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How I managed to stay (reasonably) sane after two years running a startup business

May 30, 2016 / by jugglingswords / In Business, News / Tags: , , , , , / Leave a comment

John Durrant of Juggling Swords

On this very day (May 30th) in 2014 my wife Desiree and I incorporated our first ever company – Juggling Swords – with half an idea that maybe we could make it work and today the company reaches its second birthday… and Desiree and I are still sane… and married. Here’s how we did it.

Before I go any further with this blog, I should make it clear that we don’t feel like ‘we’ve made it’ or we’re ‘business gurus’ or any of that crap… because we’re not. But, we have made it into year two of running our business which is a big milestone given that the majority of businesses, sadly, fail by this point.


So, here’s five tips that might help you from chucking it all in on days when running your own company feels like the crappiest job you’ve ever had.

I’ve tried to avoid the ‘never give up’ and ‘work really hard’ ones because they should be obvious to you anyway.

Grow a very thick skin

This is one that I still struggle with sometimes, even after two years and that’s probably because I’m pig headed and don’t take criticism very well (I’m working on that).

But yeah, if you want to run your own business then you’re going to have to grow a very thick skin. Lots of people will be ready to have a pop at you and your business. People might think you’re proposition won’t work, others will probably get off on being nasty for no other reason than they’re dicks, but rise above all that.

As long as you have faith in your business and what you’re doing, then ignore what any other people say. They’re not going to make your business a success, you are.

Plan and set goals

Okay, maybe this is actually one of the obvious ones but, despite loads of people telling me to, I didn’t really plan very well until quite recently.

For me, when I have my short, medium and long term plans written down in some format I find that I am far more likely to actually see to them. Juggling Swords is a digital marketing agency with multiple clients so without proper planning, things would get very messy, very quickly.

We’ve always planned for client work very well but I was guilty of not being so organised with my own company’s plans. I’m much better now though, and it’s helped the business and my sanity.

Have the courage to leap into the unknown

I’m a naturally cautious person so taking gambles or leaps of faith are things that make me sick with worry but, thanks to my co-founder Desiree who has the biggest set of business balls ever (metaphorically speaking), we’ve taken leaps of faith and they’ve worked.

The best example of this in my case was with hiring staff. As we were building our team (and continue to do so) I was very aware that this leap could very well lead the business to implode if turnover didn’t increase with it.

We’re a ‘boot-strapped’ business which means we’ve done this all off our own backs with no investment, business loans or grants.

The weird thing is, when we’ve gambled, it’s always actually turned out to be the best thing we’ve ever done for Juggling Swords. I always ask myself, ‘what’s the worst that’ll happen?’. Then a little voice tells me that we could go bankrupt and lose everything. But I do my best to silence that as*hole.

Don’t let your business boss you

This is a really big one and is one that I’m still struggling with every day. Everybody likes to bang on about ‘work, life balance’ because it’s fashionable. When it comes to actually doing it, people aren’t so good. But you have to. Or you’re going to either, chuck it all in and go back to being an employee because you hate it, or you’re going to make yourself sick, mentally or physically and probably both.

It’s very fashionable to say if you’re only working 40 hours a week then you’re not an entrepreneur and you should be working 16-hour days on your startup. In my opinion, it’s bollocks.

There are times when we have big projects where we will work crazy hours, and find ourselves sitting with laptops at 3 in the morning. But if you think you’re going to do that every day for years, then you’re going to sicken yourself of your business very quickly.

Didn’t you start your business for you? Or did you start it to work seven days a week, 16 hours a day? Running your own business should be fun and exciting and that just sounds like crap to me.

Before people criticise, I completely believe that to be successful with your business you have to work harder than you ever worked as an employee, and I do. But, there absolutely has to be balance there.

Make time for your partner and your family. Don’t stop your hobby or passion (for me it’s fishing and diving), go to the movies once in a while.

Actually, every now and then we’ve been known to close the office early when the sun’s been shining to go spend time with our respective family and friends and catch some rays. The business purists would crucify me for that, but I don’t care (see the tip about growing a thick skin) because the benefits outweigh the negatives. As my dad says, ‘you’re a long time dead’. Morbid, but accurate.

In summary, work really bloody hard, but have fun too.

Embrace change, like, every day

This is a massive one for us because we work in an industry that moves so fast it makes my head spin but I think it’s vitally important for any business. We haven’t been able to find a winning formula then stick with it whilst the big bucks roll in.

We’ve had to constantly adapt and change our proposition to clients because what worked two months ago in digital, probably won’t work now.

I actually think every business should have that mindset though. The businesses that are the most successful are the ones that are constantly trying new things. If you do try something completely different and it doesn’t work, who cares? You now know that that way doesn’t work.

I remember being blown away by the Scottish billionaire Sir Tom Hunter at a conference he was speaking at in Edinburgh last year. This is a guy who has had insane amounts of business success and has the bank balance to show it. But, he gets things wrong every day. Those are his words, not mine. “For every 10 things we try, even today, maybe one will work and the other nine won’t,” he said.

So, every time something doesn’t work out for us, I remind myself that even Sir Tom Hunter probably had a failure this week too.

John Durrant is the CEO and co-founder of Juggling Swords, an Edinburgh digital and content marketing agency.


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