Starting your own agency is the hardest thing you'll ever do. But do it now

Start your own place. Seriously, do it now. It's utterly awful, and you'll love it.

Don’t get me wrong: starting Creature is the best thing I’ve ever done, professionally speaking.

The thing that they don’t tell you in the brochure, though, is that it’s also insanely hard. Like, INSANELY hard. You know how hard you think it is? Triple that, halve the amount of sleep you had last night, and catch your elbow on the shelf next to you. Then stub your toe, take a disappointing phone call, and catch your mum looking at you with that "I always thought she’d get a proper job one day" look in her eye.

That hard. Again, though: do it now.

Let me try to explain.

Until we started Creature, payday was the best day of the month: it very quickly became the worst day of the month, precisely because, for everyone else, it was still the best. You fall out of love with the 25th of the month pretty quickly when you’ve spent one sitting in a quiet corner of a goth pub in Brighton, wearing the varnish of the "refresh" button thin because if the client money doesn’t land when they said it was going to then that afternoon’s "let’s go on a random session on the coast because that’s just the sort of MENTAL thing that independent agencies DO" was going to have a slightly more sombre air than anticipated.

Because yes, cash is King: we’ve all read the first chapter of the Dummies’ Guide To An Agency Start-Up (too long, not enough pictures). More important, though, is the realisation that lack of cash is the gastric ulcer that keeps you up all night.

I think that feeling was exacerbated at Creature. For a whole host of reasons (that I’ll save for another column – or possibly for a beer), we didn’t start this place with bank balances boosted by a decade in a corner office and a sexy founding client. Instead, we chose to go down the less travelled (but WAY more exciting) road of starting with a hefty chunk of inherited debt to deal with, and a tech client that fired two CEOs in the first month of our existence (Fun. Times.), which meant the pressure was on us in a pretty sharp way from the very beginning. But we definitely weren’t alone.

Because the fact is, we’re all living with risk, we’re all at least as terrified as we are excited, and we’re all conscious that the fabled "two phone calls" are only fabled until the phone rings. And, perhaps weirdly, realising that is one of the most liberating experiences of all.

Could it all go wrong at any minute? Sure.

Are there other jobs out there that’ll pay you as much (or significantly more) that won’t keep you awake at night? Yep. Loads of them.

Will you spend more time than is healthy envying the resources of the guys you’re up against in pitches, and having to bite your tongue when, during a pitch in your second year, a client tells you that route B is the answer, but to keep a few teams running on A, and one or two developing C, because you’ve only got two placement teams in the building? Well, obviously.

But we’re still here, and we’re still loving it: and, truth is, I wouldn’t swap this for the world. Neither would Melissa at Now, Richard at Joint, Neil at the Corner, Nick at Mr President, Nils, Natalie and Lucy at Uncommon, or any of the other brilliant, exhausted people going it alone. As hard as the hard times are, the good times are that much better, because they’re ours. Just ours. And on the 25th of the month, we pay the brilliant people who help us make all of this possible, and they go and spend it all on booze, sample sales, and occasionally even mortgages. That’s a feeling no goth pub’s dodgy wifi can take away.

Dan Shute is chief executive and co-founder of Creature of London. 

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