Business Start-ups: The Partnership

Business Start-ups: The Partnership

The third in my business start-ups series is from Quirky Motion, a film production company based in South London. Here’s an interview about their experience of a partnership with the two lead directors Simeon & John:

What made you guys partner up to become Quirky Motion?

Simeon: If only it were that simple! This partnership has been 16 years in the making and come through many different guises along the way. For me it started after a long stint of freelance roles, a boring day job and several film festival submissions for my own short film projects. My first main independent project was for an IDEO documentary in 2006 but John and I joined forces with a third partner, Colin Munro later that year when we made a music video for the Flaming Monkeys. They needed us to have a registered company name so we went with Quirky Motion, a name John had been using since 2001.

 John: At university I worked with two other guys, we worked out we could do better work together because of our complementary skills and so started a team under the name of Quirky Motion, we did quite a few projects over the years like this. Even from the very beginning we built the company on a philosophy of working in whatever creative partnerships we wanted for each project, and just have the people that clicked. So in a way it’s never really been about ‘us’.

 Simeon: When we did finally become ‘Quirky Motion’ as it is today there were many reasons to partner-up. We were all living in the same house so the commute was short!

 John: We had a similar vision for what we wanted to achieve, we shared similar creative interests and influences. We didn’t have a great education but had quickly learnt that you just have to do things outside of the system because the system is never going to give you anything. We had an independent spirit; wanting to tell our own stories rather than being a cog in someone else’s machine. Some of the reasons were probably a bit foolhardy – wanting to cut corners and do interesting projects, which can prove difficult without a large network of contacts as we soon found out!

“Even from the very beginning we built the company on a philosophy of working in whatever creative partnerships we wanted for each project.” John Lumgair, Quirky Motion.

 What frightened you the most about doing this?

John: We didn’t start with fears, we only had fears later on.

Simeon: Yes, once reality slapped us in the face!

So, what was hard and what did you do about it?

John: We had energy at the beginning, jobs were coming in and we assumed that is how it would continue and then when it didn’t come in we were like Ahh! But when we hit that point we started asking people for advice. Everyone is the expert when it comes to growing a business and we really struggled for a long time listening to the wrong sorts of advice. You don’t grow a business by writing theories down like business plans, you grow by meeting people and doing good work.

 Simeon: Amongst that there was some really good advice, even though at the time is didn’t feel like it, negativity was actually very helpful, time after time hearing people say that starting your own business was nearly impossible, it made us want to prove them wrong. We had a couple of brilliant mentors, all from the industry, they saw our potential, they offered us opportunities, asked us insightful questions.

 John: We generally found the good guys were the ones working in the industry itself and we found that the people that were there with ‘business’ experience just didn’t understand our industry and how it operates.

Now you are doing this what do you enjoy most?

 Simeon: We both love working on our own projects when we get the time – these can also bring in work so it’s great to do them when we can. Mainly I enjoy working in collaboration with different types of creatives who all want to add to the project to make it better.

John: Yes, The network is beyond us, there is always collaboration: It is arrogant to think you can do anything on your own.

Simeon: The contacts we have we share very openly between us.

John: We generally are very open with all our contacts, even with our wider network. That’s one thing we noticed about being in LA, people are much more open with their contacts than in the UK.

Simeon: They are much more open generally!

Is there anything you miss about being employed?

John: Not having to do my tax return! And if we have no clients we don’t get paid.

Simeon: Back in the early days we didn’t have the structures in place, we should have sorted that a lot earlier, that was really hard, and months would go by without getting paid.

What advice would you give for people wanting to start up a partnership with a friend or family member?

John: Work leads to work, there’s a proverb that says ‘Dishonest money dwindles away, but whoever gathers money little by little makes it grow’: you can’t cut corners. And have a laugh, it makes the whole thing a lot easier.

Thank you Simeon and John for your insights, As John mentioned, industry experience is key for helping out those getting started, with 10 years’ experience in the creative industry, there’s a chance I could help you with your start up and would be keen to hear about your plans, just get in touch.

And if you are interested in finding out more about Quirky Motion, here’s a trailer to their latest movie, out soon:

ÉLUDER Official Trailer [HD] from Simeon Lumgair on Vimeo.

