So what’s not a shocking revelation is that I’ve been gone for a while. The last time I posted anything was before heading to Europe, and since then, well. Things got busy. So busy that despite my best intentions, keeping up with a never shrinking to-do list and finding the mental capacity to write something… yeah, that didn’t happen. But now I’m back, well, for now, it’s a few weeks before the holidays, so this is a bit of check-in before joining everyone else in checking out for the year.
And what a year it’s been; work-wise, it’s been a grey-hair-inducing-crap-shoot for the most part. Yes, there have been some great “wins”, and some big changes are coming in the next chapter of “Krystian and the Storytime Studios Saga”, changes that I will soon, unashamedly, be plugging everywhere and every chance I get.
That’s next year, though, and since I’ve finally gotten on top of my to-do list. I’ve had time to reflect and introspect (is that a word?). In any case, here is a list of the 13 things I learned in 2022.
1. Logistics is no longer number one.
Ending 2022, I can’t really call myself a logistician anymore. It’s been three years since I switched to marketing, and times have changed in logistics, as have the systems, as have the people.
For better? For worse? I don’t know. It takes a lot of time and effort to pay attention to the details of a given space, and, for the time being at least, logistics is on the back burner. I can’t keep my hand in two cookie jars and still eat, so for now, supply chain, warehousing, transportation, and optimization have been replaced with different buzzwords like branding, marketing, strategy, and content.
The lesson: at some point, you have to pick your playground.
2. Marketing is complex and confusing.
I started Storytime with a handful of experience in past projects, a twinkle in my eye and naivete about what marketing really is and how difficult a job it is. In the last three years of running Storytime, I’ve learnt that there is a lot of nuance to the craft, and just like anything else, you can’t be a master of everything.
The best way I could describe it is to imagine a restaurant. Should you choose to group all of them into one category, marketing, branding, strategy, and advertising is about telling people about your restaurant, that it exists and why they should show up at your front door. That’s the job.
I’m not, and shouldn’t try to be, an expert at running a restaurant, serving customers, or understanding how they want a steak to be cooked. All of those conversations and interactions belong to the restaurateur.
The lesson: you have to pick your favourite part of the playground.
Translation: set expectations and be clear about what you can and can’t do for someone.
3. I was right to charge for assessments.
When starting Storytime, “marketing strategy” was a word I laughed at. Thinking back, I probably laughed because I didn’t understand how important it was to a brand’s bigger picture. And as it turns out, many other people don’t understand it either.
Since then, via the cleansing fire of client feedback. I have learned how important a strategy is and how to put one together. But still, I didn’t charge for creating a strategy — why would you want to pay for a “marketing strategy” from a logistician?
The lesson: if you get asked to do that thing, you should charge for it. Seems obvious, right?!
Translation: don’t forget to charge money for the candy you’re selling on the playground.
4. Ask for the money.
Another obvious learning has been to ask for money. An assessment, a monthly retainer, a piece of content, whatever it was — in the beginning — I was petrified of asking for the money, even before Storytime. Asking for money always felt awkward and uncomfortable, and I avoided asking until things were desperate or forgotten.
But that changed because when you have to pay for other people, supplies, and yourself, asking for the money becomes straightforward.
The lesson: you make an agreement and do the job. You should get paid.
Translation: don’t forget to collect the money you charged for the candy you’re selling on the playground.
5. Cash Flow is critical.
The last obvious lesson is that when you run a business, you have to pay for things before you get paid, and you need cash in the bank to pay for those things while you wait to get paid.
Not managing your money correctly on a day-to-day level and on an “oh crap, what have I built” bigger picture level is a sure and steady track to bankruptcy. Monopoly has taught all of us that this is a bad thing.
You’d think this idea is so apparent that including it is just a form of bumping up the word count. But there’s a reason it’s here.
I, like many others, have drunk a little too much from the tech-start-up-kool-aid, which preaches something along the lines of “burning money doesn’t matter when you’re trying to change the world” or “the profits will come eventually.”
This means a lot of businesses, in this case, mine, spent a lot of time and money developing ideas that might be great — if money were no issue. But in the real world, the one outside social media and mass market hype machines. Making actual money is really important. Knowing what to work on and if that thing is valuable enough to work on is really important.
The lesson: cash flow is key.
Translation: Some of the money you take home from selling candy today must be put aside to buy more candy to sell tomorrow.
6. I can’t do things by myself.
“If I don’t do it, it won’t get done” is the mindset of a fool and someone who doesn’t want to grow their business. I’ve seen other companies operate with this bottleneck-like mindset, but that didn’t make a difference because, in 2022, I saw myself become a bottleneck and, in turn, burn out to do less good work.
The fact is that I now have enough confidence to claim “I can do things”. The problem is that the more things you know how to do, the less time you have to do them. As far as I can see, there are three ways to solve this problem and “scale”:
1. Build something that replicates infinitely for relatively zero cost. Examples: Netflix, Google Workspaces, and literally any other software business.
2. Build something, then teach someone else to do that thing, and take a cut of their work. Examples: hiring a sales rep or teaching a teenager to run the grill at McDonald’s.
3. Create something valuable because you’re the only one who can do it. Examples: TED talks, YouTube channels, World Cups, or Krystian’s Epic Brand Strategy Workshops coming in 2023.
The lesson is: Rome wasn’t built in a day, nor was it built by one person.
Translation: to make more money from selling candy, you have to get others to help or create a new type of candy that only you can supply.
