What I learned from buying a 21 year old business, at 35

Written by Jade McAuley, Rebel Nation

We’ve just reached a pretty exciting milestone at Rebel Nation – the business is now paid off. When Kylie first contacted me to see if I was interested in buying Out of the Blue Marketing, Mackay’s oldest marketing agency, I knew I wanted to do it before we even discussed details. 18 months later, and I feel like I’ve learnt more about business in that time than I could ever have imagined. I had no idea what was waiting for me, which is probably a good thing, because it has tested me in so many ways.

I’ve never regretted it once (is that the masochist in me?), and there are some life lessons that have made all the difference – even though I’m still working on actioning them consistently >>

1. I’m not the centre of the universe, surprise surprise!

I genuinely didn’t think I was someone with that much of an ego until I realised how much I truly believed that everything should be done by me. I’m not even talking complicated stuff. Handing tasks over to the team and trusting that they will do it just as well as me, if not better, is an ongoing process. Yes, mistakes occasionally get made – but just like everyone else, I make mistakes too. Dividing up tasks to suit people’s strengths makes the business run so much smoother, and the more I can work normal/healthy hours – the better focused and more productive I am. No more staying back until 9pm, checking that closed job folders have been archived properly. I’m serious, I only just gave up doing this a couple of months ago. I’d scroll through to make sure only current jobs were in the current jobs folder. Lame!

2. Perfectionism/Control freakism limits you, majorly.

This follows on from #1, but there’s more to it than just being able to delegate. It’s about letting go and realising that trying to control too much can hold you back. When you’re so busy poring over the minutiae that no one sees (or cares about) except you, you’re taking time away from doing stuff that actually matters. Like revenue-generating activities that you find really fun, but take ages to get to. If you’ve been a Wild Oats reader for a while, you’ll know that I am inbox zero all the way. And not just for email. I clear my call history, texts, FB messages and so on every day. For now, I’ve cut back to mostly just doing this once a day (I do falter, but I generally stick to this most days). For emails, I struggle to not check it continually but I have started filing things that are non-urgent (so the inbox is clear) and then, once I’ve done whatever was my crucial task for the day, I go back and clear them properly. I’ve even left an email that came in one afternoon to the next morning to respond to. I do like to be available to my clients and, of course, the team but obsessively responding to emails to flick them back ASAP is a really bad habit that gets me – plus my clients and team – nowhere.

3. Asking for help doesn’t make you weak. No, really.

I like the idea of being self-contained. I come from a family of strongly independent people and being able to handle your own s--- is a real source of pride with me. I’ve done some really stupid things in the past, because I refused to ask for help – including nearly cooking my brain to the point that I could have wound up braindead from a virus because I wouldn’t go to the doctor after days of migraines and vomiting. That was over 10 years ago, so I’m not quite that bad anymore. I still hate the idea of asking for help – but at least now, I do it. While I have a tendency to sometimes ask for help and then ignore it and do what I wanted anyway, I’m getting better and better at really listening to what my advisors and mentors are trying to pass on to me. If it wasn’t for the support network of people around me who have been off-the-charts amazing, I wouldn’t have achieved what I have so far – and Rebel definitely wouldn’t be in the shape it’s in now.

4. Do want you want, every day (let me explain).

If you aspire to be something or achieve something, build it into your daily life and it will happen. If you want to be a writer, write daily. If you want a successful business, do today something that will make it a bit better than yesterday. Tick it off every day because no matter how small the step is, it's progress and setting up the habit of continual improvement will get you where you want to go faster than expecting some amazing big change to happen that will let you do the thing that you want. I’m working hard at not being a “grand gesture” type of person anymore, and instead – focusing on making smaller improvements as part of my daily life.

5. Celebrate your wins (you knew that was coming).

At our weekly team meeting, I ask what’s been happening lately with our clients – and who were last week’s best clients and suppliers. Now, we meet on a Monday morning so that could be partially to blame, but all of us sort of sit there thinking intently – what did we even do last week? There’s always lots going on, and everyone’s working hard to keep on top of deadlines, touch base with clients and keep all the balls in the air – so when it comes to looking back and thinking about what we’ve actually achieved, the struggle is real. We also have a #winning board in the office, where we try to remember to stick up wins as we go. It’s right by the door that leads to the kitchen and toilets, so we all go past it multiple times a day. I see people reading it but remembering to put something up, that’s the tricky part. We’re working on it though, and I think having it front and centre is the first step. Work can easily feel like a daily grind if you don’t step back and see the bigger picture – we’re doing some truly exciting, interesting and fun work – and I don’t want anyone on our team forgetting how important they are in making that happen.

Buying Out of the Blue has been the biggest learning curve I’ve ever gone through. It’s been going for over half of my lifetime! But longevity doesn’t happen by accident. And even when you learn those big lessons, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you won’t have to relearn them over and over. Maybe that’s just me?

I feel like seeing that final payment go through was a bit of a catalyst, and that I’m at another turning point. Our normal workload is now full-on as a general rule, with quiet periods lasting all of an afternoon (if we’re lucky). Meetings and enquiries are never in short supply and the way I was working is no longer sustainable for me. If I really want to do the things I have planned, it’s time to shed the burden of “busy” and dig in deeper on being focused, productive and playful with my work. I think that’s the key, and implementing those lessons consistently is my first port of call to getting there.