Business Start-ups: The Freelancer

Business Start-ups: The Freelancer

Second in my theme of business start-ups is Developer Freelancer, Patrick, let’s see what he has to say about his work and what tips he can bring to those of us seeking to set-up shop:

  1. What made you decide to go freelance?

It chose me! I worked at a great agency and took a leap to progress my career – I joined a start-up. After 2 years of hard graft, the start-up ran out of cash and made me redundant. I had a lot of contacts so jumping into a freelance role was the easiest way to restore income while I figured out what to do in the long term. I had freelancer friends and former-colleagues who had made the jump who helped me out a lot with good advice. In the end, I found that the flexibility suited me so I carried on.

  1. What was the thing you were most frightened about when you considered the prospect?

Once I had the experience of switching contracts a couple of times I started to lose the fear and feel more confident in the stability of the freelance market and my ability to find interesting work.

Ultimately your network, reputation and motivation are the biggest factors that you can control that will determine how successful you are as a freelancer.

  1. Now you have worked as a freelancer what would you say is the most rewarding part?

Ironically – the most rewarding part for me is when I feel integrated with the wider team. I’ve always maintained that it’s better to put your effort into supporting the team you’re working with as opposed to a specific project or their client. The quality of the work, satisfaction of the end-client and success of your direct-client all flows from that.

Projects, clients and agencies will come and go but there’s a real satisfaction that comes with building a relationship that survives for years and in my experience, it consistently leads to future work.

  1. Is there anything you find difficult about working as a freelancer?

My biggest struggle is getting actionable feedback to help me improve. In the freelance world, if you have a bad project your contract may be terminated but you may never get a clear understanding of what went wrong.

Similarly, you may have a great project and not fully appreciate which part of your contribution really made the difference. I’ve sought feedback from my clients on a number of occasions and despite getting positive feedback, I struggle to get anything actionable. There’s nobody who has a vested interest in helping you grow, so it’s something I have to work quite hard at to make sure I am developing professionally.

  1. Is there anything you miss about being a full time employed member of a team?

I’ve been extremely lucky to have worked for some truly fantastic teams, and I truly do miss working with them. I always valued having a boss and peers who were in my corner, rooting for me, and willing to help me. My career progressed very quickly as a direct result of the support I gained from colleagues who inspired me and were generous with sharing their time and experience.

Also the sense of ownership of a piece of work is something that doesn’t come so easily for a piece of freelance work and I do miss that.

Thank you for your thoughts in this, Patrick. This week really highlights again the importance of a great network of contacts to keep you going. Following-up with clients and colleagues can feel like a real time-sink but it is really worth taking time out to build these precious relationships for the future. If you are worried about neglecting your contacts and need help prioritising then please take a look at my client referrals or get in contact for more information.

Business Start-ups: The ‘Mumpreneur’

Business Start-ups: The ‘Mumpreneur’

Starting your own business is new for me, let’s take a look at how others have fared and what tips they can offer as they tackle managing their time in my new theme: business start-ups

First up is Madia, an NHS physiotherapist turned pregnancy and post-pregnancy support therapist specialising in Pilates and massage. She started out working for herself full time last year and has spared a couple of moments in her busy schedule to chat to me about how she finds running her own business:

  1. What made you decide to start working for yourself?

It began back in 2011 when I fell pregnant with my daughter. I struggled to find any suitable pregnancy exercise classes and massage services in my area. Most people don’t want to treat pregnant ladies. So I decided to extend my training to fill the gap. It started with just one evening class a week in my local church. Just before I left for maternity leave with my son in 2014 I was contacted by a private clinic to set-up pregnancy support services with them. This was a brilliant confidence boost.

I started to struggle with the family work life balance when I returned to work in 2015 after my second pregnancy: 2 childcare fees and a long commute across London was just too much. In September 2016 I took the leap to start up fully self-employed!

  1. What was the thing you were most frightened about when you considered the prospect?

There were quite a few mental barriers for me at the beginning: no regular income, possibly losing my future employability and from a very personal perspective seemingly swapping my professional status to that of “mum”, “housewife” and “wannabe business woman”.

I was lucky that I managed to pilot my idea over the years and build a small client base. I managed to also get contacts with others who are helping me along the way.

  1. Now you are doing it, what do you love most about working for yourself?

I love that I can schedule my clients and meetings around my family commitments and give my clients as much time and personal input as they want, without worrying about clinic restrictions.

I also love networking with other ‘mumpreneurs’, seeing their success is so inspiring.

