8 things young creative entrepreneurs should know before leaving advertising

Joanna YuenJoanna Yuen left her job in the social media arm of Ogilvy in Hong Kong to start an online bakery business called The Secret Within, selling highly crafted cakes to suit special occasions, moments, moods, memories, even poetry.

In this guest post, Yuen suggests seven things young ad folk should think about before they take the plunge to go it alone and start their own business.

1. Don’t leave before you leave

If you’re thinking “I have this idea and I have a business plan, a perfect partner to start this with. I even have investors already. Should I quit now and pursue it?” The answer is no. Make sure you test it out, have sold it to consumers you are not in anyway related to, and keep getting repeat orders before you quit your day job. And while you’re at your full time job, get this thought of out your head: I can slow down now and perform 80 per cent of my job because I’ll soon be quitting anyway. From this moment on, you’ll stop raising your hand, asking for a raise (or promotion), stop taking new projects, stop developing yourself in this industry. Let’s say if your start-up takes six more months to get stable income, you have slowed down your personal and career development for the last six months and counting. This thought may burn your bridge to go back to your “safety net” (an old job) in the future. Lesson: Push, accelerate and leave when you leave.

2. Don’t be a client

Joanna YuenEvery ad person has handled a nasty client. The kind that gives you a brief at 5pm and expects a “Big idea” in three days. The core of the problem is a lack of respect for the ad industry and a culture that bows down to the paying client. The result is that the clients think they can do whatever they want. The irony is that when an ad person starts a company, the ad person has a tendency to think “I used to be able to do this in three days, why can’t you?”

Don’t be a client. Be a client an ad person wants to work with. Respect others and stay classy.

3. Reassessment of my life priorities

Starting a business takes hardwork, reassessment of priorities and sacrifice. While 1 and 3 are obvious, 2 tackles a deep seated issue: What (and who) can you live without and what would you be willing to strip away from in order to achieve your dream. Your business trajectory will lead you to a point where you will decide whether to give up your relationship, most friends, where you live, etc. Just remember, the magnitude of your sacrifice determines the size of your star.

4. Learn to give the same instructions in different languages

'The wave knows' cake, inspired by a R.M. Drake poem about the ocean

Yuen’s ‘The wave knows’ cake, inspired by a R.M. Drake poem about the ocean

You’ll spend more time managing people than the “actual work” when you start your own business. And you need to communicate your instructions in a way that other people can understand. If you’re communicating your vision and the means to achieve your vision to a creative director, use stories, emotions. If you’re doing that to an accountant, use numbers, flowcharts. And for some team members, they don’t even need to know the means to achieve the vision, they just need to know the why and what to figure out the how.

5. Why are you doing this?

Don’t start something because it’s a cool idea and it makes money. Do it only because you feel like you’re put on earth to achieve this particular vision. Be driven by a sense of purpose. This will garner support internally and externally.

6. “Listen up, grasshopper.”

Three things that ruin a working relationship: Ego, attitude and ignorance. When you’re starting out, you will feel the constant need to be confident and fake confidence because people may put you down (and they will). And we people in the ad industry are generally better at faking it than people in other industries. The truth is you’re scared shitless. When you’ve been proven wrong, just lower your ego, accept your ignorance and move on. The working relationship is more important than your ego. You know it.

7. Agree to disagree

"Chasing shadow" cake, inspired by a story about a woman with a sexy back a man encountered on a plane journey

“Chasing shadow” cake, inspired by a story about a woman with a sexy back a man encountered on a plane journey

Only a few will agree with your vision. Chances are they see flaws in your thinking. They disagree with your research findings. They doubt your abilities, your discipline. They are skeptical of whether you have the very specific personality required to be a leader. Are you ambitious? Can you be ruthless when you need to be? They think your vision has been tried and proved irrelevant in this day and age by another failed business. And very likely, you fail to articulate your vision in a way that they can understand (and it’s not their fault that they can’t see the vision but yours). For example, I started the cake business based on the belief of celebrating the little stories in life and that cakes should evoke emotions. But some creative directors disagree and insist that storytelling in edible art is a gimmick bordering on pretense and that if the cake is tasty and good looking enough, the cake speaks for itself. The point is not who is right. The point is you will find people who disagree with your vision. The best thing to do is let you customers decide. Listen to what makes them tick and buy. Meanwhile, keep those who disagree with you around you. They have a point.

8. Give credit where credit is due.

Advertising is full of people claiming credit for something they had little or no part in. The lesson you’ve learnt is that you recognise and vocally acknowledge the support, inspiration, comfort and ideas that come from those around you.


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