Growth mindset. Scale and exit. Retirement strategy. Disrupt. Synergise. Acquire. Inflate. Innovate. Diversify. Just get BIGGER damnit!
As the owner of a highly successful, 7-year-old small business, these are words that are constantly put up in lights around me everywhere I go in the digital stratosphere at the moment. But what do they actually mean?
Well, to me, most of them mean stress and typically that is a response incongruous with the ‘entrepreneurial spirit’. Most business coaches will tell you that if you want to make money and achieve the ultimate work-life balance (which, let’s face it, in reality eludes most of us), the way to do it is by getting bigger, employing more staff, offering more services, making a much higher profit and eventually selling your business for a hefty sum to a large corporate.
This is all before you smugly retire to some gorgeous, as-yet-undiscovered seaside village where, having paid off all of your extended families’ mortgages and built your own architect-designed mansion filled with expensive furniture and a world-class art collection, you drink wine and plan vacations all day and spend most of your time watching your children frolic happily in the water (when not on one of their iPad Pros of course) on your private stretch of sandy white beach.
To me, especially in light of not long ago welcoming my son Max into the world, I couldn’t think of a single goal laden with more pressure. Read between the lines and this seems to mean a LOT of time away from family and friends, time spent up to your eyeballs in paperwork, time spent struggling to understand the real needs of clients because you have so many of them, time spent managing rather than doing. And that is most certainly not why I became a designer.
I became a designer because I LOVE being creative and the process of creativity. It genuinely excites me. I love devising solutions that help my clients establish (or re-establish) themselves in what is undisputedly an increasingly fierce and competitive economic landscape, become commercially viable in a sustainable way and, as a result, independently support their own families. I also love people and the way design uniquely exposes you the many diverse, wonderful things they do; to innovative ideas and concepts and to bold new endeavours.
So, in alignment with this rationale, I made a decision recently to buck the trend and simplify/downscale my business rather than expand. Most of my time at the moment is spent exhaustively project managing jobs rather than being ‘on the tools’ and I really miss having the time and freedom to get to know a client project intimately (and to work on it / devote extended time to it personally).
In recent years, I’ve observed a real change in what start-ups and small businesses are seeking in a partner – be it a designer, accountant, coach, strategist, etc. They want to know more about the idiosyncrasies of the people they are working with – what their ethos is and what drives them to do what they do.
I have found that being real and upfront with clients about other common challenges that life poses – such as balancing work with the demands of looking after a baby, or having to care for a sick family member, or having to work remotely for a while because a drunk driver ran into the front of your studio in the middle of the night (yes, this actually happened to me last year!) actually helps the relationship and makes them more inclined to be honest and open with you in return, yielding more effective creative outcomes.
With a large design agency or studio as partner you rarely get such honesty and often get hand-balled from person to person throughout the lifespan of your project. Fees are often way more exorbitant and ROI a lot less transparent.
Commencing this month, I’ll be phasing out our web design and development arm to focus on my absolute passion – branding and print design. I am incredibly excited about the transition and am very hopeful it will give me the chance to live my truth in a business sense and do what feels right and natural for me. I can only see my clients winning as a result, and this will also free me up to spend more time with Max and be legitimately present during his precious early years.
Cheers to a new, simpler future!