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What I've Learned So Far The Second Time Around... as a Business Owner!

 WRITTEN BY JENNIFER ST JOHN

In my twenties, I was in the film industry and if you’ve ever been on a film set, you understand how long the days can be.  You really get to know the people you work with, and I was fortunate enough to get to know Erin, a co-worker of mine.  We were on a small budget lifestyle series highlighting ‘a-day-in-the-life’ of some pretty awesome kids around the world.  Both of us were wearing many hats, and we quickly realized we were each other’s rocks!  Soon we were launching our own production company and just threw ourselves into our new venture.  We were both in long-term relationships with supportive partners, and neither of us had children or were planning for that in the near future. 

 

We jumped in feet first and worked our asses off.  We did whatever it took to get our productions funded, made, edited and delivered.  We balanced our own slate of productions along with service production work for other companies, and also taught part-time at ‘The Chang School’ at Ryerson University.  We worked until the wee hours of the morning, rarely took holidays, hopped on planes when we had to, traveled to remote sets around the world, attended international conferences through-out the year, planned dinner meetings regularly – our time was our own and we both had our eyes-on-the-prize. 

Fast forward a several years, and between the global economic crash of 2008, the massive shift in our industries business model due to streaming services and both of us having our first child – everything changed, and over the next couple of years, we both found ourselves outside of Toronto and onto new adventures regarding work and business (but still best friends!). 

Ten plus years later as I started this venture, ‘MARNIE & MICHAEL’, I found myself in a very different stage of my life.  I’m a parent to two very different children, one who could live at the barn where we board her horse and the other dealing with being on the spectrum and having social anxiety issues on the daily.  My husband is now involved in his third business venture and traveling often.  Having lost several immediate family members, I try and prioritize my close relationships now more than ever.  The older I get; the more precious time feels. 

We’re now living in a small town located two-plus hours from Toronto.  Dinner meetings, taxi’s, bike couriers, interns – all gone.  Bye-bye.  What I use to do in a twelve-plus-hour-day now has to fit into less than six hours.   Unfortunately there is no magic pill to making this all work.  

What I will share is my top ten list of ‘what I’ve learned so far’ from launching my current venture.  During COVID... While doing virtual learning from home with two children... Juggling the shit out of every second of every day for the last eighteen months…

  • Lean into the lifestyle. Figure out what you want your life to look like. Do you want to have complete flexibility over your work week?  Do you only want to work during set hours?  Do you want to be able to run everything from home or do you need a separate space?  Are you launching a product or a service? Is this a ‘Dropbox’ kinda thing or are you setting up a brick-and-mortar space?  What would a day/week look like in each of these scenarios and is this what will work for you? 
  • Set boundaries. THIS IS HUGE.  And an absolute must.  If you don’t set boundaries, you will burn out, fizzle and drop.  Whether it’s changing your notification settings on your phone, having electronic free periods with the family, setting up any auto-response programs possible, or only having meetings on set days of the week so you can actually feel productive with other things – set your boundaries.  They will probably change and you may have to ease up on them during peak periods, but knowing that you commit to them and honour them will help you and everyone around you.  
  • Surround yourself with a support team. You cannot and will not do this on your own.  Family, friends, staff, consultants, babysitters, mentors, business support groups – they are all a part of your support team and they will help you.  Anything from a hug at the right time to a case study discussion at a pivotal decision stage for you.  Soak it all up and let it recharge those batteries.
  • Listen to your instincts. Very important and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve felt that gut feeling about something and not acted on it, only to wish I had later.  This is one of the gifts we get with age – wisdom.  Trust yourself.    
  • Get out of your own way. No one is great at everything, and that includes you.  As a business owner, you need to be able to recognize your strengths and weaknesses and get help where the gaps exist.  Be honest with yourself and don’t take it personally – this is about your brand and providing the best service or product.   
  • Stay curious. Whether it’s something I see in a show, or in a magazine, or in a store or in public.  Keep your eyes open to what inspires you or catches your eye.  Take a pic, jote notes into a notebook.  I keep old-style sketchbooks filled with images, articles or sketches.  When I’m developing new products, I pull them out and see what speaks to me.
  • Keep learning. Everything is changing all of the time.  I mean seriously, even managing a business social media account these days feels like a combination of whip lash and a roller coaster ride all at the same time!  Whether it’s new programs, new equipment, new industry standards, new legislation rules, new processes, new materials, new suppliers.  The list goes on and on.  It can be overwhelming so get through what you can, ask lots of questions and lean on people for support when you need it.  Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
  • Stay fluid. It’s kinda like a birth plan – make sure you have one, but be prepared to throw it out the window too.  When I started this company, I thought my main wholesale market was going to be retailers.  Surprise – it’s not!  So now I’ve changed the plan for next year.  Be open to the change and embrace what makes sense. 
  • Listen to your body. The first time around in business, I just worked.  All the time. Full out. My business partner and I barely took weekends off, let alone holidays.  But there are ways to work better, not longer.  Figure out when you have the most energy in the day and try and schedule your bigger tasks for the day during that period.  For women especially, there may be weeks where you feel like you can take on the world and then weeks where you’re dragging yourself out of bed in the morning.  Listen to your body and really figure out your energy cycles.  Then block out time in your calendar around these ‘I can do anything’ times of the day or month.  The more you pay attention to this, the better you will become at managing your to-do list with the time you have available.    
  • Work the problem. At the end of the day, it’s all about: What’s the problem?  What’s the solution?  And if the first solution doesn’t work, then keep working the problem until its solved.  Next steps, actionable items – whatever you want to label these.  It’s about continuing to stick to something until the solution is solved. Pick up the phone, set up a meeting, do some research, ask some questions.  Whatever it is… “just keep going”. 

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