There’s a sense of déjà-vu in the North-east of Scotland at the moment. Having steadily recovered from the oil and gas downturn which led to a major round of redundancies five years ago, history is now repeating itself for a different reason.
But this particular cloud has a silver lining – many of those facing redundancy have grasped the opportunity to realise a long-held ambition and set up their own business.
As someone who speaks from experience, I know you’ll be feeling excited and daunted in equal measure – so many possibilities and opportunities yes, but also a few threats and doubts lurking in the wings.
Having been made redundant in 2016, I went on to launch Designtastic with my business partner, and former colleague, Graeme Leslie. Those too were challenging times in which to start (or re-start in my case) a new business, as the North-east economy reeled from the global oil and gas downturn. Yet here we are, going from strength to strength four years later.
I’ve learned a few important lessons during that time. Not only have these experiences bolstered my resilience, but they have also contributed enormously to our success. Hopefully sharing these with you will inspire the plucky start-ups of today onto bigger and better things!
Rise to the challenge
My first piece of advice would be to not only accept that challenges and crises are part and parcel of running your own business, but to expect them. Your experience gives you the weaponry to take these on, deal with them and move on. You are going to get knocked down. You need to develop the resilience that pulls you back up again and carry on. Working for yourself you very quickly realise that no one else is going to do that for you.
Those challenges won’t always be external. For example, there’s no substitute for hard graft when you’re trying to get a business off the ground – that can be tough to sustain, particularly when you factor in the competing demands of family commitments, let alone clinging onto some much-needed down-time. This is where you need to tap into your inner strength to see you through.
Sustaining your optimism and positive outlook can also feel like something else to add to your task list! Optimism is a self-fulfilling prophecy – nurture it, and your business will reap the benefits.
The same principle works here as it does in personal relationships. Be considerate and respectful of other businesspeople, even when you’re working in similar fields and potentially competing for clients in the same target market.
Take, for example, my relationship with Zoe Ogilvie, Director of Aberdeen PR firm, The Big Partnership. Despite the fact that we offer overlapping services, Zoe kindly offered us office accommodation at a very competitive rate when we were just starting out. It was a gesture of solidarity, and one which I have never forgotten.
Surround yourself with the best people
In business as in life generally, I can’t stress enough how important it is to forge genuine and strong relationships based on mutual respect and trust. Whether these relationships are with colleagues, clients or competitors, they will benefit your business in a myriad of ways. When you hit a crisis not only will you feel supported and shielded by all of these contacts, but they may also be able to offer practical help in overcoming obstacles. Key contacts with whom you have established strong bonds can be great sounding boards, offering valuable insights and advice during good times and bad.
The caveat here is that there are no short-cuts. It takes time to establish and build these types of relationships, but it’s never too late. Start today – it could be as simple as picking up the phone.
Here is a snapshot of some of the people I’m fortunate enough to work with:
Simon Cowie – accountant and dealmaker extraordinaire – is right there when you need him, always looking at the big picture and bringing humanity to the numbers game.
Victoria Grozier is a specialist who pulls no punches when telling it like it is. What she doesn’t know about digital marketing and social media isn’t worth knowing.
Eilidh McCluskie, MD of Bold St Media is professional, knowledgeable and unflappable in a crisis. So experienced she makes the job of PR look easy!
We have worked with Patrick Norman for more than a decade. He’s given us interesting projects in everything he’s been involved in, and invited us in wherever he’s worked when they needed a creative approach.
Linzi Punton, Head of Global Marketing and Communication, Sparrows – they were the first clients to work with us at Designtastic. Linzi came onboard immediately, having worked with us for over a decade in a previous life, and was instantly supportive of our new venture.
Rory Raitt is a talented photographer and videographer who always knows how to get the stand-out shot. Rory is as easy to work with as he is creative.
I’ve worked with J Thomson Colour Printers for over 25 years - they’re simply the best in the business.
And, of course, not forgetting my incredibly talented co-director, Graeme Leslie. It’s my good fortune that he possesses a rare combination of great character, commercial sense, creativity and wit.
Working with talented, committed individuals has been instrumental in our success, and I would urge you to start cultivating your own team of all-stars. As Franklin D. Roosevelt once said:
“I’m not the smartest fellow in the world, but I sure can pick smart colleagues.”