Rollercoaster of Running Your Own Business by Róisín Lafferty
Running your own business is challenging, rewarding and also very hard work. It is not for the faint-hearted. There will be days when you ask yourself is it all worth it. Those days where issues abound and you suddenly feel you are in some obscure comedy of errors, and all you can do is laugh. Thankfully those days are rare. There are however the special days, the days when months if not years of hard work have finally paid off. Days when you see so much hard work by so many people across a range of professions and disciplines culminate in a finished product that you are proud to share with the world. Those are the special days, when you look at what’s before you and realise it started with a sketch on a napkin.
I have been running my own business now for almost 10 years, I am currently the President of the Institute of Designers in Ireland (IDI), a post I took up in July 2019. This great responsibility has had the side-effect of encouraging me to look back over my own career running an Interior Architecture and Design Business, and ask myself ‘what have I learned?’ Is there any wisdom to pass on? I am sure I have plenty more to learn, I learn every day. But for now, here are some observations I wish to share.
- Say Yes to your creative self
How did I end up in design? I was always creative, I enjoyed Art and English and I knew from an early age I would end up in a creative profession. From speaking to other artists and designers it almost feels like a vocation, it is not even a choice, it is simply something you must do. Or rather you couldn’t possibly do anything else. We now live in an age where creativity and innovation are so prized, where creative thinking and imagination are essential for problem solving, and this will never go out of fashion. Design is permeating all walks of life and has become increasingly important as we constantly strive to improve how we experience the world around us and online. The design and creative fields abound with potential. We all have a creative self and in my experience, business owners who create a working environment which enables people to tap into their own creativity will be more successful.
- Courage of your convictions
Want to set up a business? Why not? Of course, you are nervous at the beginning, fear of failure is a real thing. But fear is an emotion you have to train yourself to deal with. I love this oft used Beckett quote, “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” Ideally failing is not an option or outcome we want, but you must overcome any irrational fears you may have and knuckle down and believe in yourself, your talent and your potential. If you are persistent, if you have courage, the courage of your convictions, you will succeed. In all businesses, people are attracted to people who are passionate about their area of expertise. If you are passionate, enthusiastic and love what you do, people will want to help you, work with you support you. People will want to hire you and your peers will want to collaborate with you.
As I built my business, I was constantly dealing with clients, contractors, artists, tradespeople, quantity surveyors, architects and engineers etc. I saw these people as my partners and collaborators. Everyone is bringing something to the table, and any project is the sum of ALL its parts. You should never underestimate the power of collaboration, even on a holistic level it is powerful and positive. It brings out the best in all parties and enhances and enriches any given project in whatever field. Working with other people who take great pride in their work can only enhance your own.
In business unlikely collaborations are always interesting. Look outside your comfort zone or your creative field or put things together you never though could go together. I have learnt in design to collaborate with artists, musicians, joiners, painters, scientists, poets, architects, jewellery designers, concrete makers and sculptors, in fact anyone with a creative streak. I am excited about all the future collaborations that lie ahead, that will only happen if we seek them out and imagine them into reality.
- Implementing ideas/(Be Violent)
You need to learn to implement your ideas. This can be tricky, especially in the creative industries. Every creative act involves making choices. In her book A Director Prepares: Seven Essays on Art and Theatre, Anne Bogart says “Art is violent. To be decisive is violent.” In any art or creative field, in order to move forward, you sometimes need to ‘murder your darlings’, and that process can be as painful as it is ruthless. But it is quite necessary if you are to succeed. Decisions need to be made and ideas need to be implemented, and when you are the creative director, you are the person that needs to make these tough decisions on a constant basis. I am not going to say it gets easier over time, the creative process isn’t meant to be easy, but you do learn to accept and move on more readily. It is all part of the creative process.
- Flat Hierarchy
You don’t need me to tell you that there is no I in team. Any project I have ever worked on has been a team effort and that tone is set from the top. In a design company it is important to leave ego at the door. It is genuinely an all hands-on deck at any given time approach. To exaggerate slightly, I spend half my life dragging large plants across floors, or at least that is the way it seems. As my business has expanded, I have less time to deal with smaller but no less important details, however, you will still see me up ladders or painting a wall on any given installation or pop-up. One is not a leader if they cannot be part of a team.
It might sound obvious, but integrity is very important. Of course, there are ups and downs in any walk of life. Sometimes there are awards and rewards and sometimes there is a bit of ‘Mea Culpa’. And that is fine, this is life. We all make mistakes and when we do, we own them, sort the issue and move on. Same in business. You must have integrity; otherwise other people won’t take you seriously and you will be left behind. Clients or customers will lose their trust in you and your capabilities to do good business. In an ever-crowded world you need to stand out, there are so many platforms and mediums where people will scrutinise and analyse you and your work, but if you have your integrity, no one can take it from you.
Running any business, but especially one in a creative field is a roller coaster ride. The marriage of business and creativity is not always an easy one, like all marriages you need to work at it. Every day brings forth new challenges and surprises. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
This article was first published in the Sunday Business Post on 16 June 2019.