The other day, I had an email from linkedin telling me that people were congratulating me on my ‘work anniversary’.
I started Awesome Merchandise after I finished school, when I was 19 years old, which means I’ve been ‘working’ for almost the same amount of time that I was actually in school.
I set out with a badge machine in an attempt to avoid getting a proper job at university without too much expectation. It’s turned into something way bigger, thanks to the internet and turning up each day. It’s awesome to see loads of other people doing interesting and great things, whether it’s putting on shows for their favourite bands, selling their artwork online and at events everywhere or setting up their own micro business. It can be a scary thought, but now, more than ever before, you have the power to do something awesome.
I’m pretty impatient. I’m slowly learning the old adage that Rome wasn’t built in a day is true. We’ve been chipping away for 9 years. To the outside world we might seem to be a fairly fast moving company. Sometimes it can seem painfully slow to me. You have to accept that you can’t do everything at once. It’s important to be patient and make sure the things you are working on now are executed properly. The small changes you make every day or week add up over a period of time until suddenly, over the course of a year you realise you have made some big improvements.
Working as part of a team is way more rewarding than working on your own. Starting and running a business in the early days can be a slog. It can be lonely. Part of setting up means that you might have to do nearly everything yourself for a little while. Employing people for the first time can be pretty daunting but it’s also an excellent chance for you to start building your team! I’m lucky in that we were a team of two from the beginning. As the business has developed we have been working more and more as part of a wider team and not only is it way more fun, but together we are more effective and the company is developing much faster. No matter how good you think you are, how crucial you are to your business, it’s important to realise that you probably don’t scale and you don’t have all the answers. That’s where the team comes in…
Having a plan is a good idea. We operated without any written plans for a long time. Having everything just floating about in my head led to me feeling a little lost and disillusioned, despite the business doing increasingly well. Why did I feel that way? Well, I hadn’t thought about where I wanted to take the company, what my role should be and what I wanted out of life generally. Creating both business plans and personal plans has meant that I now set goals and actions so that I am working on relevant things but also I get a sense of achievement. I found the annual review set out by Chris Guillebeau to be really useful.
At least not in terms of getting started. Today more than ever, the barriers to entry are lower than they have ever been. One of my favourite things about my job is that every day I see micro entrepreneurs, artists, start ups and musicians that are making awesome things happen. I think it’s worth saying that whilst you can start at any age, you still need to act professionally. I’m a believer in faking it until you make it and in the first 2 years of Awesome Merch sometimes we’d put people on hold whilst we ‘spoke to our shipping department’. As long as your intentions are honest then I think this is OK. It’s important to realise you will need to make up for any lack of experience through a willingness to learn.
I quit university to make badges. I went from learning and reading every day, to operating a badge machine and answering emails. There were a couple of years I didn’t read all that much, I was immersed in doing stuff. The weird thing about running a business is that most the time no one teaches you how to do your job. Another weird thing is that you are probably really inexperienced in your role. As soon as I discovered that there are plenty of ways to continue learning, whether that be through a book, a blog post, video, attending events or talking to others, I began to drastically change my outlook on the kind of business we could become and what my job should entail. There is near infinite resource for you to continue learning and I think it’s important anyone (in business or not) should carry on learning new stuff.
Running a business is no cake walk. Things go wrong all the time. There is no shortcut to building something great. Running a company means you have to deal with what sometimes feels like endless problems, frustrations and challenges. Get over it. Shit happens, it’s your job as the boss of the company to sort it out!
I end up spending most of my time either working or thinking about work, so I figure I might as well enjoy myself along the way. It’s easy to get caught up in the day to day grind of work or a looming project deadline. Sure, work can be stressful at times. That big goal that I’m working towards and today seems so elusive will one day be a distant memory. That’s why I need to enjoy the journey. For me it’s important I enjoy what I do and to realise that every day when I wake up I have choices.