REAL-TALK: How I Built My Agency, In Six Simple Steps

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Whether small or big business—in the era of the intrepreneur, we take inspiration for the entrepreneurs of the world for work + life hacks, how-to and nimbleness, and the kind of sleeves up resourcefulness that turns heads.

On the blog this week we’re chatting with Tess Robinson, owner and Creative Director of branding agency Smack Bang Designs. Described as an an ideas guru, branding specialist and compulsive maker of things, Tess' main focus is positive impact and the happiness of her growing team (just don’t call them ‘staff!)

The lessons learnt in start-up land are those we can apply whether working solo or within a big business, and it’s in those core values and daily rituals that work satisfaction and success is found.

Having had seven years of hard lessons and intense mistakes, we asked Tess to divulge the top six things that have helped take her from striving to thriving.

Take it away Tess...

1. HIRING THE RIGHT PEOPLE BECOMES ONE OF THE MOST SACRED PARTS OF YOUR LIFE.

My favourite part of doing what I do is the people who I work with. My team is my greatest challenge and my biggest achievement. These insanely talented, downright lovely and donut-crazy bunch, are the reason I do what I do. I really dislike the word staff, that makes it sounds as though people are working for you and doing exactly what you say. I think of us more as a team, and more than that, as a family. My management style wouldn’t fly for people who’d want to be guided every step of the way. I let my team do their jobs, make their own mistakes and give them space to grow in whatever direction they choose. And above all, I bring together people who share our core values of genuity, grit, grace and the ability to laugh at themselves and each other. The key thing is starting with people who have differences of opinion, different skillsets and different reasons for being, but ultimately who share the same values. I believe that this is what allows us to work full steam ahead towards the one united goal.

2. WITHOUT SYSTEMS, YOUR TIME (AND MONEY) WILL EVAPORATE FASTER THAN A SNOWBALL IN HELL.

When I first started Smack Bang I had a desk piled high in lists, notes, and a desktop covered in excel spreadsheets and unnamed folders. The ‘back-end’ of my biz was a steaming hot mess. Sure, I was working my butt off, but all I was basically doing was playing Santa Clause with a team of drunk reindeers trying to get all the way around the world in one night with a long list of kids’ addresses written in hieroglyphics. The sooner you streamline your systems and start to automate your processes, the sooner you can get back to doing the fun stuff and the sooner you can start to scratch out your profit margin from under the surface.

3. A BUSINESS MENTOR WILL SAVE YOUR ASS AND YOUR BOYFRIEND’S EARS.

When I first started out, I got inspiration, knowledge, and advice from business books, podcasts, and blogs. I scoured through well-written advice, poorly-written advice, my Dad’s loving advice and even advice written from the perspective of an advice-giving cat. But it wasn’t until I found a business mentor that I was confident I was getting the exact advice I needed. I worked with my business mentor, Pru, for years and I am eternally grateful for everything she taught me. My boyfriend is also eternally grateful for her, not for the advice she gave me, but rather for the lengthy rambles and emotional turmoil his ears were spared. Here’s the thing, when you’re in business, stuff happens. The good, the bad and the downright disastrous happens. You need people to talk to. You can call your brother, but he doesn’t quite get this whole entrepreneurial thing you’ve got going on. You can call your best friend, but she’s on her way to a yoga class and is a little too zen for your chaos. Your neighbour seems like a nice guy, but from what you can tell he might be half deaf or isn’t quite loving your 6am blender and smoothie combo. Even your dog is too busy barking at passers-by to listen. Enter: The business coach. Not only is your business coach there to listen, but they will provide solid advice to take what you’re feeling or experiencing and turn it into a step forward for your business.

