A cautionary tale for startups

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Thirty seven year old Shannon Eastman is passionate about what she does. She is emotionally devoted almost to a fault when it comes to her work. She is driven (more so in the face of set backs,) and like many of the entrepreneurs you know, she is good at working the usual 17hour days, eating on the go and going to whatever lengths required to serve her clients even if it means sleepless nights for her.

Like most entrepreneurs Shannon is also running her business in the cloud with fist-fulls of apps, SaaS, memberships, and social media platforms to help her operate her business and serve her clients. When you’re an entrepreneur, more often that not, priority for the clients overshadows the running of your own business.

In November 2013, Shannon was about to bring her newest venture to life. She was poised to complete with a shareholder director, an investor, a rebrand to her company, Teach a Brand to Fish, and had a launch planned for Q1 2014. All of which required all hands on deck to bring a Sales & Marketing solution to life for business owners with marketing departments of one.

Shannon describes herself as the daughter of a failed businessman and credits this experience that has driven her to solve PR, marketing and sales challenges for small businesses who are doing some good in this world.  2014 was the year for it all to take off.

Take off it did, but not in the way Shannon had forecast.

Q1 2014 is a time she remembers all too well. Not for the big launch she had been planning but because her health suddenly and drastically deteriorated. By February 2014 her options were to stop everything and go directly to bed now or have a conversation about chemotherapy in 12 months time.

Shannon was diagnosed with a condition that could potentially lead to Addison Syndrom, permanent adrenal failure, which, if left untreated could result in her being on steroids for the rest of her life if she did not take immediate and drastic action.

Stress was the primary cause. Of course stress is something entrepreneurs live with and live off most days of the week. Yet in her case her body had not been able to cope.

As she explains, she had no idea  she was in such a state. She didn’t realise that her attitude towards life and work – “fall down, get up faster, harder, and this time with more to give” was literally killing her.

It was that same week in February when Shannon got her next biggest lesson from life – building a business that runs on systems versus building a business that operates by you. Without Shannon she didn’t have a business to run. She faced the uncomfortable conversations with her newly acquired shareholder, director, her investor, her staff, her clients. A situation that she later attributes to her bouts of depression she endured throughout most of 2014.

At no time in February did Shannon consider the need to organise her business affairs in such a way that she could come back 6 or 10 months later and be able to pick up where she left off.

Her business had been running predominantly using a range of scattered digital tools which she kept at her finger tips. None of which she had documented or captured in one place.  As it turned out these were crucial to her being able to bring her business back to life and another lesson she had to learn the hard way seven months later. Her entire business had been set up and stored digitally and she had – wrongly – taken it for granted that she would never forget how to access these vital tools.

After a second set of uncomfortable conversations with her partner and investor about how much longer things needed take to get going because the business was all over the place, Shannon is exploring options for moving the tools of her business into a digital vault.

Our digital footprint is not just easy to create, it’s mandatory if you’re doing business in this day and age, safe guarding it, ensuring proper access to it and valuing it for what it is worth, is a business imperative we often fail to register.

Having a robust system is something which any startup should be thinking of from day one. They need to factor in being able to operate without missing a beat if the founder is knocked out of the driving seat temporarily or otherwise.

On the upside, Shannon has pulled her business back together once again. There is no doubt for her the life lessons she learnt are something she feels every enthusiastic new entrepreneur should understand. In the frenzy and excitement of setting up a new business, always take time out for yourself, evaluate how you are feeling and be gentle on yourself, and, remember to keep an archive of all your digital assets, it makes perfect business sense.

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