Anyone who knows me knows that I am not a good employee.
Not that I’m a bad worker – on the contrary I’ll work hard and I’ll excel at any job I’m given. I just don’t fit into that clock-in-clock-out, live-for-the-weekend kind of lifestyle.
I’ve always had a knack at finding a way to do things with as much ease and in as little time as possible. You could say that I’m an expert at identifying ways to streamline systems.
The main reason I started doing this was because I’ve been thoroughly bored with every 9-5 I’ve ever had. I figured that if I had all my work done and submitted quickly I could probably just do whatever I wanted for the rest of the day. (For the most part, this was correct!)
My main preoccupation was (is?) my career in sound.
After attending uni (which I loved except for the whole academics thing – just let me lose in the studio already!), I kicked around a few different jobs and dabbled in a few sound projects, from studio work to live work, playing in bands and producing work. But a lot didn’t stick, and after a horrible series of on-set experiences I was even sworn off screen sound.
Fast forward a few years and I found myself with a few hundred dollars and a suitcase in Melbourne.
I’d kept my fingers in a host of audio work here and there, and more than a few 9-5s that I loathed. Eventually I found myself behind the scenes on a great little show working with some amazing people. I built my network, met Zoe and the rest, as they say, is history.
Around a year ago Zoe founded Pickford and I was helping her out with sound and support, when she asked if I wanted to run it with her. After a few months of saving and organising, I was giving up my little apartment in St Kilda and quitting my day job. Because hey, we had some clients already and I had some sound work, how hard could it be?
Well, I was shown big time. The first lesson I learnt is never to think ‘How hard can it be?’!
There are a few other things my boss never told me about running a business.
You need to make sacrifices, and depending on your circumstances that can mean anything from going out once a week to mothballing your social and family life until you’re at a comfortable point.
The first thing to fall is going out, but that seems doable: I’m a good cook and I’m okay with being a bit of a homebody.
Also be prepared to have the landscape of your friendships change extensively. If you’re in the midst of start-up culture there’s only a slim chance that your comfortably-9-to-5 friends will “get” what your life is like.
To regular people 80+ hour weeks punctuated with 3am Mario Kart breaks seem insane, and if you’re working in anything like broadcast be prepared to fall head over heels for back-to-back-to-back 16 hour shifts.
Then comes cutting down on all the little luxuries you have at home, then a few more, then a few more – again.
Then comes the crushing realisation that you’re actually terrible with money!
Zoe is my saviour in this regard. I’ve never met someone who can balance a budget with such finesse and get us back on track, but it has been tough and anyone who tells you otherwise is lying or has a nice, big safety net.
Aside from the finance, the biggest thing I’ve had to come to terms with is making sure I’m working effectively.
My side of the business is being on set and it’s where I shine. I know what’s going on and what needs to be done; it’s where I feel most at home.
In the office however, I’ve felt pretty useless. And on occasion I’ve even slipped back into my slack ways.
I never thought I’d feel a bit worthless working with someone, until I started with Zo. I’ve always known she’s pretty amazing, but watching her come up with strategies, developing systems, and running the finance all on top of coding our (amazing, new, soon-to-be launched!) website from scratch is awe-inspiring. I just find myself struggling to find a way to be as productive/useful as her. Thankfully when we get onto a set I can build myself up a little.
The final lesson that’s stood out to me in my new freelance/self-employed life is how important relationships are.
Everybody will tell you how you have to network and build ties with people, but it’s even more important than everyone says.
It’s not just mixing with the movers and shakers. It’s extending a hand to that beleaguered employee because they’re going to be invaluable in getting your contract finished on spec. Or just reaching out and offering to help strangers in your field, because after you’ve helped them out a bit, they might be double-booked and you’re at the top of the list. Hell, even just being good to people serving you a coffee because your actions are a constant a reflection of you, your business and your brand.
The other thing to keep in mind is if you’re in a close-knit industry where your work relies heavily on referrals, you’ve got to have a good attitude otherwise the phone will just stop ringing. If I’m asked to recommend I go straight to my circle of crew that I trust and that I’ve worked with because recommending someone bad is the same as doing a bad job yourself.
So where am I today?
Pickford is turning over well, and we plan to expand in the next couple of quarters into multiple income streams. Zo is hard at work designing some courses that we are adding to our arsenal and I’m looking at some commercial real estate with a mind to open a small post production/recording studio.
So, now I know how hard it all is, how hard it may continue to be, and what we need to look at before we embark on new projects and expansions.
But will it stop me taking risks? No.
I just had a long conversation with my parents who over the years have started and run many businesses and they told that they have had some very tough times and some failures, but with persistence and some smart thinking they always worked it out and are now more successful than ever.
So after all, maybe I was born to work on what I love and take business risks.