, I told her that I run a graphic design agency. She said ‘Ohhh, amazing, I’ve actually been inspired by this incredible graphic design agency for a while, they do really beautiful design and their marketing is nek level’ (her words, not mine). She pulled out her phone, loaded up the Instagram app and began typing in the letters ‘S M A C K… I thought to myself, surely not, there’s another graphic design agency starting with Smack, that’s ludicrous. And before I could send an urgent telepathic email to my lawyer to triple check our trademark, she’d typed Smack Bang Designs into that little finger smudged iPhone screen of hers.
I was gobsmacked.
Of course, I gloated, madly kissed her* and told her that it was, in fact, my agency and that I couldn’t believe she knew of us and how grateful I was for her support.
*kissed her in my imagination. She was cute, but not my type.
Why am I telling you all of this? It’s not just to brag about random people getting their half strength soy cap (I know right?!) whilst telling me how much they love my biz, my mum’s doing a good enough job of that without me. I’m telling you this because this was the first time in a very long time that I was thrown into a state of reflection and awe for what my team and I have created.
As a business owner, we are all too often too busy looking forward to see the past. We are in a perpetual state of forward motion to stop and smell the milestones. We think that taking our foot off the gas, even just for a second to stop and gaze behind us, will mean that everything will come to a grinding halt. And when people say, “gosh you should be proud”, we shrug and think, g-damn there’s still so much to do. We can’t see the forest for those bloody trees. It’s the very nature of doing what we do, we create, evolve, push, merge, build, all forward-forward-forward. There’s simply no time for looking back.
And instead of cherishing how far we’ve come, we only see how far we’ve yet to go.
But on this rainy old day, Curly Sue reminded me that I have in fact created something from nothing and that once upon a time, I didn’t have an agency and that believe it or not, these 15 staff didn’t magically appear on my desk one day. I was a part of this process and I (along with some other pretty magical humans) made all of this happen. Little, old, inexperienced me.
Stopping to reflect is not something I’m all that great at. And to be honest, I feel like there are better things to do with my time, eg. watching paint dry. But Curly Sue and the hyperactivity of my coffee this morning invited me to take a trip down memory lane.
Sometime in May 2011, I jumped in my shitbox car, drove into the city and waited in line to register my business name in person. Little did I know that I could do it online from the comfort of my lounge. This would be the first of many, many mistakes and the beginning of a very steep (and often slippery) learning curve.
Back then, I had exactly zero customers. OK, maybe one. My roommate’s best friend but equally devoted, non-paying ‘customer’.
“You can do it, babe!” my boyfriend said.
“I know I can!” I replied.
And if we fast forward to today, I guess I kinda have. I have 15 amazingly dedicated staff, a big-ass studio, an ever-expanding gang of clients and we’re about to tick past our 2000th project very soon. Phewww. Looking back at this blurry, sweet, sweaty mess, it simultaneously feels like 20 years and 20 seconds. And whilst it might have seemingly happened quickly to outside people looking in, let me assure you, it did not happen overnight. It happened gradually, messily and with a lot of muscle, heart and hard bloody work.
At first, this biz resembled more of a flailing inflatable tube man hanging limp and deflated off the side of a car dealership than a design agency. For the first 6 months or so, it was just me doing absolutely everything — design, production, client communications, dealing with suppliers, schlepping my way through ‘intuitive accounting’, and delivering prints to clients by hand (no matter the suburb). We (and by ‘we’ I mean me, myself and I), operated in the back of my dimly lit apartment with a quasi-illegal bathroom, suspected rodents in the kitchen and displaced floorboards that let the cool winter air whip itself around my frostbitten toes. Our Photoshop license declined on numerous times due to lack of money in the bank and our first upgrade to a real studio meant that my staff and I washed our dirty dishes in the bathroom sink.
And whilst we are not even close to nearing what I have in mind for Smack Bang, Curly Sue and her questionable coffee choice has reminded me of just how far I’ve come. It feels awfully surreal to look back at our growth year on year and think of how all of this came to be. In an attempt to condense six and a half jam-packed years of hard lessons and intense mistakes, here are the six top things that have helped me get to where I am today.
Building a business takes more than elbow grease. It takes more than smarts. And it takes more than experience. Building a business requires grit and grace, passion and perseverance, resolve and resilience. And more than that, it requires you to fail fast, learn on the fly and grow in ways you never even knew you could.
If you want to learn more about the trials and tribulations, ups and downs, ins and outs of what it has taken me to build a branding agency, get your mitts on my new ebook that I wrote. This is quite literally the business bible I wish I’d had back when I was a whipper-snapper excitedly securing my very first ABN. It’s the juicy AF encyclopedia of small biz survival that I’ve created to help you through all the nitty gritty that got me stuck at the studio ‘til ungodly hours of the night trying to figure it all out.
And let me declare, this is not just a normal ebook. This is a deep dive, 300+ page ecourse that delivers everything you need to know about running your own biz. It is your secret weapon for practical knowledge and rapid growth. And I promise you, I wouldn’t write 40,000 words of rubbish. It is probably the longest piece of writing I’ll ever read (let alone write) in my lifetime. 😉
I hope you enjoy,
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