Building a business v bringing up a baby - which is the biggest challenge?
Up until January 4th 2009, the biggest challenge I’d faced in my life hadn’t been that big. For some brave people it would have been enormous like maybe climbing a particularly high mountain somewhere in the Andes, overcoming a serious illness, backpacking across South America or representing their country in a gruelling sport that they’d spent years dedicating their life to. For me, up until the aforementioned date, my only challenge had been relocating to Cardiff and realistically, aside from remembering that rugby is a big deal over here and adjusting to a few minor dialect abnormalities (scram, tamping, cwtch, cob, daps, lush etc) it wasn’t particularly challenging. In fact it proved financially beneficial, introduced me to new friends, opened up new opportunities and has allowed me to have more of a personal identity than I ever had back in suburban London.
In 2009 it all changed when I launched my own business, Yolk Recruitment, with my business partner Dale William, smack in the offset of theUK’s worst recession in the last 100 years. With unemployment figures climbing and negativity growing, we threw ourselves into creating a positive uplifting business fighting the pre-conceptions of the industry, embracing the perceived threats of social media platforms such as LinkedIn and budget online e-recruiters, job-boards and aggregators, whilst facing the cliché that firms weren’t hiring. Our message was clear, we launched during a recession consciously to build the right foundations with the aim to build an ambitious, ethical business which would provide a solid platform for years to come.
For exactly 1200 days this was the only thing I would have considered a challenge. Then on April 19th 2012, at the ripe old age of 37, five years older than the UK average (according to the Office of National Statistics), Evan William Powell entered the equation and a whole new challenge began.
Firstly, he’s nearly seven month and is doing just fine but those seven months have consisted of mainly crying, grizzling, learning how to work things and constant comforting. And that was just me.
So the question I keep asking myself is what has been more challenging: bringing up a baby or building a business?
There are parallels wherever you look, the first being however much you plan things are going to change. Be it business plans, structured P&L forecasts and staff growth plans. For nearly four years as much as we’ve tried to stay on a certain path factors have constantly arisen to test our mettle. Likewise with a baby on the way you can attend as many pre-natal classes, read every baby book on Amazon, set robust schedules and remortgage your house to buy half of Mama & Papas but trust me, if you do this, all it will provide you with is some courage and confidence. When it happens and two becomes three you’ll be thrown into an alien world that no birth book written by a well meaning American earth mother can provide an instant answer to.
Once the initial stressful blurry first week or two have settled down, you get into a routine. Well we did. You say to yourself “actually I could get used to this, it’s not too bad”. Your sleeping through the night, have regular eating patterns and think you’ve cracked it,but then everything changes. The 7pm-7am sleeping through the night stops as quickly as it started, any love of my pureed butternut squash/lamb meals is quickly rethought and your baby’s favourite hobbies turn to eating paper, grabbing your hair and headbutting - another parallel with starting your own business! When our business kicked off everything started so smoothly, clients bought in, we started to win new contracts and then, a key client didn’t pay. A court case ensued, we got our hard-earned money, we moved on but it something we weren’t prepared for.
Business is scary and employing staff is even scarier. Suddenly it’s not all about you anymore, if you’re a one-man band and have a tough month it’s only your life which is effected. With employees under your belt, it all changes you have responsibilities you weren’t expecting. Likewise, when Evan was born it all changed. It’s not my company. It’s his. Every decision and every penny spent is tinged by the thought what is it right for Evan.
I’m lucky in that I have the support of a naturally gifted, understanding and strong wife. Rachel is a natural mother and while I’m the one keeping Evan giggling with games in the mirror, bouncing in the garden and throwing spoons around the kitchen she provides the daily routine including such minor tasks such as feeding, bathing, burping etc. Although it’s early days it’s already clear that certain duties will naturally be divided amongst us so that all three of us know where we stand. Likewise it’s this clear allocation of tasks that has worked so successfully within our business. My business partner, Dale and I have clearly defined roles – he manages the back-office from finance, facilities, advertising, job-boards and marketing whereas I focus more on team management/motivation and business development strategies. At this point I’m actually wondering if I’m becoming a better Dad because of the business. I’ve certainly had to be more balanced, less selfish and more forward thinking since Yolk launched so I suppose all these traits transfer over to my personal life.
As our business plan was never to sell up after seven years but remain in it for the long term, the same can be said for Evan (I’m not expecting him to move out at the age of seven). I’m in it for the long-haul; every business decision is connected to long-term nurturing, ethics, learning lessons and to the greater good. A perfect parallel to how I want to bring up my little boy.
So what’s clear to me about having a child is that it gets easier. Everyone told me it would and indeed it does. I know there will be bumps along the way, probably daily – but I’m prepared for them, I’m anticipating them and I’m supported by Rachel. I don’t think running a business does necessary get easier but without sounding blasé it’s not as far out of my comfort zone so in essence it is perhaps that little bit easier. There was a grounding and structure in place at the start. We knew our industry and had confidence so it never had that horrendous tough blurry period like the first few weeks of fatherhood.
I’d suggest that the parallels between bringing a baby into this world and bringing a business into this world are numerous. I admire anyone that can bring up a well-grounded child and likewise I admire any business owner who employs staff and runs an ethical business. Would I advise anyone to build a business in a recession, or is it wiser to wait until the market improves? Would I advise anyone to have their first child at 37 or perhaps prioritise this earlier in life when the joints are slightly less achy and you have more spring in your step? The answer to both is, it’s up to you. It worked for me – just surround yourself with the best people.
By Duncan Powell