In March this year, Dux Digital celebrated our 5th birthday!
We’ve beaten the odds by making it this far. According to a UTS (University of Technology Sydney) report, “One in three new small businesses in Australia fail in their first year of operation, two out of four by the end of the second year, and three out of four by the fifth year.“
As much as I’d like to say it’s all been plain sailing, it hasn’t always been easy.
Here are my musings on running a business to date.
Find your purpose to find your niche
Before I started Dux, I co-founded Be Media back in 2013.
At the time, there were only a handful of digital agencies in Perth. It soon felt like every month there was a new agency, then every week, and now there are so many I’ve given up trying to keep track of them all.
One thing a lot of them have in common is that they all claim to be “Perth’s leading digital/marketing/growth full service agency” and they all focus on the SME market.
With this, it can be difficult to stand out.
We were guilty of this at first, offering a wide range of services to all types of industries. Whilst this was great, we didn’t really have a USP.
We got results and tried to be nice people, but this wasn’t exactly setting us apart from other digital agencies.
Luckily, we got to a point where we started asking ourselves some deeper questions about why we do what we do and what the type of work is that we’re doing.
That process resulted in a change of direction for us: We’ve found our passion, reinvigorated our business, and have a true purpose in what we do.
Ultimately, we decided that we wanted to do good in the world and help other people do good, too.
Read more in our blog: We’re taking a new direction. And it’s good.
By finding our passion and purpose, we’ve incidentally moved ourselves into a niche, and a less crowded, market.
The fact that our niche and our passion are linked is important, as I don’t think anyone will succeed in an area unless they truly love what they do.
Take your time and make mistakes
Over the years, I’ve been involved in a number of businesses. Some that worked; some that didn’t.
I had an online clothing business (threadsordead.com.au) that didn’t make it much past the 12 month mark, despite my background working in ecommerce for one of the largest UK retailers for three years prior.
The ones that worked have followed the lean startup methodology. I believe it’s best to not plan out to the nth degree, and give yourself the ability to pivot and change as required.
My online shop had a 40-page business plan that I followed religiously, and I was too scared to deviate. Ultimately, it resulted in its undoing.
Dux is the opposite.
When I started Dux Digital, we didn’t have a plan – other than it was going to be pretty much a replication of the agencies I’d been involved in previously.
However, as we went along, I realised that some of the services we were offering weren’t the right fit, and by being agile, we were able to adjust accordingly.
We’ve tacked and jibed constantly and this freedom has helped us make it to the five year mark.
We’ve also taken the time to grow slowly as well. A lot of new businesses will try to grow too quickly and adopt a “fake it til you make it” mentality.
In my experience, this will only lead to a terrible work-life balance. You’ll let your customers down, be frustrated with the quality of your work, and question why you’re doing it in the first place.
Define what success means to you
What’s your currency? What do you want to get out of it at the end of the day?
Knowing this will help you make all of your business decisions. Hopefully, your idea of success aligns with your personal values.
Do you want to be rich, or do you want to be comfortable? Is money even a key driver to you?
If the bills are getting paid, but you’re able to help the world in some way through the work that you do, would you consider that being successful instead?
It’s not easy
Mike Cannon-Brookes from Atlassian is famous for saying that no one over the age of 30 should start a business. His reasoning is that to be successful, you’re going to have to devote a large portion of your time, energy and soul into that business.
If you have a family, a mortgage and other responsibilities it is much harder than it would be if you were able to pour all of your time and focus into the business.
You’ll find a constant feeling of guilt that you’re not devoting enough time to one aspect of your life, and no matter how you try, you’ll feel that something is always being neglected.
If you ever get the opportunity to attend a Tony Robbins UPW (Unleash the Power Within) event, I recommend it. Years ago, I went to one in Sydney and it was great. One of the points that stuck with me was when Tony asks: “What are you prepared to give up?”
At Be Media, I would start work at 3am, do six hours before my team came in, work a full day, go home, help put the kids to bed, do a little more work and repeat. The business was a great success, but I had to give up my health (sleep and diet).
It was not a sustainable way to live.
It’s not possible to do everything, and you’ll need to make peace with the fact that you can’t.
Surround yourself with good people
Another Tony Robbins pearl of wisdom is that you are the sum of the five people you associate with the most.
If you don’t come from a business background (there aren’t any entrepreneurs in my family), I recommend getting some help from people who’ve been there before.
Having a paid business advisor (e.g. CFO advisory type service) might seem expensive when you’re starting out, but their knowledge and experience is invaluable.
Try finding a mentor or seeking out other business owners. Only these people will know what you’re going through and will be a great sounding board for you.
Make sure your friends are supportive of what you’re trying to achieve. Having someone in your corner who sows seeds of doubt, no matter how well-meaning, will not be good for your overall success.
Hire people who are great at their jobs. But much more importantly, hire people who are good. By good, I mean a good fit culturally. Delegate to them and give them the autonomy to make decisions. Support their choices.
We spend eight hours a day, five days a week together. That’s too much time to work with someone who doesn’t align with your business values and is overall not a nice person.
Is it worth it?
I’m not going to lie. Somedays, the pressure of thinking about your business from the moment you wake up to the moment you fall asleep can take its toll.
The constant stress is something you can’t prepare for, and very few people will understand.
There are days where I’d much rather go and get lost on my bike in the bush.
However, once you’ve found your purpose, as we have, working on this business and trying to grow it into the sort of organisation we think it can be is what keeps me going.
Plus, it is unlikely that I will become a sponsored MTB rider anytime soon 🙂
But it’s not for everyone. I have a saying, if you’re the type of person that hates the thought of going into work on a Monday, then you should consider a different career.
Life is too short to spend your time doing something that you hate, even if that means shutting down shop and starting something new.
*By the way, the balloons were biodegradable.