BEHIND THE HUSTLE :: Sharing your start-line stories to inspire your why and dig deeper into your how game.
This week, we managed to hold down the creative, energetic force that is Sarah O’Brien, Founder of The Whole Creative, Manly, Sydney, for a couple of mins to dig deeper into her busy world of events and supporting small business dreams! She shared her highs and lows of biz, the passion that keeps her excited and why running her own thing is worth every minute of the whole, crazy, journey.
Ok, let’s do this….
1. What’s the Instagram Story moment you are livin’ right now?
I’m on VA1141 flying to Ballina/Splendour and it’s 2:27pm Thursday July 21. I booked this flight last night at 1:15am and managed to score myself seat 3F, which means front row, heaps of legroom, and a window. Here’s to being spontaneous…(aka disorganised).
2. Million dollar question – what do you guys DO?
I run a creative agency called The Whole Creative. We’re passionate about working with small businesses to offer them a one-stop-shop of (pretty much) everything they need to get up and running: branding/graphic design, web development, marketing strategies, entertainment & event management, photography, videography and pop up fit-outs/builds.
My team is made up of 5 people who are all individually awesome in these fields… We tend to work a lot with venues in the hospitality industry, but aren’t limited to that.
At any one time we’ll have a few retainer clients and juggle a handful of one-off or short term jobs. A general project for us looks like this: A start up or small business owner is referred to TWC for something like a logo design… and fast track a couple of months we’ve built their website, designed all their branded collateral like menus, business cards and promo flyers, created a marketing strategy, thrown a launch party for them, and are now managing their social media accounts/EDM’s/advertising strategy. It’s pretty bloody awesome to go along that journey with someone and be just as stoked as they are seeing the business grow and kick goals.
3. Straight to the heart – what do you LOVE about your biz?
Pretty much everything. I love that every day is a whole new adventure; that’s the nature of having so many clients, and varied at that. I love not being tied down to a desk Mon-Fri 9-5, or working for one boss/company. I love that I get to work with my best friends who inspire me daily with their talent, and support me when I feel a bit overwhelmed. I love that I am able to still travel the world and work… I love that every now and then (like right now!) I can take off on a Thursday to Byron and fit my work around it.
I love seeing a client get excited with our ideas and see them come to fruition. It’s pretty special to be able to offer them an all encompassing solution and support network.
4. Now we get real. What have you had to trade, to sacrifice, to do what you love everyday?
Ah how many words have I got here? J Let’s be real, there’s a lot.
The 2 things that affect me most are the fact it’s generally hard to give 100% attention to friends/lovers/people when you’re hanging out with them because you’ve got phone calls and emails and notifications coming in… which is around the clock when your clients are in hospitality and/or you’re managing social media accounts. It’s pretty hard to switch off and you almost always have your phone in your hand. But it’s that type of ‘on call/fast turnaround’ service which has made our clients stay with us – and refer more work our way, so I guess that’s just how it has to be.
The other big sacrifice would be money, or lack thereof. But it’s just part of being in the early years of a small business. I’ve watched friends climb the corporate ladder to earn double or even triple than what I am, doing half the amount of hours. It’s hard not to feel like a failure when you work so hard but are constantly scrambling for coin. At the end of the day it comes down to priorities – right now I am happier trading consistent cash flow for the freedom to travel and choose who and what I want to work with. Eventually I’ll have both.
5. When you have your quiet moments, what makes you feel genuinely happy?
My friends. I’ve got to be one of the luckiest people in the world with the insane amount of incredible people I get to hang out with. We laugh incessantly, there is a lot of love and support thrown around, everyone’s always up for an adventure, and even though I can be a bit crap at keeping in touch– they all look out for me and are really understanding and make the effort.
Music’s a huge feature of my life too and generally on from the moment I wake up until I go to bed. Finding new tunes for friends and getting them psyched on it, or just bashing around on the drums is guaranteed happiness for SOB.
I also love getting out of Manly/Sydney as much as possible. Trips to the mountains, down or up the coast, out to the country. Whatever. Just get me on the road, in the fresh air or in the ocean with minimal amount of people around please and thank you.
Can’t go past mentioning my family too- I’m really lucky to have so much love and support from my parents, 2 brothers and sister. They’re there for me at the drop of a hat, and show me so much kindness it’s incredible (even though I don’t see them that much and once spent a whole week in FIJI for a family holiday on my laptop the entire time…sorry mum!)
