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Lessons learnt opening own business a year ago

One year ago, I dropped my girlies off at school (we sang Jingle Bells the whole way, again) and had this surreal feeling of being totally free and at the same time totally vulnerable.
© Marten Bjork via Unsplash.

I had one meeting that morning. The phone rang that afternoon and I had another.
Both successful. I had a business.

I thought I’d share a few things I’ve learnt in my first year of business. Maybe it helps you.

Relationships are the only thing that matters:
I’ve been in marketing/advertising for 15 years and I’ve met some superbly talented people in that time. Both on client and agency side. I’ve nurtured those relationships as there is true value in them. I’ve grown with them and we have produced some great work.

Understand what you REALLY need to operate. Remove every single ‘nice to have’ until you realise you absolutely cannot do without it.

Start at 100% margin on every job. Every % decrease in margin should hurt. Start there.

Sure, I’ve thought about ‘starting my own thing’ since ad school, but the truth is, timing is critical. Too soon and your network is a bit thin, too late and the opportunity may have passed. Have a broad plan and keep a lookout in the market. Be ready to implement it. Be flexible, it might not be exactly what you thought it would be, it might be better.

Taking the first step:
Good Lord, if I earned a buck from every time I heard that I wouldn’t have to start a business! Sadly, it’s true.

“I have a bond”, “What about my kids' school fees?”, “Woolies doesn’t pay for itself”, “I need a new bike” “Car repayment” “Cell phone bill”, “Rent” etc.

These are all real and things that held me back.

We are tuned to think that only an employer can give you these things. That it’s safe to have a job.

Livio Tronchin once said to me that the safest place is having your own business because you can see the shit coming a few months in advance and do something about it.

Ask for help:
Probably the toughest thing for me. Because I can do it all myself, you know.
  • I asked for desk space, I got it.
  • I asked for leads, I got them.
  • I asked for pricing advice, I got it.
  • I asked for proposals to be placed in front of the right people, done.
Most people are really kind and willing if you ask for help.

Be customer-centric:
Again, another overused but totally misunderstood term. Stop talking and listen to what your customer needs. They will tell you. Most often what drives them is not what you think. What are their measurables or KPI’s. What keeps them up at night. If you don’t know, ask. The customer is the only person who keeps your till ringing. Cherish that relationship. If you understand their needs, only then can the relationship turn into a partnership.

Lastly to Tessa Kirsten Crowder. Wow. 110% commitment to what I’m doing - more than me at times! Through thick and thin nothing but encouragement and a smile on her face. Rock solid. And now a partner in the business!

Having just spent 3 weeks in Europe its clear how much opportunity there is in this country for those willing to work. Be positive.

Go and do it. Because you can.

If I can help you, please ask. We're all in this together.

About Jeremy Crowder

With a long, illustrious and award-winning career behind him as a suit and no-nonsense client-whisperer in some of SA's top agencies, Jeremy knows all sides of the brand business better than most - both in terms of what still works and what doesn't work anymore, and how to change that. He is the fearless disruptor of the traditional agency model that South African brands have been waiting for.


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