If you are young and reading this blog, you are probably grinding your teeth with rage at the sight of the headline alone. Don’t fret. I’m not some old crusty geezer here to teach you a lesson or put you in “your place”. I’m 25 and have been working in the music, marketing, and communications industry for 10 years. I started my company, AB Co., 6 years ago and have grown it into Canada’s leading music marketing and communications agency. I manage a team of 13 and started my company at the age of 18 with a whole lot of balls.
Now I don’t mean to be tooting any horn. I just want to give you some context as to where this blog is coming from. I get it. You don’t want to be told what to do, and you are young and awesome. I am a full believer that your unique and intense drive is your secret weapon. Use it well and disregard most of the people who tell you ‘you are too young for this’ or ‘too inexperienced for that’. They are ridiculous. I will not tell you that. I think you are badass just the way you are.
That being said, there are few things I wish I didn’t have to learn the hard way. I wouldn’t change a thing about the path that lead me to where I am now because I have learned many important lessons along the way… but if this can help you save some time, money, and frustration, you may just find yourself racing up that ladder faster than most.
#1 – Hating on Contracts
When I started out I thought contracts were annoying and unnecessary. If you were honest and truthful with the people you work with, why would you need a paper filled with legal jargon to clutter your desk, right? Wrong. I soon learned that no matter how close and loving you are with clients, friends, or your team, at some point things may change. A contract helps to lay out expectations in advance and it shows that you are taking things seriously. You need to protect yourself, your team, and your company. A contract allows you to do that. The amount of times in the past I’ve hit my head against the wall only wishing I had done up a light agreement or pushed to get the executed version sent back is too high. It is not rude or bad to ask for things to be formalized. It is professional and responsible. It will save you money and nightmares in the future.
As important as setting up a contract is, it’s just as important not to rush into signing something without thoroughly reading it or seeking legal consultation when you’re on the receiving end. You may not be able to afford it, and be way too busy to stop and ask a lawyer, but signing the wrong thing because you’re in a hurry will almost 100% of the time create issues for you down the road. There are great free legal clinics or law students who need practice that can help you out on the cheap. Barter with them and do whatever you need to to ensure you aren’t signing yourself up for a future disaster by rushing through a contract.
#2 – Mis-managing Your Money
Setting up strong systems to manage and organize your money will save you lots of time down the road. Nobody can get out of having to file their taxes or report to investors. Pushing all the receipts to the bottom of your desk drawer is only going to mean you have to sift through them in years to come or pay someone lots of money to do so. Also, knowing up to date financial information will allow you to make decisions about your business and plan better. It will allow you to have the foresight to lead your team to a profitable future.
In addition, be careful about who you loan money to. It is easy to want to be overly generous when you can, but you would be surprised how people change for the worse when it comes to money. People can be selfish with their money and usually very twisted about it too. If you do give a loan or advance to someone, be sure you have a clear contract in writing, and terms set out to get it back. You never know what will happen in the future with that good friend or business partner. Protect your money as it allows you to do what you do.
Be sure to manage your accounts receivable carefully. If someone hires you to do something they need to pay for it within a reasonable amount of time. Every client or company you work with has their own world to deal with and though they may have the best intentions, it is very common for payments to take a long time to be processed. This doesn’t leave you in a good position in the meantime as you carry their debt from month to month. Lay out clear payment terms and have penalties for deadlines being missed.
One more thing I should add is that your credit score can be a very real pain in the ass and you will need to be careful with it. When I started AB I had 3 credit cards maxed out and banks calling me daily. I ignored them because I had no other choice to cover the start up costs. 6 years later and I still can’t get my own credit card with a very high limit and am battling the bad credit score I have despite my company doing well.
#3 – Getting too Emotionally Invested to Think Realistically
Of course you love what you do and are incredibly passionate. This makes you special and likely brilliant at what you do. But don’t let that blind you. Don’t be so wrapped up in the emotions of it that you can’t see the harsh realities that come along with the path you chose. It will hurt you in ways you don’t even know yet and don’t want to know. Find a balance between emotions and business, and understand that you can’t take things personally in business. Don’t cross lines unless you are sure you can handle the consequences were it to go south. When emotions get in the mix of business they can cause you to overreact or under-react depending on the situation. Whichever it is, it is unlikely you are acting rational and making the best decisions for your company. Decide which is more important – growing the company and seeing success, or getting wrapped up emotionally with every project.
Getting too emotional can also lead to ultimately burning bridges, and that is never something you want to do. I’m not saying you can be everyone’s friend, but having a positive working relationship with those you may need in the future is wise. Do you find yourself emotionally yelling back on calls or in heated arguments all too often? Ask yourself in those moments – are you really getting closer to what you need out of this person by yelling at them? The chances are slim that the answer is ‘yes’ and a calm and controlled strategic conversation could likely get you closer. Emotions make you lose sight of the end game.