4.  YOUR TO DO LIST WILL MAKE YOU AND IT WILL BREAK YOU.

I know how it goes: your day begins with high hopes for productivity and positivity. You swear that today will be different and you’ll smash through your task list like a levitating goal-kicking version of Yoda. You begin writing out your tasks for the day, and as the list grows and grows, you begin to wonder if 24 hours will be enough. Before you know it, a tsunami has just traveled through your entire body and you feel the need to breathe into a paper bag to regain some level of clarity. Learning how to prioritise when everything is urgent is one of the hardest lessons us business owners have to learn. I’ll come clean and say that I still have to learn and relearn this lesson every single day. I used to begin my day with a gigantic list in front of me and break into a sweat with no idea how I’d ever be able to get all of it done. Nowadays, my task list consists of a 2 week roadmap. I allocate a maximum of 4 tasks for each day, no more. If I was to only view my task list one day at a time, having only 4 things on there would freak me the out. But because I can see two weeks worth of 4 daily tasks, my stress levels ease and I know that it will all get done, one day at a time.

5. CUT THE CORD OF YOUR INBOX BEFORE IT EATS YOU ALIVE.

Back in the day, I used to get excited at the AOL voice’s interruption of ‘You’ve got mail’. But now? With a thousand emails firing at me day-in, day-out, I’ve come to point where I just don’t give two hoots anymore. There, I said it. I don’t care to battle my inbox anymore. I’m flying the white flag with the realisation that emails have no respect for office hours, for lunch time, for my wellbeing or for my sanity. Sure, if an email lands in my inbox and is important to me, I will reply. But that ever-elusive goal of “inbox zero”? I’m done with it. Of course, I’d be lying to say that I wouldn’t have a huge spike in dopamine for that brief dream moment of g-damn peace, but I’ve realised that’s all it is – BRIEF. The sooner you can get over your quest to conquer your inbox down to zero, the sooner you can start doing some real work.

6. GET COMFORTABLE WITH WEARING A PERMANENT WEDGIE.

In business, and particularly in a rapidly growing business, you’ll never feel comfortable. Nothing will ever feel finished. And the rate at which you have to work will always feel like something is prodding your butt and not allowing you to sit completely relaxed, no matter how soft those Calvin Kleins are. One thing I learned early on in this game was to get comfortable with the uncomfortable because everyday you’ll have something to deal with that pushes you out of your comfort zone and into new territory. I’d also like to mention here that naturally, I’d score 10/10 on the introvert scale. I’m not a networker. Dealing with people exhausts me. I’m a total homebody and love nothing more than sitting in my home office with my phone off and inbox on pause to smash out some work in the peace of my own solitude. It takes a huge amount of stamina for me to continually ‘put myself out there’ as business asks you to do. But I buckle down in the uncomfortable and do it because I know that I have to.

Building a business takes more than elbow grease. It takes more than smarts. And it takes more than experience. Building a business requires grit and grace, passion and perseverance, resolve and resilience. And more than that, it requires you to fail fast, learn on the fly and grow in ways you never even knew you could.

If you want to learn more about the trials and tribulations, ups and downs, ins and outs of what it has taken me to build a branding agency, get your mitts on my new ebook that I wrote. This is quite literally the business bible I wish I’d had back when I was a whipper-snapper excitedly securing my very first ABN. It’s the juicy encyclopedia of small biz survival that I’ve created to help you through all the nitty gritty that got me stuck at the studio ‘til ungodly hours of the night trying to figure it all out.

And let me declare, this is not just a normal ebook. This is a deep dive, 300+ page e-course that delivers everything you need to know about running your own biz. It is your secret weapon for practical knowledge and rapid growth. And I promise you, I wouldn’t write 40,000 words of rubbish. It is probably the longest piece of writing I’ll ever read (let alone write) in my lifetime. 😉

I hope you enjoy,

Tess.


ABOUT SMACK BANG DESIGNS

As a talented team of creatives, we love our work, function like a family and are always striving to do good by the world. We are a collective of designers, thinkers and master organisers, each bringing a unique skill set and morning coffee demand to work everyday.

We offer seamless service and strategically sound, creatively inspiring and drool-worthy designs. Our solutions are driven by stories and ideas that look the business.

As a full-service creative studio we are ready and raring to break the mould and get you noticed.