A few weeks ago, I reached the second milestone in my company’s career – the three-year anniversary (the first milestone was reaching 1 000 days in business).
Like any major milestone in one’s life, such as a relationship anniversary or a child’s birthday, this felt no different. In some ways, it felt like it was literally yesterday that I clicked “submit” on the CIPC company registration site. At other times, it feels like I’ve been running a company for at least five times as long.
Before I decided to throw away the safety net of a regular income and venture into unpredictable pastures, I’d helped my two previous companies build their digital departments literally from the ground up, with client acquisitions, sourcing the right talent and by building great products. So striking out on my own was using those basic building blocks, but a hell of a lot more!
Year one was awesome and probably unlike most start-ups. I landed my first client within the first week of launching, by reputation and by word of mouth, and I had previous clients approach me to take over some of their work and guide them in taking it internally.
So, without any seed funding or start-up capital, I was able to start with a well-sized project and some marketing budget from the few projects I’d picked up. But the mistake I made in year one was to do it all and get so hands-on with my work that I naively thought once one project is complete, the rest of the work would follow based on reputation.
I also decided that I wanted to be involved in the financial side, so I taught myself basic financial tasks and left the complex items to professionals. Although the basic stuff isn’t difficult, it’s time-consuming – which meant less time to focus on converting business leads.
And I did my own marketing: I wrote my own thought leadership pieces, managed the distribution and presented at conferences. I did eventually invest in a PR consultant to assist but it wasn’t financially viable to have this service long term as a start-up.
Years one and two
These years were not as great. The economy suffered heavy blows which had an effect on not just me but many companies in my industry.
Pitching for new work, especially public sector tenders, was extremely time-consuming. Most companies weren’t keen on investing in new technologies or improving what they had; they simply wanted to keep their existing cogs churning.
Of course, there were also the price wars, where numerous other companies were posing as mobile and digital experts and trying to get work by offering ridiculous prices and time-frames, which were not achievable.
I couldn’t compete with them. My team had more than seven years’ experience and quality was something I wasn’t prepared to compromise on. At the end of the day, you’re running a business, not a charity, and it has to be profitable.