#4 – Thinking You’re the Best at Everything
Before I started my company I thought that I knew more and was better at everything than everyone I worked for in my various jobs. Boy, was I in for a rude awakening. Since then, I have managed people like this and all I can really say is that until you are in my shoes and running your own company, you really have ZERO idea what it is like. Every business owner faces facts from all different angles to inform the decisions they make and how and why they do things. Many of these are none of your business as a junior on someone else’s team or an outsider looking in.
You are young and ambitious. The feeling that you can take over the world and do it better than everyone is healthy. Use it, but don’t miss out on good opportunities to learn and take in feedback because you’re being too self important. Push yourself and make note of the things you would do differently, but be humble and keep your mouth shut until it’s your time to shine and do it yourself.
#5 – Being Afraid of Asking Questions
No one wants to sound like a newbie, or inexperienced, so us youngens may find ourselves bullshitting our way in and out of situations. This will only work so long, and you run the risk of getting caught in a lie. Even worse, you have to walk around with the stress and worry of being found out. Don’t get me wrong, a little BS can be refreshing at times and lead you to a good idea, BUT you know what no one tells you? It’s usually not how much you know that people are looking for – It’s your approach and work ethic that speaks louder. So ask questions and ask lots of them. Be comfortable with being out of the loop on something and confident about it. It won’t hurt you as much as you think and people will respond well to the honesty.
#6 – Not Understanding Your Value
It’s common with young people I see to either overvalue themselves or undervalue themselves. It is hard to truly and honestly know your value when you walk in to every new room or meeting. Your value is something that is going to change constantly as well, so you have to always be watching the sliding scale as it tips and swerves. Be very aware of your strengths and weaknesses. Understand your abilities and how they apply to different situations. This will allow you to never undervalue your work, ensuring you get paid or receive what you are worth and you will avoid overvaluing your work as well. Overvaluing will push away good opportunities and leave you with nothing in the end. Ask those you trust about your value and how it all connects.
#7 – Not Understanding the Importance of Patience
If you’re anything like me you’ll find you’re working at a pace 5x as fast as those around you. Never change. That being said, sometimes great things need time to percolate. Looking back there are many times I rushed people to make decisions or moved on because I didn’t want to wait around. If I just waited it out a bit longer it could have been a really great opportunity. That is not always the case, and letting things drag on for too long can and will hurt you, but knowing when to be patient and when to speed along will help greatly. Don’t let your fear, or feeling like you aren’t doing enough, get in the way of a good thing that maybe just needs to simmer in time a wee bit longer.
#8 – Forgetting to Journal
Dear Diary, I know you are not 13 years old anymore BUT trust me, you will want to flip back to these times in your life and remember how your brain was working. You’ll want to remember the details of your first client, your first win, your first setback. These will be valuable to you and you will cherish them for years to come. Write and write often or record your thoughts – whatever works best for you. Chronicle these times and one day, who knows, maybe they were useful for your book or biography!
#9 – Getting Paralyzed by Setbacks
When you start out and something bad or unsavoury happens in your career or to your company it’s hard to bounce back. It feels like someone punched you in the stomach and ripped out your heart. You may be afraid to take a risk or fight for something for weeks to come due to this paralyzing pain in your chest. In these moments its important to remember why you started doing what you do and how badass you are at it. Every business has shitty moments – you are not unique or specially horrible, you are human. Isolate setbacks and disappointments so they don’t get in the way of all the other awesome things you are working on. Try not to take them personally and move on quickly to the next project. Don’t let them harm your spirit, nothing should have the power to do that.
#10 – Forgetting to Say Thank You
We can get so excited and wrapped up in what’s right in front of us that it’s easy to forget who made the introduction that lead to a big opportunity, or who gave you the great advice that lead to a breakthrough idea. Always take a moment to circle back and show your appreciation to those who show you support along the way. They are invaluable and you will need them on your long road to the top. Share your successes with them and bring them in close. They are part of it and no one wants to help someone who takes all the credit without saying thanks. Be humble.
Now I realize, reading this back to myself now, that these are all the things that made me uniquely crazy and/or brilliant (depending on who you ask) when I started out. That being said, they are also many of the things that caused me a lot of wasted time in the early days. I know I have a long way to go and lots to learn yet, but, 6 years in, I feel I’m starting fresh in many ways and now having a better understanding of these things. That’s the nice thing about running your own company – you can reinvent yourself at any time.
Best of luck. You will, and can rule the world, my friends… It’s all in how you go about it!
(photo: Young Sari at one of my first offices in 2010, taken by Turn the Record Over blog)
Sari Delmar is the Founder and CEO of AB Co., a North American digital, lifestyle, and communications agency that specializes in music programs and events. Sari has spoken at international conferences (Big Sound, Canadian Music Week), sits on the Toronto Music Advisory Council and the Women in Music Canada board, and was profiled in the Globe and Mail Small business column (“from Music Fan to Music mogul”) in 2014. In 2015, Sari was awarded with an International Women Achievers’ Award in the Entertainment category and named as a Rising Star in ProfitGuide and Chatelaine’s Top 100 Canadian Female Entrepreneurs list. Read more from Sari at http://saridelmar.com and learn more about the work AB does at: http://WeAreAB.co