6. Share a moment that felt like, “YES I’m winning!”
Getting a call from WWF to create and organize a huge outdoor event in Manly for Earth Hour after they loved a street festival series I did was pretty rad. Renting an office space and having the team together was an awesome feeling, like TWC had actually become what I first dreamt about. Winning the bid to get our current biggest client the Coogee Bay Hotel in December last year – beating other agencies and more experienced individuals I dare say – was a huge highlight too.
7. Now share a moment that felt like, “Why am I doing this again?”
Well there’s been a few that’s for sure. I’ve thought about giving up on TWC so many times, generally when I’ve hit the wall of exhaustion, or become sick of my bank card declining.
Lowest point thought would have to be last June, 2015… I’d been slogging away for over a year at trying to get a community focused event concept called Street Socials off the ground that had won the support of a number of councils and a heap of people, but unfortunately just couldn’t secure enough sponsorship dollars to get it happening. So with about 2 months to go until it was set to launch at 3 locations across Sydney, I had to pull the pin which was really heartbreaking. I’d put so many hours into it, had enlisted the help of so many others who’d put their time into it too, plus had developed these great relationships with council and I felt like I really let everyone down and failed massively. That was hard to take and rattled me for a long time.
8. How did you navigate that? What mental shift happened for you?
Well it took going through that experience to make me take a step back and look at what TWC had become, and realise that it had shifted from what I had originally set out to do. In working on that community concept, I had become very focused on the event side of things… and after taking some time off to go to the USA I thought about the business and decided I wanted to bring it back to being all about start-ups and small business, and offering that wide skill set of services that TWC originally set out to do. So I guess the holiday, the space and free time and some amazing friends helped get me back on track.
9. What’s your coffee religion and how do you worship?
Daily Batch Brew from Showbox in Manly.
10. What kick ass daily habits do you have that would make Tim Ferris jealous?
To be honest I’m fairly all over the shop and routine is not my jam haha.
I try to exercise 4-5 times a week along the beach front in the AM; I do lots of thinking then. I have a coffee & debrief with my housemate Rach most mornings. I have music playing in the background when I work. I’m trying to make a habit of checking through all my emails from the last 24 hours and organize my to do list/priorities when I first sit down in the morning. Stepping outside for some deep breaths of fresh air every couple of hours is great too.
11. How do you switch the light on in the ideas factory?
More like HOW CAN I STOP GENERATING IDEAS. It’s a curse. My brain is generally on hyperdrive 80% of the time and sparks just fly. There are times though which are more inspiring than others… I go to a lot of events, festivals, art shows and activations to see what people are doing and I generally come home scribbling a bunch of things in my notebook and having taken nothing short of 300+ photos. Melbourne always gets the brain ticking too, a trip down there is one of my favourite things to do and they just nail design, décor and hospitality so well.
I also check out a lot of music/arts/culture blogs and newsletters when I can, and have lots of incredible people from all walks of life around me to draw inspiration from.
12. If you could jump in a time machine and advise your startup biz self – what would you say?
Get a mentor or seek counsel from experienced/successful people early on and bounce ideas off them continuously before I did anything solid.
Value my time and ideas better and charge for it.
Trust my gut instinct and say NO a hell of a lot lot more to jobs/clients that didn’t sit right with me.
Spend time making sure all my assets were in order from the get go– great branding, a great website, and a solid mission statement.
13. What biz advice would you give a fellow dreamer making the leap into their own thing?
Write the vision for your business and your core beliefs as to what it is and isn’t about on a wall somewhere you’ll see every day. Read it every morning and when you’re weighing up an idea or making a decision on something, reflect on that and ask ‘will this tick all those boxes?’, and if it doesn’t, change direction or drop it.
14. What’s on your plate comin’ up and how tasty will it be?
LOADS! Coogee Bay Hotel is launching a brand new menu, and reviving the iconic Selina’s for a new night of free live music on Thursdays, plus a heap of cool Spring/Summer events.
We’re kicking off some social media strategy/management projects with new clients in Victoria, and I’ve just been asked to create a bunch of playlists for Melbourne’s Art Series Hotel groups for their in-house sound system. Dream gig!
The thing I’m most excited about though is launching a new series of workshops this Spring: a quick 101 across the services we offer – design / marketing / events / web – for start-ups and small business owners. I realised the team and I have so much knowledge and experience between us, and we’re such people persons, why not make the most of it!
15. 3 words that describe you. No thinking, just from the gut.
Following a friend poll, I got: Passionate. Engaging. Driven.
Thanks Sarah, you’ve nailed it yet again.
Want to know more? Head to The Whole Creative for all the juice on Sarah and her team.
Image credit: Holly Graham / Instagram @SevenIsYellow