The below is long (2314 words), somewhat rambling, and probably uninteresting to anyone else reading. It’s a recap of a very interesting year for me in which I seemed to take 3 steps forward and 3 steps back. A lot happened. A lot didn’t. A lot changed. A lot stayed the same. Read at your peril.
2013 was something of a transitional year for me. It has been one of the most up and down and inconsistent years I’ve experienced and has been marked by a struggle for me to find a place for myself in the world. A struggle which persists.
After the gym I was working at as a personal trainer in 2012 shut down I found myself in limbo of a sorts. I was thoroughly disillusioned with working at pubic gyms, yet unable to find personal training vacancies elsewhere. Due to logistics (I did not have a car) I was unable to keep my client base.
At the same time I was trying to (re)grow my personal training business, I was attempting to get my equipment company Smash Weights up and running. Some people can do it, but I was not able to build two successful companies simultaneously, each from scratch.
I began looking for part time work. Being naive to the world of business I fell foul of some incredibly awful companies, one which was a straight up pyramid scheme doing its very best to describe itself as anything but. Marketing itself as a graduate management training programme and dressed in slick suits but with the soul of a conman.
It turned out there was no programme, nor any employment. All “staff” were actually self employed, running their own “businesses”. These consisted of pretending to be loft insulation experts and convincing people that the government would pay for them (a genuine scheme at least) by going door to door for 12 hours a day.
The “office manager” would get a hefty cut of all the commission his “staff” made. His manager would get a heftier slice, and the guy at the top was trousering millions each year.
I left after 3 days of misery in the snow and rain. A few months later I rekindled contact with my mentor, whom I actually liked, and discovered that the whole fraudulent enterprise had collapsed after it was discovered the office manager had been looting money from everyone there.
The AdTech Company
In all it took me 4 months to find regular employment, which ended up being temping for a tech company who makes advertising technology.
Working for this company became a dominant sub-story to my year and brought with it a large amount of joy, frustration, and experiences both good and bad.
It was initially incredibly exciting. The company was a proper start up, growing at a furious pace, in an industry which is currently having bubble-like growth.
Having only been initially interested in easy-come, easy-go temp work, I became very interested in developing some life-lessons by trying for a full time job at this company. I discovered they needed a writer and showed them my blogs, articles, and books.
They were also in need of marketing expertise, and my couple years of experience with email and online marketing was a natural fit. Through a fairly emotional ride I was eventually offered full time employment as a marketing assistant, with the promise of progression, growth, more responsibility. This was due in no small part to the efforts of the newly appointed marketing manager who seemed to have real belief in my skills and ability to contribute. I had access to the directors – who seemed to value my opinion – and was able to write full time for a living – incredible!
The first real bump came just two days after my offer when the marketing manager was fired. I was in some shock, as I imagine so was she, but knew that for their own reasons the directors did not like her and it didn’t seem to be a “fit”.
Nevertheless, after that I developed a rhythm. Writing copy, getting drafts checked, writing improvements. I was reporting directly to the directors and to the designer. I was fairly well autonomous in terms of tasks I should prioritise and how to do them. I was proud of the work I was doing and felt I really contributed to the team – in particular I spent two 18 hours days finishing website copy in time for an important feature in the newspapers.
I was able to save a lot of money, and managed to pass my driving lessons and buy a car within two months. I was burning the candle at both ends, getting up at 7am to work for an hour, before heading to “real” work. There it was 0900 – 1730 but really more like 0830 – 1745. I’d get home and work till 1am some days – other days I’d have to crash out earlier, exhausted.
For a while this was as close as I had ever dreamed to being a “dream job”. I woke up each day excited to go to work, and spent my nights thinking about how I could make my efforts at the company even more valuable to them.
Over a couple of months however a transition happened. As the company grew I began to feel more removed from everyone around me. I was getting less and less feedback on my work and mostly just told to “just keep going”.
One of my best friends suffered a very traumatic personal issue and it affected me strongly. My worsened mood and performance was noticed by one of the directors who called me into his office to chat. He gave me one of the most pathetic pep talks I’ve ever encountered. He then told me that I had been writing too much. He told me that I had been sending them too much unfinished material that needed too much editing and spell-checking.
These criticisms are perfectly valid without context. The context however makes them fucking stupid and was that they had asked me to send them everything I wrote in first draft form.
I was bemused to say the least, but resolved to improve. I began to send them far less, far more honed material.
People have experience as a writer know that you can sometimes reduce a text by as much as 90% to get the final copy. And that the editing process is very often by far the most time consuming (and tiresome) part of writing.
You’ve probably guessed it already but now I was told I was not doing enough.
Anyway, a new marketing manager was eventually brought in. He took me for coffee and we had – what I thought at the time – to be an excellent chat. He listened attentively to my grievances, and to the things I really liked. He seemed to agree with them all.
