Six years ago, Liz and I opened a little design business. A small something on the side - a way to develop skills, earn a little extra cash and get things happening. It was brilliant, and while we purposely didn't grow it (masters, and marriages, and moving countries and wanting to have social connections and life ensured that we kept it small) it ticked over. We made many friends, and had clients from all over the world. We made websites, mostly. Custom Wordpress themes, set up a server so we could offer an an inclusive package where our clients could trust us to do all that they needed us to.
We designed and built e-commerce stores, and charity websites, and personal blogs. Pretty things, and serious sites and fun just because type projects.
It was delightful. And then it wasn't delightful.
Keeping up the accounts was hard. Chasing up clients who didn't want to pay was annoying. Paying tax in New Zealand while we were in the UK was a nightmare. A terrible expensive nightmare. Accepting money from overseas clients and moving it to NZ was also terrible.
We moved from one delightful host, to one really wicked, terrible one, which was a lot of work. We got hit with a spate of hacks, thanks to a vulnerability on the new terrible host. We half moved to a new host, but not all our clients updated their DNS settings, so we were stuck between the two.
It was hard work, and felt less like the fun little company we started with.
I also think we've grown out of Sinter a little. We both are quite heavily involved in other side ventures (excite!), but it meant that creatively we didn't have anything left for Sinter, and even worse, we didn't have the TIME for Sinter anymore. Heartbreak.
Lessons Learnt. The Bad.
1. Hire a bookkeeper Early on. Hire one, for a few hours a month. One to keep track of invoices, and tax and GST and can file income on your behalf. This person is not an accountant, and that means you don't need to pay them a minimum of $800. It also means you have an extra set of eyes keeping track of all of the things going on, and should know what you need to file, and when.
2. Don't register for GST unless you need to. In NZ there is a rule that says if you earn under $60,000 a year, you don't need to be registered for GST. If you don't need to be registered for GST, don't be registered for GST. Really, it's so much extra, unnecessary work.
3. Partnership vs Company Sinter registered as a company very early on. Very very early on. This has some work associated with it, but more importantly, comes with a fee to be registered, and requires the company files an income/tax report each year. As a partnership there were no fees, and the individual pays income tax on what income happens their way. By registering as a company so early we created an awful lot of extra work for ourselves.
4. Split the crap work (and outsource if you can) This one I learnt too late. Liz took on the bookkeeping after we decided our accountant was too spensive and got bogged down. Then I took on the bookkeeping and you know what? That stuff is soul destroying. And confusing. And overwhelming. And takes an awful amount of time. And it's HARD. If we'd split it, we probably would have realised the need to hire a bookkeeper much earlier on. Also, we both burnt out unnecessarily over it, which could have easily been avoided by us each taking a share.
Lessons Learnt. The Good.
1. Operate at a loss, but make sure you're sustainable
This is a weird one. We operated at a loss because it was financially better/easier for the company (or so said our spensive accountant) and we had to pay less tax. It means any equipment we used for Sinter (like our laptops, our software like the adobe creative suite etc) was marked against Sinter, even if it wasn't exclusively used for Sinter.
However, when there were real costs ( - costs of things used exclusively for Sinter, like the cost of our hosting server) we made sure we were covered. All our projects were split between us (of any profit, half to Sinter, half to whoever did the job) and we made a small profit on hosting.
This meant that after the initial (and very small) capital injection, as long as Sinter was ticking over, it wasn't costing Liz or I anything out of our own pockets, and there was cash in the bank to cover anything Sinter needed.
2. Recognising when to get out/Don't blow your working relationship
This was a hard one, but I'm glad that Liz and I came to the same decision within a few months of each other that now was the time, and there was no blame or animosity between us. We'd outgrown Sinter, and that was okay. There is also the possibility we might occasionally work on the odd thing together in the future - that door is still wide open.
3. Small companies survive on momentum, collaboration and enthusiasm
People don't work well on islands. To keep things moving forward, to keep the momentum moving thriving off other people is important. Your partner, people you work with. Excitement and enthusiasm is contagious and invigorating, and is what keeps you moving forward. Regular collaboration, celebrating small victories, fizzing excitement and enthusiasm. It's what kept me in Sinter for so long.
All of the lessons aside, thank you to many of you - a few of our clients came through our blogs and our social networking channels. A lot of it came from word of mouth - so thanks to everyone that ever recommended us. It was much appreciated x