7. Trust = Consistency = Good.
Managing people can be tricky. Whether it’s clients, team members, contractors, or all of the above. Who you work with can determine how hard or easy the job of managing turns out to be. I’ve learnt that talent is important, but trust and consistency trump talent. If I can trust someone to show up, deliver, follow up, too… Whatever. We can do a lot. Possibly anything.
The lesson: delegation is difficult, and I’m still learning to do it.
Translation: you have to trust that the people you bring on to help you sell candy will actually show up.
8. Anyone can fail.
Facebook moved too fast and broke too many things, and if “Meta” can go from being the most exciting, aspirational, and successful brand in the world. To have blunt associations with scandal, manipulation, distrust, crap ideas, and a failure of leadership. Then anyone can be sucked into the allure and trap of making rapid-fire yet failed decisions.
Just like I did many times this year. From spending too much time in spreadsheets when I should have just bought a financial system — to not taking enough time to conduct proper due diligence when I should have stuck to the method.
How much time to allocate to something and when to stick it out slowly or pull that quickfire trigger. These are very tricky nuances of management. And they are not easily mastered.
The lesson: learn (like… keep learning) how to size up how much time and effort a project will take and what approach will work best.
Translation: don’t get rushed into selling more candy than you can handle.
9. Some jobs aren’t worth it.
Some clients come along and sound amazing. They sound like the dream combination of a healthy budget and minimal oversight. You get wrapped up in the excitement and drunk off the possibilities.
Then you start to work on the project and realize that something isn’t stacking up. The time and effort you put in are vastly disproportionate to any other project. You’re emotionally drained. Physically suffering. And you have a hunch that something isn’t right.
Eventually, you sit down and realize that the dream has turned into misery and fundamentally and that some jobs aren’t worth it. While drunk, you forgot to sober up and ask two key questions:
1. Will this project, client, idea, or thing contribute to your goals or skills? Of what you invest, will you see objective returns as a business or as a person?
2. Putting aside the teaser rates that you may have used to get someone over the line — how much work will this job actually be, and will it still be worth it?
When you start a new project, you take on the project, the people, and all the problems of the situation. If you stop and ask those two critical questions, you’ll be able to calibrate your own expectations and approach.
The lesson: when a job takes more than it gives, you have to make changes.
Translation: when someone comes to you to help you sell a lot more candy, triple-check the deal and determine how much work it will be.
10. Some lessons are learned the hard way.
The amazing thing about humans is that we can learn more than any other creature. The stupid thing about humans is that sometimes, even if you know something, you won’t understand the lesson until you make the mistakes yourself.
Most of the lessons you’ve been reading about me learning this year are obvious, and some are so silly you could consider them sartorial. But they aren’t; these are real lessons I had to re-learn as a 30-something-year-old. And frankly, that’s pretty embarrassing, but it’s also the truth.
The lesson: there is no lesson here… some stuff you learn from experience, not a book.
Translation: you’ll make silly mistakes while building a candy empire.
11. How you do things matters.
I’ve learnt that how you do something often matters more than what you do. Results fade, money gets paid and then spent, and the sugar high of vanity metrics wear off and become hard to remember. What you do remember, though, is how it was to deal with someone. Their approach to problems. How did someone take credit? How honest was the interaction?
The lesson: how you do things matters.
Translation: people aren’t just buying candy. They are buying it from you.
12. Clarity is valuable.
Imagine working on ideas like being on a pirate ship, slowly moving through a thick foggy mist, looking for treasure. The fog is made from the mess in your head, the confusion and collusion of ideas big and small, of insights that only you may know. The treasure is a fully formed concept that makes sense and can be communicated to someone without getting lost.
That’s the trouble; sometimes, even the obvious is missed in trying to work out the profound. And the only way to find the treasure is with a helpful crew or a guide.
That is the most helpful thing I can do for people — provide clarity — trying to be a guide. That might be in the form of a clearer problem. An understanding of what the solution requires. A story to tell. Or the next steps of a project.
Having clarity is valuable because if you know what you need to do and which way to steer the ship, you can take steps to progress.
The lesson: knowing what to do next is valuable.
Translation: knowing which candy to buy is precious.
13. Just like relationships, good ideas take time.
“You just need one idea” is a moronic myth. You don’t need just one idea. You need many. And it takes a lot of work to refine an initial hunch into a cohesive concept that eventually earns the right to be referred to as a “simple” idea.
When dealing with brands, messaging, and communication, you’re not always dealing with defined problems that come with a straightforward list of tasks. And the more abstract the idea, the more time it takes to form that clarity mentioned above.
Developing an idea takes time and effort, and after you’ve put in that time and effort, you end up with a task list that needs to be executed with even more time and effort. This isn’t a bad thing. We’re meant to work on things. It’s hard. Good. Honest. And if you’re willing, fun.
But the lesson here isn’t that ideas are challenging. It’s that signing up for the journey of developing an idea — is a tough ask. And really, the only way you’re going to get buy-in from people. For them to come along for the ride is to have good relationships with people. You can’t ask someone to help you do something difficult if you don’t have a relationship with them.
Like moving house, helping with a major life decision, or doing your taxes, you wouldn’t just ask anyone to help you with these things; you ask your people. The people you trust. People whose opinions you trust as much as their hands-on contributions. Said trust is proportional to the time spent with that person building and maintaining the relationship (see learning number 7 from above).
The lesson: good ideas are linked to good relationships.
Translation: to grow your candy empire, you have to expand your circle of trust.
That brings an end to my list of learning for 2022. Please note I have not spent any time selling candy on playgrounds. The only question left for 2022 is what I want to learn in 2023.