The Biggest Challenge I Faced When Starting My Business

10th July 2020 No comments

I was recently asked to give a presentation at the Student Opportunities Festival, which due to the coronavirus pandemic was a virtual event. You can watch my entire presentation here.

At the end of the session, I was asked a number of questions by the audience. One that caught me a little off-guard was “What was the most difficult challenge you faced when starting your company?”

You can watch the video above to hear my answer, or you can read my expanded thoughts below.


An Endless Series Of Challenges

When starting a video production company you’ll face a number of challenges. In fact, I’d argue that running a business is an endless series of overcoming challenges.

It’s not unbearable by any stretch of the imagination, but every day brings new things that must be managed and dealt with. At the moment we’re dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. Last year we were battling with uncertainties around Brexit.

And, of course, we’re always facing challenges that are very specific to our business too. As I write this, my main editing computer is away for repair. That’s a challenge – how am I supposed to earn an income if I can’t do any work? (Thankfully we have other computers I can edit on!)

Over time the daily challenges become easier to handle. If you’ve been through an issue before, you’ll know that you can reach the other side. You’ve been there, done that and gotten the t-shirt. That’s why I’ve always valued having a business mentor. Being able to seek counsel from someone who’s been in your shoes before is unbelievably beneficial.

If you thrive under pressure, running a business is one of the most rewarding types of career there is.

The Most Difficult Challenge I Faced Starting My Business
Here I am, operating a boom on a shoot in 2013. I was young, fresh-face and about to make a very complex business deal…

A Challenging Partnership

Going back to when I started, in the early days my biggest source of stress came from a business partnership that went wrong.

Just before I graduated I met a local freelancer who was upping sticks. They’d graduated a few years before me and had a small handful of clients that they would no longer be able to service after they moved. I was fresh faced and looking for new clients to help me grow my new business. What could go wrong?

We made a deal. It was complex and based on lots of assumptions. We hadn’t known each other for very long, so we were naturally guarded towards each other. There was no trust. We came up with lots of stipulations that were designed to protect each other’s interests.

The scheme we came up with involved setting up a Limited Company and distributing shares, which neither of us had any experience of doing before. And neither of us had the resources to pay a professional to help us with this process.

The moment we had to start exercising the agreement, it fell apart completely.

We wrote a contract ourselves, which we thought was ironclad. We were wrong. The moment we had to start exercising the agreement, it fell apart completely. We ended up having to go through solicitors. It was a really stressful and horrible experience. I’m sure they would say the same, although we haven’t spoken in years.

For a while, during the height of our dispute, I was hedging my bets on my own company. I feared I’d have to wash my hands of it in order to get out of the situation I was in. The whole experience was awful. Thankfully my business and I survived. I came very close to losing it all.

Rowan Johnson and Paul French filming on location in Weymouth in 2017
Filming with my colleague Paul in 2017. This photo was taken by our client. It’s rare that we’re pictured together as, when taking behind the scenes photos, it’s usually one of us taking the photo!

Pick Your Partners Carefully

If I was to turn my experience into a learning point, my biggest piece of advice would be not to start a business with someone else. At least not in any kind of hurry, anyway. Unless you’re absolutely on the same page about everything – which most people aren’t, no matter how much you feel you are – it’s probably better to do your own thing.

If you’re thinking of going into business with someone else, think of it this way. Would you marry that person*? Marriage is a legal agreement that binds the assets and responsibilities of two people as one legal entity. A business partnership is the same. If you wouldn’t marry them, don’t go into business with them. (*Romantic feelings aside.)

If you wouldn’t marry them, don’t go into business with them.

That’s not to say that you shouldn’t work with other people. You absolutely should work with other people – collaboration is essential. But only formalise a business relationship when you’re absolutely certain it works long-term. A business relationship takes time to develop – you can’t fast-track it with paperwork. You both need to have real, genuine trust for each other, and you both need to be completely aligned on what you want from the business.

Several years later I made a business agreement with my colleague Paul French. We’d known each other for a long time prior, as he’d been my business mentor for several years. We knew each other, we trusted each other, and we both had enough experience by then to avoid the mistakes that I’d made during my first business partnership.

We took things slow until we were confident that our business arrangement worked. Then I eventually hired Paul into my business. It couldn’t have worked out better.

There’s an old phrase: measure twice, cut once. This couldn’t apply more to business partnerships. If you pick your partners well, your business will thrive, and so will the people who run it.

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