Today marks seven years since I embarked on the journey of owning my first business. 19th January, 2015. It was a big day. Also, nothing happened. In my head was this small seedling of an idea of a business that was transformed from a thought into a 100% concrete decision that it was certainly going to happen – a step of faith, a firm decision, a commitment to myself.
It went incredibly slowly at first, and a few months in I had a major setback of a giant burglary – being robbed of every single item pertaining to my business, as well as half of my personal belongings, and certainly all items of value. Passport, ID, drivers, international drivers (these are very useful, it would only expire in 2028), cash, credit card, camera, lenses, brand new Macbook Pro, clothes, shoes, sports gear, linen, travel bags, fancy Swiss-made rain jacket, and plenty of other things right down to my mouthwash. I do hope that thief has lovely, minty breath now, whilst typing away on my laptop, wearing a grade-A rain jacket. Anyway, I mark it as a very, very good thing to happen to me. Here is the testimony as to why.
Count trials as pure joy.
Somehow, a trial is a good thing. Pause and think on that. Don’t be tempted to read on until you have…
Doing one push up makes your body 1 millionth of a something-physically-tangible times stronger, it’s tiny, it’s a trial, it’s not fun, but it’s good for your strength. I should do them. Hiking up Table Mountain can take two hours, and be sweaty and tiring and frustrating, but the view is worth it. In business, especially in South Africa, you are almost guaranteed trials – long mountain hikes in the heat, and occasional problems from riots, crime, SARS, inefficiency, dubious clients, crazy suppliers, inept folks who service you, and plenty more. Whatever it looks like, however bad it is know this: that the bigger the obstacle, the stronger you become. It’s a good thing. Paradoxically. I love explaining what a paradox is, and how beautiful they are, but I don’t have time today: go read up on the world’s best paradoxs, there must be some gems out there on the net. All in all: embrace pain, fear, setbacks, challenges, diffcicult people, frustrating governments, bigger bullying companies, and just endure – it’s worth it. I look back and I am so so grateful it wasn’t all easy, it made me a better person.
I began in photography, and quickly found the free time to expand into web design (any bootstrapping small businessman starts making their own website to save cash), SEO, and Google Ads. That ironically became my core business as month after month I got more “digital marketing” type work and the photography became more of a backseat thing. Thankfully, no-one has to know that and ‘Baithe’ took off and grew, and became pretty popular (1,000 visitors a month through some dedicated blogging) and for the past 5-6 years it’s ranked #1 or so on 20+ key terms. Better still: once it got there, I did practiclaly nothing to keep it there – you can reach out to me if you want an SEO pitch after reading this article! That learning was vital, and helped me solidify the idea to take my SEO+Ads business more seriously, and take on more clients, and outsource the photography work. I did. It was the right decision.
Today, perhaps 80 odd clients later, I’ve built a nice little digital business, and have the ambition to turn it into something more successful than the photography business, but even more so: to endure the trials of a bigger business, or perhaps lose everything, emigrate, and start from scratch in some new, foreign field. Adversity taught me to see how little you need to succeed. I could make sandwiches, or clean keyboards (I literally think this is a good corporate business idea: going and cleaning the crud out of every office keyboard), or get into travel, or fashion, or farming tech – it’s not so much about the industry, or even the experience, it’s more the knowledge that you just need some old fashioned grit: to clench your metaphorical teeth and put up with failure, and bad days, and no work, and slow work, and hot days, and clients who don’t pay, and growing bills, and a trip to the car mechanic etc etc and to just keep persevering. I no longer fear “losing my job”, or how my career path looks, or compare myself to peers – I have inside me this knowledge that I can take on a very tricky vocation scenario, and beat it. Financial climate, country, culture, inexperience, absence of capital, zero network – somehow, I just feel I can turn it all against itself, take risks, and thrive.
Maybe no one will read this – that was never the point – but seven years later I can say I’ve scaled the business mountain I set out to surmount; I wanted to “endure” for seven years and I did it. My accountant submits my tax returns any day now, and in the midst of a (I hate this phrase) covid pandemic (you must imagine that WHO guy’s voice) my business doubled in the past year! It’s grown on average at about 50% or so every year and I’m now wanting to hire a permanent employee, sell the photography business, and start another venture. Stay tuned for what that idea is, but I won’t give too much away today. Think app, think education, think helping folks, think something so simple you wish you had thought of it yourself, and if you do think of it, and it’s a better idea than mine: send it to me and I will do it! Jokes. More seriously, I learnt years ago as soon as you verbalise something you feel as if it’s acutalised, and then subconsciously you have less motivation to do it, so I’d rather not overpromise and underdeliver. I’d rather just do it and write about it here years later. Ps. If you want to help fund it, I am accepting $$$ for shares.
So, maybe you are 21 and just starting out on a pretty feeble business venture, or you sell smoothies, or paint tiles, or get paid to watch bad reviews of cycling gear – let me tell you: sometimes it’s super unhelpful to listen to Elon Musk’s story, or read about Series A funding of $100mil to company X, and other very much outlier stories. So rather hear my encouragement of: “Just go for it, and when you want to give up, just carry on and up the mountain”.