He gave me some tasks, and a timeframe in which to do them. By the end of the second week I was a week ahead of schedule. I had sent the new manager daily updates, and he told me to “just keep at it”.
Then he bollocked me via Skype. While he was sat in front of me in the office with his back to me. He told me that he was disappointed with my output, and that I needed to step it up.
I duly did and produced the next 3 weeks worth of copy in 3 fairly frantic and full-speed days.
Then I was fired.
Being fired came as an enormous, emotional, relief. I felt a swathe of emotions but sadness was not one of them. The company had become an very unpleasant place to work since I first started and the atmosphere was unrecognizable. An old-boys club seemed to have developed in the Commercial department which involved coming in to work hungover at 10am having been up to 3am at strip clubs – and lying to wives about it. All sanctioned by the Commercial Director.
This was increasingly an uncomfortable environment for me to be in, and I had only intended on stomaching it for a couple more months. As it was, I was pleased to move on.
It has been a frustrating year for me as an entrepreneur. Stuck in a seemingly endless limbo of: need money to start company; can’t get money to start company until company is started.
I tried and failed many, many different things. Most people would have given up and perhaps I should probably have done that too.
But I would never have learned the things I did. I have learned marketing, writing, HTML and CSS, how to source and manufacture products, how raise money unsuccessfully (yes, this is an important lesson!), and how to Keep. On. Going.
I spent too much time building a crappy website before I discovered that I could get a better one in no time at all for a very small fee thanks to Shopify.
I spent too much time trying to figure out how to go for the Big Vision in one giant leap when I should have been starting small and building my way up.
I spent way too much time waiting on other people. One of my burns in 2013 was hiring a promising web design company to do some illustrations for me. Their websites look great, they promised their illustrations were great too, and they offered an attractive price.
They took a deposit and then… Nothing. I had to cajole email updates out of them routinely. They even took a holiday without telling me, meaning I emailed them once every two days for a week with no response, and no clue why.
When I saw the final drawings after months of attempting to draw blood out of their stone I nearly cried. They were truly awful. They have had great and deserved success building websites for people, but these designs were shockingly bad. Their customer service with me was also appalling but I put that down to growing pains as they are a small company.
I lost and regained my focus maybe hundreds of times after the year. I alternated between profound joy and optimism and black despair. I read about the psychological turmoil that entrepreneurship can inflict and saw some of the bad signs in myself. I resolved to continue making friend time and me time and it made a huge difference.
I spent too much time focusing on things which did not further the business directly but which I felt were important. Busy work. At times when I was overwhelmed with tasks and decisions I often chose the easiest and least meaningful. Sometimes I chose the hardest and it paid off. Note to self: remember that feeling.
Getting fired allowed me to once again focus 100% of my energies on Smash Weights. I was fired in November. By half way through December I had sourced a manufacturer and ordered a prototype of my Outlift Barbell which then went into production, successful prototypes for my Lockdown Collars, and finalised some important points with the manufacturers.
I also began working with a concept artist on a project I am incredibly excited about which will kick into gear in February 2014.
This is not the space for a full inquiry into my personal life, but 2013 was also the first year I spent with the woman of my dreams. I met her at the tail end of 2012 and our relationship began in earnest around New Year’s Eve. Thanks to her the emotional ups and downs of this year have been far more manageable, and the slopes far gentler.
Being the weird person all my life has been generally great, but it also brings with it a large amount of loneliness. I don’t feel lonely when I’m with her.
I was also fortunate to spend some really quality time with my friends and family this year and I feel all our relationships have improved and grown. I am eternally grateful to my family and friends for their love and support, and though I can’t really ever repay them I will try.
Full Mental Reset
In a way it seems as though the last few years have been a process of discovering and rediscovering myself. I realised I had put down some personality traits from my childhood and early teens that I really rather liked. I had picked up some nasty ones in their place.
2013 feels like the last year of that process of rediscovery. It may continue, but at this point I feel much more in touch with the kind of man I want to be, and much happier with the kind of man I am.
It’s as though I’ve had a full mental reset – embarking on a fairly long-winded journey only to discover at the end that I was already there right at the beginning, if only I’d let myself know it. Of course the paradox of that story is that (maybe) I’d never have known if I hadn’t gone to the wrong places on the way.
Somewhat less metaphorically, I had some real tangible achievements in the year. Learning to drive – everyone does it, but it’s been something I needed to do for a long time. Having my writing featured in a national newspaper and used by a fast growing tech company is something I’m proud of – even if that didn’t end well.
Sourcing the great products I want to sell and very soon putting out an attractive proposition in order to sell them are also things I am proud of. The process has taught me much.
This post doesn’t even cover much of what happened in the year, it is just things that popped into my head while writing. I’m not going to edit it much, it is what it is. Apologies if it’s not a great read – I just needed to get these thoughts down.
And here’s to 2014!