I am poorer than I have ever been but I have never been so opportunity rich!
As I type these words I remain unsure if I'd be in anyway wise to make them available for public consumption (if you’re reading this you’ll know my decision) – some may think of financial transparency as bold, others may define it as stupid – either way its honest and to learn from.
Over the years I’ve learnt that forming my thoughts into a written story provides me with a linear process and a declaration of intention, but most useful of all it delivers a new perspective and the viewpoint of hindsight – which is much needed today (01/01/2010) to inspire both realisation of my situation and some direct action to guide me.
Christmas and New Year provided time away from the laptop, keyboard and iPhone, and I did my utmost to avoid the usual daily dose of Social Web, tweets and posts. The break has proven truly fascinating and sobering, not because its been fuelled with intellectual conversations with Wiseman from Nazareth, but because it delivered a much needed period of self-reflection and thought.
As I type this I’m faced with a virtual desktop of half finished Word Documents and lists of to-do’s, all of which must be edited and prioritised – this document serves as a psychological waste-basket for some items and begins a 2010 commitment to others – both are much needed if I'm to have any hope of keeping my sanity and developing a truly sustainable business in the years ahead.
Today, my bank statements tell me I’m £2,000 down into my business overdraft and in debt to the tune of £4,000 personally, on the positive side I filed and paid my VAT on Christmas Eve, I have no outstanding supplier bills until February, I'm due £650 in invoice-able time and above all I own all my studio equipment outright (probably £10,000's worth on ebay). In short, I start 2010 financially down but in no way out. At the age of 30 I'm poorer than I've ever been but I’ve never been so opportunity rich.
Before I look forward into 2010 I feel it important to remember the path I’ve traveled thus far (and for any potential readers of this, may it provide an insightful lesson, and a rare glimpse into a Padawan business mind).
It is now four years since I stood on a high-wire ledge in New Zealand, the eight-second free-fall that followed delivered much more than I expected. I hung suspended at the bottom of the 134m bungy cord, fuelled by adrenaline and a realization of “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” – it was at this moment a seed was planted in my mind – return to the UK, forsake the short-term safety of a mortgage and pension, and set about developing a successful business and positive mindset based on personal challenge and social value.
I was twenty-six. I’d already managed an agency studio, been registered as self-employed for years, and been a founding partner of Rorschok Creative (which was less of a traditional commercial partnership, and more of a part-time creative/collaborative team) – I'd certainly worked hard to learn my trade as a Graphic Designer but at no point had I ever been solely responsible for making decisions to drive a business forward, but most importantly, I'd never been solely responsible for the consequences – I felt I needed to learn from my own mistakes.
Linus Pauling (one of only four individuals to have won multiple Nobel Prizes) once said “if you want to come up with a few good ideas, or even one great one, then you have to generate lots of ideas” [quoted from Jonathon Porritt's Audio Essay "Creative Sustainability" 2006 Podcast].
Suspended at the end of a bungy cord, I already understood Paulings quote to be true in regards to ideas and creativity, but upon boarding the Air New Zealand flight back to the UK I began an enlightening journey… and today I understand that Paulings philosophy also applies to life, experience, inspiration, people, knowledge, ability and business. I also now realise that bad ideas and poor decisions are inevitable along the way, and as it happens, they're 100% necessary to get a great result.
In October 2007 I opened a business bank account in the name of Fellow™, I instructed my accountant to process a formal VAT registration; and the rest as they say, is history. With many thanks too, and loving memories of a late family relative, I opened Fellow Creative with £10,000 in the bank but I also had the words of an ex girlfriend ringing in my ears "Carl, you're an idealist, you'll never run a business where you get on with every single colleague or client, or do what you want every single day". Today, on 1st January 2010, I realize that its cost me £16,000 to find out that she was half-right.
“If you want to come up with a few good ideas, or even one great one, then you have to generate lots of ideas” – In addition, I suggest that you also have to do and experience lots of different things, step outside your natural comfort zone, meet and work with people you don't always see eye to eye with and take risks based on gut feel rather than monthly bank statements – I follow my instincts every single day, and taking the rough with the smooth, I enjoy every single minute of it. (I recommend watching this).
In early 2008 I thought this philosophical approach was traveling pretty well, that is until I was hit by a 20 ton aggregate lorry and a double-decker bus in a near fatal car accident, a true story that not only shut the A26 for three hours but thankfully reminded me that “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” and forced me to realize that although I'd been making gut feel decisions with people and time, if I was to truly succeed in business I really needed to gamble on my instincts with money.
