STIR‘s sixth birthday crept up on me suddenly and unexpectedly – much like a lot that has happened in 2018. I was sitting in a reception area waiting for a meeting to start this morning when I realised it was the 29th of November. I immediately felt a lump form in my throat (and if you tell anyone I’m emotional, I’ll end you) and I had a wave of memories come crashing into my mind.

The list of lessons I’ve learned is longer than a R10 tequila queue, but these six stick out the most.

Lesson 1: Talk Yourself The Hell Up

This is, by far, the lesson that I hate most. I do not enjoy hyping myself up. At all. I get very self-conscious when people talk about my and STIR’s achievements because I feel like I shouldn’t revel in those moments for too long. I need to move onto the next milestone. However, PR is so important to remain relevant and to separate yourself from the noise. So submit press releases (or get someone to do it for you), approach media outlets with angles on your business, and spread the word on social media. You deserve to celebrate your success. I should really take my own advice…

How I learnt this lesson

Simple. I have seen a direct correlation between PR and client acquisition. And if it’s not client acquisition, it’s being approached to do a talk, or write an article for someone.

Lesson 2: Get Everything In Writing

Ya hear? EVERYTHING! From SLAs to partnership agreements, from supplier contracts to leave forms, get those signatures down. “Oh, but we have such a good relationship.” No you fucking don’t! People can be fickle AF, and will always look out for themselves. This doesn’t make them bad people, it’s just business. But you have got to protect yourself. We tend to project our own views onto others, but this can backfire, so rather have those views in an airtight contract.

How I learnt this lesson

Ha. Haha. Aaaaaahahaha. Where do I start? I’ve been screwed over by an employee, so I updated clauses in our employment contracts. I’ve been screwed over by a business partner, so I threw money at lawyers to ensure all future partnerships are dictated by a shareholders’ agreement and a roles and responsibilities agreement. I’ve been screwed over by clients who wouldn’t pay, so I locked down our SLAs and add penalties for late payment.

Lesson 3: Competing Is Outdated. Rather Collaborate

One agency can’t (and shouldn’t) do it all, so it’s common for numerous agencies to be involved with a single brand or campaign. What irks me is when we walk into a boardroom and there’s a sudden sense of defensiveness. People feel threatened by other businesses. But why? Your client has appointed you to do something you’re great at, so do it fucking well and let the other suppliers get on with what they do best. Rather than looking at your competitors as threats, look at the opportunities to collaborate and work with people who have different skills, experiences and opinions to you. There’s more than enough work to go around and we can all get a slice of the pie.

How I learnt this lesson

Hey, I’ll happily admit that I was guilty of this defensive behaviour in the beginning. I wanted to stand my ground and make sure the client knew that we were the best and screw everyone else. STIR isn’t in the same league as the bigger agencies in SA, but we work with a few of them often. We’ve lost business to these agencies and we’ve won business from them. When I changed my attitude to more of “Hey, you’re cool and you’re here for a reason. So am I”, the strategies were executed far more seamlessly.

Lesson 4: The Sooner You Can Separate Yourself From Your Business, The Better

Tough one. Very, very tough one. You pour so much into your business and it becomes all-consuming. But you are not your business and you need to build a business that can run without you if you get hit by a bus tomorrow. I am not STIR. STIR is a company headed up by me, yes, but it is a culmination of many people – people much smarter than me (At this point I’m going to throw in a bonus lesson: Always hire people smarter than you.)

How I learnt this lesson

This lesson really hit home when I started hiring people. I was forced to look beyond my own needs and the reality of building a business and having other peoples’ futures in my hands struck me. I was forced to take my hands off the wheel and delegate.

Lesson 5: The Sooner You Can Recognise What You’re Shit At, The Better

You will never learn more about yourself than when you start, run and grow a business. You’ll be very quickly humbled by how little you know. But the sooner you can set your ego aside and realise where your weaknesses lie, the better off you’ll be. Why? Because then you can hire people or outsource to people who can fill those gaps better than you ever could.

How I learnt this lesson

For me, I’m so kak at financial stuff. Well, actually, I’m not kak at it, I just really dislike doing it. However, it’s one of the most important functions of a business and cannot be ignored. I remember feeling so conflicted about parting with the monthly fee for an accountant, because at the time, it felt like a huge amount of money, but it was genuinely one of the best business decisions I have ever made. I can now lead my ship from the front instead of balancing books at 2am.

Lesson 6: Lastly, Keep The Lessons Coming

I’ve written about continuously striving to learn more, because remaining humble and thirsty for knowledge will keep your clients trusting you and your business a step ahead of your competitors. You’ll never know it all and that’s not a bad thing.

How I learnt this lesson

If I didn’t take this lesson to heart, I wouldn’t have a relevant digital agency. My industry demands constant learning. Moreover, the way of doing business is constantly changing, so as a business owner, you need to constantly be coming up with innovative ways to keep your staff and clients happy, your sales growing, and your processes moving swiftly.

Happy birthday, STIR. I am a stronger, smarter, kinder, more resilient person because of you.

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