— January 14, 2019
Most people have an image of what the perfect job looks like, I think it’s safe to say. Everyone thinks they should be paid more, work less, not have deadlines and be able to make all the decisions about everything to bolster their fragile egos. Reality never seems to measure up, but we keep dreaming. If not for the hope of someday finding lucrative work that is less unenjoyable, we would all probably wander into the woods and try to subsist off foraged berries and roadkill.
So what is the job that offers limitless freedom, earning potential, and less actual labor? Owning your own business and being the boss of course!
Hold on. As the founder of a brand consulting firm and the creative agency I started in 2009, I need to get something off my chest…
Let’s clear something up: Owning a business is the opposite of freedom. The business owns you. Founding a company means buying into a living paradox, where you can do anything you want but you have never had more constraints on what you can do. I went into it young and dumb. I was lucky in that way.
When I started Rock Candy Media, we were essentially a brand consulting company with a lot of design and print work. I had one employee, lots of highly profitable projects, and we worked rent-free out of my house (that’s actually a tax deduction if your accountant is good). We made more than enough money and my risk level was fairly comfortable.
Today, I have an extensive team (who require tons of snacks all the time), a pricey multi-year lease on an office, a payroll worth a price of a nice house, the premier health insurance plan, something of a 15% raise per year record, and an long monthly bill for all the software required to create and monitor digital ad campaigns. Not to mention business insurance that is through the roof because of all the computers, software and security I need to protect our intellectual data.
That’s good, right? A sign of growth? Yes, I always wanted to grow my company. But I also didn’t realize what I was working so hard for was to have a choice about what my company’s future looked like. To become one of the top branding agencies, I had to adapt to changes in the marketing and advertising field. We had to constantly adapt to survive as a start-up. Somehow, though, we managed to grow without Google Adwords or any type of paid spend department. We retained clients and grew based on guerrilla marketing & experiential marketing techniques, which looking back on, I wonder how we pulled it off. But it was meant to be: We create brands independent of any platforms, and to that I ensure my clients’ have freedom and aren’t locked into anything that has an embedded cost (except time) in order to succeed.
I started the company seeking freedom. The irony is at night it’ll hit me that I pay for people’s groceries and in the morning every client is my boss and I do not ever promise something I cannot deliver. I hold my team to high standards and they don’t have to like me, but they better damn respect the house I’ve built. I constantly tell them that I’m not their boss, but our clients are.
Is this a downer? It doesn’t have to be. You can have freedom; you just have to hustle harder as a one-man show than a 3 person show. I didn’t know all of this when I started my online marketing and design agency, but I wouldn’t change a thing. I’ve enjoyed the ride. I look back on the journey as the time I was the happiest (file under ‘young and dumb’). I may not have total freedom, but it’s a luxury that I’ve created a reputation that means everything to me, that’s solid.
It’s not easy, but just do right by your clients and drive your employees to do right by them, and show your them you will remove employees that are in any way abusive. We vet our job applicants as much as I want them to vet us, to ensure the right fit. But at this moment, right before our 10 year anniversary, I have the luxury of deciding if I want to scale, if I want to stay where I am, or if I want to go smaller. Either way the deliverables we produce will be next-level compared to anyone else. I managed to do this for nine years without a plan B, and by never once even knowing what our competitors are up to. I modeled this company by asking what I wanted out of an agency. To this day, the only time I hear a competitor’s name is when a prospect tells me.
I still dictate the overall direction of how we do brand strategy consulting, and how we apply that to our own brand. Rock Candy Media is not like other agencies. It couldn’t be, as my background is in business development. You can’t give a book to a salesperson to make them a good one. You have to find someone who gives a damn. The only way to know whether a salesperson will succeed is when everything goes wrong. How they handle the situation says everything. To this day I don’t trust anyone to do sales for Rock Candy Media but me.
I am never trying to be different for the sake of it, but I stay true to where I know my talents are and while I never will get recruiting 100% right, I do know innate talent when I see it and then the test becomes, ‘can they execute’? As long as we keep optimizing our internal procedures, then my senior team is doing right by me.
If freedom and fortune are not your only ambitions, then entrepreneurship can be extremely rewarding. If you think money can buy happiness, run away and run fast. Money can’t buy happiness but it better damn buy convenience. And if all that goes to crap, work because you have something to prove to yourself. If the grass is always greener, do not own a business. I consider myself very lucky in that I never think someone that seems like they have a lot of money is happier. Something you buy will make you happy for all of x days, or even hours.
All the company’s wins are my wins. That means the losses hit home harder for me than for my employees. That’s because while an employee can make a huge mistake, the responsibility is all mine. And that’s OK, responsibility comes naturally to me. All I’m saying is, you have to be driven from something within.