IPStudios turns 3 years old! The Ups, the Downs and what’s next

A few weeks ago, Image Propeller Studios turned 3 years old! Three years may not see all that long, but as my friend, Dan McKinnon said, this is like 270 dog years! We’ve had quite the rocky ride up to this point and making it 3 years truly feels like a milestone. I thought it would be a good time to share some of the ups and downs of our growth and also where we are headed next. If you can relate to any of these experiences, I’d love to hear about them in the comments!

The Ups

We have been so fortunate to have amazing clients. I’ve learned that a client roster can make or break your business and in that realm we have had very few bad experiences. With each client relationship, I have learned a ton and with each project I’ve made a huge effort to improve customer experience by understanding them more thoroughly. Over time, it has paid off with great recommendations and referrals. Although a huge reason for this is the luck of the draw, I like to think it is also a result of asking the right questions along with the “Do it for them” technique that we’ve adopted. Over the last couple years I’ve learned that by listening very carefully to the client and putting their needs and goals at the forefront of each project, success will follow. It’s easy and I am constantly working on this, but it’s a huge pay off when I make it a priority.

Creative control is something new to me since running our studio. No longer am I meeting with an art director or producer and fed creative briefs. Suddenly I am in the driver seat and steering my projects the way I see fit. I’m making all sorts of decisions each day and constantly selling clients on new ideas. This whole process has forced me to be brave and make quick decisions as I cannot hide behind anything or anyone. Yes, there have been numerous mistakes and failures as I’ve muddled through this learning curve. Art direction is a huge responsibility and constantly having to make decisions can be exhausting. Tim Ferriss talks about decision fatigue in this podcast and I’ve been following his advice to minimize unnecessary decisions. For example, decisions revolving around what to eat today is taken care of by a meal plan set out on Sunday. Over time I’ve noticed it has a huge impact over my daily stress level and when I implement this strategy consistently, I am also far more productive.

After spending over 10 years in the corporate world pushing through the 9 to 5, I’ve been experiencing the illusive “flexible” schedule and let me tell you, it’s awesome! In the last 3 years I’ve attended every one of my daughter’s big events at school and gymnastics. It’s also allowed our family to share home cooked meals together every night. I love being home at the end of the school day and hearing the front door slam and Simone running through the house. It makes me smile to know that I’m not missing out as she grows up so quickly! It takes a ton of discipline and organization to pull this off, but it is totally worth it when you can attend your kid’s first official competition without inconveniencing a boss or colleague.

I’ve known for years that I am an introvert. Introversion has been a great advantage in some cases and a huge pain in the ass in others. But, regardless of my personal tendencies, running Image Propeller has really pushed me outside of my comfort zone and forced me to get out and hussle. Having to face the process of sales, marketing and the dreaded networking has been incredibly painful for me, but the upside to all this is the massive growth and personal development. I still loathe an evening of networking, but it’s sort of getting easier and I’ve gotten really good at carrying on conversation with strangers. I’ve learned a great deal about myself when I’m in these situations; how to manage the stress and how far to push myself.

The Downs

There is a flip side to the “flexible” schedule. Just because your time is “flexible” doesn’t mean that you can take the afternoon off and the work will magically get done. Being self employed means the work must get done and it must get done on time, or there will be no pay cheque.  Having a flexible schedule can take it’s toll if one is not careful and I’ve been guilty of that many times. Excessive late nights, early mornings and weekends can cause rapid burn out, especially when you are like me and require a full 9 hours of sleep every night just to function. There is a fine balance here to keep clients happy, being there for the family and taking care of yourself. A flexible schedule has forced me to diligently organize my time so every moment is intentional. Recently, I’ve adopted the pomodoro technique and found it to be a fantastic way to be more productive throughout my day.

As Carrie Wilkerson says “The only ‘overnight success’ I am aware of is cold pizza… everything else takes time, consistent effort and persistence to be really great.” IPStudios is in that tough middle part right now. 3 years in and I can’t tell you how many times each week I contemplate throwing in the towel. A number of times I’ve been out doing errands and decided that my dream job is to work on retail cash everyday, punch out at 5 and watch netflix. A steady paycheque and benefits would seem like the solution to many challenges these days. It’s a tough gig to push yourself everyday, especially when you know the only path to growth is through “failure”, as society likes to say. I’ve found the only way to push through is to set clear goals and then recognize that each day is a clean slate to grow a bit more. Each day brings a new opportunity to learn something and get better. To be honest, this has been my biggest challenge. I have a tendency to see the worst in every situation and it takes quite an extraordinary effort on my part to be positive and hopeful. Slowly, with the help of my family and regular meditation, I am getting better at breaking out of the negative trance, to see that life as more than just a list of failures and misunderstanding. But it’s difficult and will always require a focused effort.

What’s next?

Onwards and upwards! Each year our numbers are growing, our client roster is expanding and the projects are getting better. Now that our niche for animated promotional videos has been established, it’s time to focus on growing our target audience. This means, attracting clients who have complicated and interesting stories to tell about products, brands and even research. It means I cannot slack in my efforts and I must remain focused on reaching our markets through new avenues such as networking, blogs and social media.

I am also focusing my energy towards product development – whether that will be animation or illustration, I’m not certain yet. But currently I’m digging in and doing a great deal of research on many graphic and animation marketplaces. I’d like to release some kind of product this year, so I will be doing a big push over the summer. More on that as it develops.

In the meantime, I’m completely stoked to improve my animation skills. Self employment requires consistent self-investment and this means taking part in opportunities such as Animation Bootcamp which I just started this week! 6 weeks of intensive animation training, along with feedback from instructors and cohorts, live webinars and loads of practice. It is already kicking my arse and I can’t wait to show you how much my skills will improve when the course is finished.

So, that’s it. It’s a lot to get out in one post so a huge thank you if you’ve read this far. Here’s to another great year in business! If you can relate to any of these early struggles, I’d love to hear from you in the comments.