Go For Growth. Creative Diary.
When we first started the studio we had this rather fixed viewpoint that the business had to grow each year. That to run a successful studio you had to be achieving more turnover while also looking to increase your profit margin. I mean, I guess it's pretty much business basics (those business school classes obviously paid off).
And that's exactly what we did for the first seven years running the studio. We took on more jobs, focussed on profitability, on getting things over the line and making money. To achieve this we worked with a larger team of freelance talent while also growing our core studio team.
And it worked. We were a pretty well oiled machine, bringing in new business and making good money.
All well. All good. But there was just one issue with it all. With the focus on what we thought we should be doing, we perhaps lost some sight of what it was we wanted to be doing and why we started the studio in the first place.
With all the extended effort, we ended up burning ourselves out. This resulted in us not being very happy with what we were doing and we knew that we somehow needed to change direction, attitude and approach.
Some of the projects we were doing were great, but some perhaps less so. It's fair to say that there were quite a few occasions when we were doing things for the money rather than for the creative output. And you know what, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. It's a completely valid way of doing things. But we had the growing feeling that it wasn't for us.
So we decided to do a couple of things. We took on less projects, and we spent more time on the ones that we did take on - with a focus on refining our skills, developing new ones and getting better at what we do. There was less focus on turnover and profit and more on quality of work and of enjoyment doing that work.
While that was all great in theory, what I hadn't banked on was the mental impact of this. I had taken pride in keeping the financial side of the business in good shape, and when the numbers started to drop (a natural by product of our decision to change things) every few months when I analysed the numbers I had this sense that I was failing the studio somehow, that I had dropped the ball and was now shit at my job. Not a good feeling to have I'm sure you would agree.
It took a good while (a few years at least) to un-hook my built in sense that a business is only going well when the numbers are on an upward trajectory, and that this needed to be a yearly endeavour. Given that I guess it's no wonder I was judging myself against this standard, and when coming up short feeling bad about it.
We're hard wired for progress, but for some reason progress in our world seems to be judged by the accumulation of more. More money, more staff, more clients, more projects... more stuff. The more we thought about it, that concept of growth just didn't appeal to us.
What we realised, is as a studio the thing that makes us happy, that provides satisfaction, is having the ability to make & create for a living. That's the thing that never seems to get old. Working with interesting people, going to new places and doing interesting and challenging work. The money is of course a by product of that, and an important one, we are running a business after all. We need money to create (and to live), but by being a slave to it and to growing the pile we were failing to prioritise the things that brought us joy.
Truth is we needed a break. We needed a reset. We needed to take stock of the first part of Jamhot and then get the company in good shape for the future. It was without a doubt the right decision and something that completely changed the course of what we do and the mindset we employ to running the studio and doing our work.
And it started me on a road of evaluating what growth means to me, what it means to Jamhot and what type of growth model we should aim for as we develop the studio.
As I mentioned in a previous post, for us the last 5 years have seen us on a journey to up the game in what we do. To get better. To develop our skills. To produce work that we are proud of, work that makes a real and lasting difference to our valued clients. As we look back and we're happy to say that we've achieved this goal - our version of growth.
This approach has seen us keeping our studio small while developing work that helps our clients grow. Some years we have made more money. Some years less. I've become better at getting used to this, treating each year as a separate entity - one unassociated with the last. Overall I'd say we've become less wedded to money as a marker of success. Freeing ourselves from this focus has without a doubt allowed us to achieve growth in other areas, something we would not change for the world.
As we approach the end of our 15th year, the culmination of the last 5 year growth journey, our mind is starting to turn to the future and what this idea of growth might look like for the next period. The truth is at the moment we're not too sure. But that lack of certainty feels pretty exciting. We're open to possibilities and curious about the direction the studio might take.
What is clear to us is that things are changing, and it feels like we need to change too. What this change will look like, we don't quite know - the time for that will come after a little break over the festive season. Whatever happens, we're looking forward to the challenge and always mindful of skicking to our founding ambition of enjoying the day to day of what we do. That feels like it's as important as ever.
Graeme's writing this little creative diary as we celebrate running Jamhot for 15 years and look towards what the future of our creative & design studio holds. We're writing these for our own amusement, but if you do find yourself reading along then a big hello to you.