Are You Suffering From Start-upitis?

Written by: Angus Montgomery
Published on: 3 Feb 2015

Start Up Problems article imageSource: Jeff Golden

What were your first priorities when setting up your business? My guess is that they centred around getting some potential clients interested in you, starting work with them and ultimately putting some money in the bank account.

That was then. Where are you now, several years down the line? Are these still your priorities and are they crowding out other things? If so, you might be suffering from Start-upitis. Start-upitis is a debilitating and somewhat addictive state that, if maintained, slows the progress of your design business and can prevent you from reaching your full potential. You can still function but it’s a slow, hard trudge towards a destination unknown and obscured by fog.

How do you spot if you’re suffering from start-upitis? Here are some of the symptoms.

  • Is the time you allocate to your own brand, website, vision and values regularly being displaced by responding to client demands?
  • Are you unable to answer the questions –  “Why do we exist? What are the goals for the business?” in some depth?
  • Are you still addicted to the thrill of the new business chase? Do you creative pitch at any and every opportunity?

If you answered yes to any of the above then you could be suffering from Start-upitis. But the good news is, there’s a cure. If you want to break the cycle and move more quickly towards your real goal here is a series of steps to get you started:

1. Imagine that you were starting your business again tomorrow. What are you passionate about? What matters to you? What is important about that? What do you want the impact of your work to be? Where do you want to be in a year’s time?

2. What is the current state of the business? Is your passion aligned with your business? Are you working on what matters to you? Is your work having the impact that you want? How far away are you from where you want to be?

3. What does the distance look like between 1 and 2? What are your options in terms of closing the gap? If the gap seems too big what would an intermediate step look like?

4. What will you do, having narrowed down your options?

These are never easy questions to answer, so here are some practical suggestions to set you on the right track:

  • Keep drilling down to find your essence

Have you found yourself reading other design business’s websites and wondering what they’re really about? If so, that might be because they don’t drill down deep enough and end up describing themselves in one word – “creative”, “forward-thinking” etc. If you find yourself answering Q1 with statements such as “being creative”, follow up with further questions to get a deeper awareness of what this means for you, for example: “What does this mean to us? What does this mean to our team and our clients? Why should they care? What’s different about how we do it?”

  • Bring in a sounding board

Your clients need you to help them with their brand because you bring an external perspective to their business, something fresh and new. It should follow that when addressing these questions for your business, you look for someone else to perform this role. This could be a coach. They can ask you the above questions, freeing you up to discuss them. They can highlight where the conversation is going and reflect your own thinking back to you, in doing so clearing blocked thinking and creating forward movement. They can help you develop the plan that will be the final phase 4. of the exercise above, answering the question: “What you will do”. This person could also be a chairman, someone who has been there and done that, someone who you know, or who is associated with the issues or sectors that matter to you.

  • Treat yourself like a client

You wouldn’t start work for your clients without setting up a job code and budgeting for your time. It should follow that you approach work on your own brand in the same way. Firstly, create a job code to attach to the time you spend on the above questions. Then budget for the time you want to allocate to it, starting with an hour for each section above. Remember to multiply up for all parties involved. Perhaps invite just the senior partners only into this initial phase.

Try this process and let me know how you get on, and any sticking points that seem to halt your progress. It’s not always easy discussing your own business, but it’s worth it if you feel you’re not where you want to be. It’s only when you understand where you really want to get to and why, that you’ll be able to work out what you need to get there.

John Scarrott is membership director at the Design Business Association. His DBA blog, Conversations With, is here.