'Lessons I Learned Starting My Own Business'
Montarna McDonald is founder and director of The Audience Agency, the creative PR powerhouse with a client roster including Instagram-favorite, Stylestalker, digital dressmaker Fame and Partners, dating game-changer Tinder and chic Sydney venue Watsons Bay Boutique Hotel. Montarna launched The Audience Agency at the age of 23 after an insanely early start in the PR industry and a stint in designer marketing and retail. She tells The Dream Job when the time is right launch your own business and how to arm yourself as you go it alone.
Think rationally—do people want what I’m selling/offering?
In my early career I didn’t really aspire to do my own thing. I loved working in agencies and in-house for the Belinda retail brand. But after seven years in the industry I started to get job offers from labels and people asking me if I would consider freelancing for them, and I thought maybe it’s time to set up my own firm. I also knew that if I didn’t do it then, when everything was aligning right, I would never do it. Setting up a business is all about timing, but it’s also about demand. I launched The Audience Agency because I already had enough starter clients to cover my business costs and one staff member. I’d also worked in the PR industry long enough to know exactly what was out there and what was missing. If you’re planning on starting a business do your market research, talk to as many people as you can, rationally work out if there is a demand and need for what you are selling, and be sure to check out all the competition and work out what your differentiator is.
Build your entourage
Surround yourself with people you can count on, and who excel in what they do. Even if you’re just taking the leap to freelance and have no "team" find a business mentor and soak up their experience. I brought contractors on board who were my friends and whose work I’d always loved. And I was so lucky to get support and guidance from experienced people in the industry who I’d crossed paths with in previous roles.
Don’t be afraid to juggle—we all have as many hours in a day as Beyoncé
Running a business is pretty much a life takeover, so get the hang of things early. Write your business plan, register your ABN, and get started in the evenings while holding down your current job. Do your market research at weekends and use your evenings to write proposals for available funding or investment. You might not have much free time, but it pays off to stay employed while you’re building the back end of your business and having at least a few months’ salary in the bank.
Dream big, but have the strategy and planning to back it up
Ambition is healthy and positive vibes are so important to get you through the late nights and setbacks when you first start your business. But just keep that ambition under control in the early days—no signing up to state-of- the-art offices with hefty rents until you can afford it, keep budgets in mind at all times, and know it's OK to start with smaller clients and projects to build your reputation rather than going for bigger contracts that might be out of your comfort zone.
Take the leap of faith when it counts
Of course there are times when the above doesn’t apply and you need to take a risk in order for your business to reach the next stage. When you find yourself at a crossroad like this, turn to your entourage and get as much advice as you can in order to make a balanced decision. I also believe in going with you’re gut instinct; it sounds like a cliché but generally if something feels right and gets you excited and passionate, it’s the way to go. I was in this situation recently; we were coming to the end of year two for The Audience Agency and doing great, but I felt like this was a crucial time for the business to establish itself as a major player. So I took a risk and doubled our team, invested in a new website and social strategy, and refined our brand offering. It paid off as we’ve picked up new fashion clients as a result of our team capability and our in-house systems and processes are streamlined and super productive.
You can’t manage everything, but that's OK
Like accounting. Or the legal stuff. My view is anything that requires a specialist qualification and training is a job for the experts. We don’t have a huge team but I do invest in financial and legal support. Our contracts are our lifeblood and I need them to be professional and adhering to the industry guidelines. My staff need to focus on their PR clients and not get swamped with invoicing and paperwork, so we have that taken care of. If you can afford it, get help where it’s needed and focus on your product/service/brand, but if you do outsource certain areas make sure you stay across all activity, as you need to stay in control of every part of your brand.
Look after yourself
Running a business is pretty hardcore. Whatever your industry, you’ll likely be working 60 hour plus weeks, barely getting time for a lunch break, coping with daily stress and adrenalin and suffering from the occasional sleepless night before a big presentation or event. Not the healthiest of lifestyles, so prepare in advance. That could mean switching to a nutrient-packed smoothie for breakfast, booking a regular personal training session to stay fit and centered, holding a weekly yoga class for staff in your office, or scheduling a monthly spa day for yourself where you turn off the phone and chill out. I get healthy lunches delivered and make sure I get a full night’s sleep—it's non negotiable to be firing on all cylinders in the office. Look after yourself because you ARE the business, especially in the beginning.