Now four years on, I’ve made errors and poor decisions across all areas, and some gambles are yet to be proven but I’ve done my best to learn from everything – I've rarely made the same mistake twice and the few times I've been foolish enough to do so now insures I'll not make them a third – not even I'm that stupid *-)
To this day I've not run a traditional business, I've not been driven by money, or operated upon a written business plan or formalized cash-flow forecasts and targets, nor have I had small-print terms and conditions or even a vision to grow to employ staff – I've lived at home with my parents (thanks for the support Mum and Dad) and slept on friends sofas (you know who you are, you are all legends – thank you!). I've paid myself little and randomly, yet I survived to turnover 32,000+ last tax year. I existed upon my creative skillset and curiosity, combined it with manners "show respect to everyone and never waste someones time" and a northern blood up-bringing "my handshake is my word and the first round is on me". I supported efforts with the initial savings pot of £10,000 and proceeded to put myself in as many challenging situations as possible to help me better understand what I should value in this world, and in doing so I aimed to develop a Credentials document and portfolio, trusted contact network and list of testimonials that could, if need be, get me a Creative Director's job anywhere I might wish to work.
Of the past thirty years I’ve spent seventeen in academic learning yet during the past four I’ve learned far more from being polite, helping people and simply saying yes to challenges, curiosity, intuition and gut-feel – but at every stage 'knowing and believing' I've got the ability to deliver anything I put my mind too - even if it kills me or my bank account – I've not tried to buy anyone's friendship or use money as an advantage but I've made some great friends and colleagues, and I've delivered on everything I said I would, and all my suppliers got paid before I did.
At the age of 30 I still know relatively little about banking or business finance, which perhaps explains why £1,500 of the above £16,000 went on Northern Rock shares, but I’ve gained much understanding about myself and the worlds around me (referring to both the real-world and the digital-world). I believe I now understand the value of people and the value of investment – in both myself and others, and how and why others might invest in me – I believe that Communication is not about talking, its about listening. Value can always be found in encouraging and enabling others – being Social, Transparent and Honest.
2007-2009 I did many things, some of which were for paying clients but more were for the experience, knowledge and ideas. I founded and funded SustainableWidget.com, moved into and sadly back out of a second studio at The Skiff, fell in love with the coworker mindset of Brighton, invested time and money into Social-Web Platforms, FellowCreative.com and Social Media Education and Events, worked with and mentored 3 talented upcoming designers (1,2,3), taught other creatively minded students, spoke at events on Creative Sustainability and found myself on iTunes as a downloadable PodCast and presented to a crowd of 80+ at Nesta. I facilitated thinking for a No.1 agency, began to seed Creative & Social Innovation philosophies like BarCamp and Coworking in Kent, learned about the Digital Economy, Digital-Legacy, wider Social-Web and real-time, traveled to Budapest to blog about Nokia, played with and gave away the latest devices, worked the door at the very first Twestival, supported random events, attended GeeknBury, WordCamp and numerous conferences, gave-away tickets, sponsored a gumball rally for charity, built contacts in video-on demand, live-stream and mobile, developed a list of Fellow Trustees and started Tuttle101 – long may it continue.
At every stage I've taken great pleasure in meeting, helping and working with great people and organisations but because my experiences have been so diverse and my knowledge so seemingly scattered, I've struggled with how to describe my job role and offering (even the VAT man has me down as 'specialty design service') – thankfully respected names like Nixon McInnes and WOMWorld Nokia have presented me prize opportunities based on their own gut feelings and conversations with me.
"Sometimes you need someone else or something else to cultivate the great creative thinking. For a crucial piece of creative thinking we asked Carl to help facilitate us, and use his creative methodologies, his knowledge of our market but crucially his distance from our consultancy to improve our chances of making the mental jumps we needed. It worked! Carl was patient, thoughtful and used fun, theory and careful interventions to help us find ourselves some little gems of thought. A good man and one I’m happy to recommend"
Will McInnes, MD of NixonMcInnes
I love my title 'Creative Midwife & Joiner-of-Dots' but when Will McInnes gave me his testimonial I suddenly realised that I could only be defined by what I do – my now approach – not based on what I had done (The whole is greater than the sum of its parts).
"Thoughts become things, choose the good ones!" – The Universe.
Some may think of financial transparency as bold, others may define it as stupid – either way its honest and to learn from. Its all part of the journey, thankfully I've already secured enough paid client work to keep me alive until mid-Feb, with a superb Tender Opportunity already in motion for a February-March project *-)
At the mere age of 30, I'm poorer than I've ever been but I’ve never been so opportunity rich – nor have I been so excited about the future!
I begin 2010 as a product of all my experiences, conversations, contacts, learning curves, plus all the good ideas that haven't left my mind or my gut in the past four years, I have lots of ideas and I'm intent on creating a truly sustainable enterprise out of it! I plan to continue meeting and looking for the right investor(s) – to invest in me, not necessarily financially, but as I have done for others, with belief, time, advice and encouragement.