“I love that I can schedule my clients and meetings around my family commitments and give my clients as much time and personal input as they want” Madia

  1. Is there anything you miss about not working in a team or being an employee?

The serious bits like holiday pay, pension etc. are things I will need to incorporate into my business now. I do miss the health professional environment and working with other Physio’s but I’m now creating my own environment, perhaps even my own little team of multi skilled professionals and that prospect is much more exciting!

Madia, thank you for being our first start-up case study. As you can see from her interview she has taken the leap into self-employment despite some of the doubts that crept in but most of her success seems to have come from the ability to pilot and test her services before taking the leap and having a support network around her – great advice Madia!

There will be plenty to think about if you are planning to start a business, don’t let time management be one of them. The end of the 9-5 doesn’t have to mean the beginning of a 24/7 live and breathe your business or else it fails mindset…it might do, but wouldn’t it be worth getting a second opinion before you take that plunge? Take a look at my client referrals or get in contact for more information.

Optimists are Failures

Optimists are Failures

To look at, Jonny Harris and Winston Churchill don’t have a lot in common*, but they do share this one belief; difficulties lead to opportunities.

As a designer, Jonny has managed to grasp one key life lesson: Failure leads you to great solutions. In his words: “I think if I was constantly concerned by not being able to make something look good instantly I would be a very anxious designer; the fear of failure is washed away when you realise that it is only by using a process of trial and error that you end up at a great answer”. Winston Churchill once said, “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”

“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” Winston Churchill

It kind of seems counter intuitive to marry failure with optimism. I think we instinctively sense that optimism is only felt when we are not failing or trying very hard to ignore our failings or the failings of others. But as Jonny has discovered optimism is looking failure in the face and pressing on.

It is very easy to find examples of successful people who have failed and yet turned into big successes. Steve Jobs, J.K. Rowling, Walt Disney, the list goes on. But it’s not clear from these reports how many of them felt, at the time they were failing, that this was a good process that needed to happen in order to succeed? What Jonny is explaining here is not looking back at the setbacks in his design career and realising they turned out good in the end, he’s talking about daily, consistent perseverance of failing and failing until something good sticks: embracing failure.

Thanks for being this week’s case study Jonny! And if anyone has any comments about this concept of failure and optimism going hand-in-hand I’d love to hear your comments.

*I’m referring to Jonny Harris, the designer and personal acquaintance, not Jonny Harris the comedian. Although neither are as jowly as Churchill.


Real Life Case Study #1: Me

Real Life Case Study #1: Me

In today’s real life case study I want to particularly talk about procrastination in an open office environment vs working from home – using myself as a case study.

When I’m in the office environment my train of thought goes something like this: “To-do list to my right, keyboard in front, large packet of crisps/nuts/liquorice allsorts to my left – boom, work commences. What kind of work? It’s the thinking-hard-about-something kind of work. It’s top on the list because I know I don’t like doing it and it’s been on my list all week…is this liquorice getting stuck in my front teeth? I kind of need the loo anyway so I might as well go and check. I’ll take my to-do list with me just in case there’s someone I can harass about something on the way back. 40 minutes later, 4 little items ticked off the list – hurrah, this is thirsty work…tea anyone?”

Sound familiar?

For me procrastination isn’t really about achieving nothing – Procrastination is about me not getting around to the boring important bits. Today I’m self-employed and work largely from home and have been worried about the looming possibility of having a boring important job that I never get done – I’ve waited nearly a year, this has not happened. Why? What was it about my previous work that meant my boring important jobs were regularly avoided when now I happily do them even though the work I do hasn’t changed much? Is it about focus? At home is there less to steal my focus? I’d argue no; open office environments and working from home have a plethora of distraction opportunities, if anything many people will testify that distractions are far greater at home, no, I don’t think this is the reason for my new found lack of procrastination.

I’d like to suggest that the disappearance of my procrastination is because I allow myself to not be busy.  Open office environments have a major flaw – they give doing nothing a bad name. At home, I can spend half an hour contemplating the inside of my left foot, all the while cogs turn and my relaxed mode is preparing me for a hefty chunk of thinking-hard-about-something work. Whereas in the office, the need to “appear busy” leads me to swap boring important jobs for the quick and urgent because I fear the judgement of my peers and seniors. The irony is that allowing ourselves some downtime could actually increase productivity, and in the end could tackle procrastination too, if only we would let it.

Does this ring true for you? I’d be interested to hear your experiences…