Reflections at 40 – Business – 3/40

To celebrate turning 40, I’ve challenged myself to blog for each of the 40 days leading into my birthday. This is post number 3. You can read all the posts here.

I never intended to start a business so early; I always thought it was something I’d do once Ant and I had kids. But quitting triathlon opened up some room in my life and, as tends to happen (with me anyway), something rushed to fill it.

I’d been freelancing (emphasis on ‘free’) for years as a graphic designer – doing little jobs for friends and family just because I loved it. Design was my hobby as well as my job. All of the sudden I started getting work from non-friends and -family. Enough work that I had to make a decision – knock it back because I already had a job and didn’t want to spend all my free time working, or quit that job and hang out my shingle.

History will show I chose the latter and initially, things were pretty sweet. Within three months I’d replaced the income from my full-time job and I quite liked being the master of my own universe (responsible only for myself, and no-one else).

Pretty soon, however, that gold star addiction reared its head again.

At school, the parameters were clearly defined: here’s a test or assignment, the best mark you can get is 100%, strive for that.

In triathlon, it was much the same: here’s how you went last time you did this race or this distance, try and better that time.

In business, however, every client had different expectations about speed, quality and price. Instead of ascertaining what those expectations were, I made assumptions instead. Assumptions that were well above reality. And, because I was making assumptions, I figured I should also work ‘margin for error’ into what I was aiming to deliver as well.

In the design world, reality dictates clients can only expect two of speed, quality and price at any one time.

Naivety and arrogance saw me try to deliver all three.

In doing so I delivered this instead: a business model that was stressful, unprofitable and unsustainable.