The not-so-terrible twos

It seems like yesterday that I was writing about our first birthday journey and lessons, so it was a struggle to cast my mind back over the last 12 months and remember each high and low for our next birthday Insight. The lessons of the second year were so markedly different to those of the first that in many ways it felt like a whole new ballgame. While it wasn’t easier, there were different tasks to focus on, milestones to reach and a huge range of exciting achievements that made the last 12 months really worthwhile.

Below, I’ve picked out a few key things that I learnt over the course of this last year. These are the things that really struck me as being important parts of the start-up journey. I hope you’ll find some ideas here that resonate with you too.

Find that perfect business partner.  Running your own business is hard and can be very lonely. Having someone who balances you – your skill set, your temperament – and someone you can share the extreme ups and downs with makes the journey much easier.

Keep your eye on the prize.  Have clear goals for the business, and stay focused. Too many side projects, as exciting and challenging as they may be, are a distraction that can diminish your business capacity. Focus, focus, focus is now my mantra.

Take note of your achievements – and remember to celebrate them. Running a small business can be a draining experience, so it’s crucial to acknowledge and celebrate those moments of success, no matter how small. At gemaker, we achieved some amazing things over the last 12 months, including:

  • a 260% revenue increase
  • delivering exciting client outcomes, including success at national and international awards, grants worth $500,000 and licencing revenue in excess of $250k
  • award recognition for the gemaker team, including a Stevie Award for Women in Business, and a finalist listing in the Victorian Telstra Young Business Women’s Award 
  • access to exciting professional development opportunities, including the chance to attend a Women in Focus study tour in Silicon Valley
  • a huge growth in referrals from key influencers and prospective partners
  • expansion of the gemaker team to 15 staff, including a new HR team and many behind the scenes.

We all go to work with a dream of doing great things, so don’t forget to enjoy those shining moments when your hard work pays off. There will always be time to knuckle down to work again – after you’ve cracked that bottle of champagne!

Get the boring stuff in order. Nobody likes admin, but if you invest the time to bed down your systems and processes, it’s worth it in the long run. This year we prepared a range of template documents, including bios, proposals, marketing material (thanks jotterbug), quotes and reports. We set up new accounting (xero) and timesheet systems to give us a better understanding of where staff time was being spent, and we developed a range of HR policies and other operational documents. And it’s already paying off – we now have automated processes, thorough records and easily accessible facts and figures.

Plan, plan, plan. Thorough project planning increases customer satisfaction by articulating what you’re going to do, how and when you’re going to do it, and how much it’s going to cost. It’s also essential to staff wellbeing, keeping everyone on the same page with timelines, budgets and client expectations.

Perfect that elevator pitch. Imagine finding yourself in a lift with your dream client. Being able to articulate what you do in 20 seconds or less is a crucial skill to master. It will also help you to clarify and re-clarify your business offerings every time you meet someone so you can start to develop your intuition when it comes to prospective partners, clients and licensees. When asked what I do, or what my company does, I can now say, “gemaker takes Australian innovation to the world and accelerates the growth of science and technology based businesses in Australia.”

Balance is important. Maintaining balance between work and home, between pressure and relaxation, and between hard slog and having fun, is crucial to running a successful business. This has been one of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn, and it’s still something that requires considerable conscious effort on my part.

Reflect, review, revise. I’ve spent quite a bit of time looking back on what we’ve done this year – what worked, what didn’t, what we still need to achieve. It’s important to continually reassess your business direction, and to check in regularly to make sure your project mix and customer base continue to reflect your goals.

Stay connected. We celebrated gemaker’s second birthday in style with high tea at the Victoria Room in Darlinghurst with all our staff and contractors present. As a business with a fully flexible workforce, it’s important for us to get the team together for social functions so we can all stay in topitchuch. But no matter how you configure your workforce, keeping your finger on the pulse with your staff is key to maintaining a happy team.

Surround yourself with experts in their fields. We don’t profess to know everything, ao we maintain professional networks of trusted advisers/service providers (such as IP lawyers at DibbsBarker) to fill the gaps across the journey seamlessly.