Growing a business isn't easy. And it doesn't happen overnight. CEO Dominique Antarakis (@dantarakis) and COO Maureen Shelley (@MaureenShelley) share the six things they've learned from growing their small business, The Copy Collective. From the people, the clients and the inspiring work - they're privileged to do what they do... and they want to thank YOU for making 2014 a great one.
Number 6. It takes about two years to become an overnight success.
That may sound like a funny thing to say but success in business (which I’m equating to profitability, year-on-year growth, solid reputation and repeat business) takes time. You can be a very smart single operator – like my business partner Dominique was before I bought into The Copy Collective – but that in itself doesn’t make a successful business. There is a different skill set you need to develop and we’ve both been working hard to improve our existing skills and gain more in order to keep growing our business.
Business is hard. It takes commitment, communication, cooperation and compromise. If you are in business, expect that laying the foundations for all of those “C” words will take some time to pay off. In my experience, it’s about two years.
Number 5. Pay yourself – something
In 2012, when I joined The Copy Collective full time, we decided right away that we would pay ourselves wages. We weren’t going to take drawings, we weren’t going to see what was left at the end of each month and take that – we set a wage and we paid it. Now, we could probably both earn more if we went and worked for someone else but we’re growing a business and there is tremendous satisfaction in that. We can now see – after a lot of hard slog – that next year that we will be able to pay ourselves more and maybe even have a tax problem.
I contrast this to other business owners I know who take drawings, not wages, who don’t have a regular amount that they can rely on (even a small regular amount) each week or fortnight. I see them getting resentful about all the effort they put into their business. I see them making silly decisions and taking too much money out because they “deserve” it. I’m so grateful to our business mentor Jon Isaacs who has provided steady counsel along the way. Paying ourselves was one thing he advised.
Number 4. Keep your accounts up to date
I had a long chat with a client this year who was about $7000 behind in payments to us, which was unusual for them. The client acknowledged the debt, said that there wasn’t an issue with paying it but they just hadn’t had time to “do the books”. “The books” were an Excel spreadsheet and it took about three days of this client’s time to “do the books” each month. Business had been good and they hadn’t had time to sit down with Excel and pay suppliers like us. I advised them to use Xero, a subscription accounting system developed by some very smart Kiwis.
We used to have an accountant-run system, which was great until we wanted to know how we were doing. We had to ask for monthly reports to be run, to get P&Ls, for our BAS (and if you don’t know what these acronyms are – you need to know, so go find out) and pretty much anything else. This system didn’t cover payroll, didn’t include super and cost about $400 a month. Xero costs us $60 a month and we can run any report we want, any time we want and we have absolute transparency about our cash flow, profitability and who we owe money to and how much.
Number 3. Automate, automate
We used to have someone chase our debtors and it took about two to three hours (at least) a week for them to chase up late payers. We subscribed to Debtor Daddy for $15 a month and that person now has a lot more time to focus on other things as the software automatically sends reminders to clients as their bills become overdue. We also connected Debtor Daddy to Xero and Xero to Salesforce (our CRM) and this year we’ve installed Breadwinner to bring all that financial data into Salesforce. We can now see who our biggest clients are, who our most profitable clients are, which clients take up most of our time, and which clients take up most time and return the least profit. Automation is transforming our business and enabling us to serve our best clients better with the same number of staff, and to look after our less-profitable clients too.
Number 2. Keep learning
We’ve all attended extensive training and development conferences, workshops, seminars, webinars and even signed up for email courses this year. We’ve found new ways of doing old things and found some new things to do along the way. By constantly learning, we’re improving our skills all the time and are better able to focus on our customers.
Number 1. Cut yourself some slack
I was so heartened to hear Mike Cannon-Brookes of Atlassian say at the Start-Up Conference, earlier in the year, that some days he broke every rule in the business play book and nothing went right. He said that he would say the wrong thing in meetings, do the wrong things in the office, not pay attention when he should and pay attention to things that weren’t his concern. He said he would go home thinking “what an idiot”. Then he’d go back to work the next day and somehow, things would be better and the business survived. It was great to hear Mike say that because some days I just can’t seem to get anything right. Those days are hard but it’s good to know that even very successful entrepreneurs like Mike Cannon-Brookes have those days – and he’s got a $1 billion business.
One more thing – enjoy your successes. We’ve enjoyed some great success during the past 12 months thanks to our amazing team – our staff and our talented writers – and thanks to our exceptional clients. We’re privileged to work with some of the greatest organisations in the country – people who are literally working to save the planet, and make it a better place for us all.
Dominique and I would like to thank everyone at The Copy Collective for a mighty year. We look forward to seeing you and hearing from you next year. May the joy and peace of the season be with you, your family and friends.