By Mia Fileman, cofounder and Australian Director of Idiello, a creative marketing startup helping brands and professionals DIY their marketing.
Why are we so quick to label things as a success of failure? And by we, I really mean me.
Almost a decade ago now I quit working in big brand marketing and moved to Queensland where I started my first business, a marketing consultancy, from my dining room table. I was so excited to help small businesses punch above their weight and was full of optimism. I hired my first ever employee and everything was bliss. It was uncomplicated, it was fun, we were killing it. It wasn’t long before we needed to grow our team and move out of my house.
When I found out my husband and I were being posted 4000km away I paid the world’s worst recruiter $5000 (a fortune at the time…actually, still a fortune) to find me someone to run the show while I went to set up in our new home in Darwin. But after only three weeks I discovered my new manager had been quietly stealing all of our IP and bad-mouthing us to clients.
It turns out that because I wasn’t in town to keep things running he was essentially planning to pick the bones out of my agency and use it to start his own. Soul crushing really.
And all of this happened at the same time I found out I was pregnant.
By the time we were done with lawyers, I had lost all of my staff and quite a few of my clients. I practically had to start over but this time from across the country. And then I met Shana, an angel from heaven and we went about rebuilding together.
I made 6 trips from the NT to Queensland that year, all while expecting. By the end, the 4.5-hour flight plus the 2.5-hour drive down the highway had me literally in tears. It was brutal, but we did it.
I was determined to make lemonade from these lemons right up until that baby arrived, which in hindsight only made the next stage of the journey so much more difficult.
I worked right up until the few hours before Jimmy was born. I had my laptop in the hospital, not wanting to miss a single email or call for help as if eNewsletters and Facebook posts were life and death. But that’s the thing when it’s your business, up until that day it was my one and only baby, and I’d gotten so close to losing it the year before I didn’t want to let motherhood unravel all of my hard work.
The day we brought James home; I knew something wasn’t right. With me.
I was so used to being in control. But no matter how many books I read or spreadsheets I made, motherhood was a test I felt like I was failing.
It came out of what seemed like nowhere. All of a sudden I was submerged in this icy postnatal anxiety that was such misery I shudder just recalling it.
After 4 months of hell, I emerged from the dark cloud that had completely enveloped me and was ready to pour myself back into the agency and take the next big leap. Almost a year after emerging from postnatal anxiety I convinced my bestie Alanah to quit her job and come work with me building up the Darwin side of the business.
People constantly warn you not to employ your friends, but I call bull$hit on that. If you’ve surrounded yourself in your personal life with like-minded people who are just as gutsy and passionate as you are, people you can trust, then f*%k yeah! Nobody will love your business as much as they do.
Marketing had changed and so had we. We had grown up, innovated and decided we weren’t going to put up with nonsense anymore, like our bills not getting paid and told how long things should take to do.
We re-branded to Rigani and started running strategic workshops all over Darwin. It was insane, in the very best way.
Darwin was a breeding ground for small businesses all looking for help with finding their direction; it was exactly what I’d left the big brands for in the first place.
We found ourselves getting emotionally invested in every single business we came across, going out of our way for them, doing things we weren’t being paid for. We were burning out physically and emotionally riding every high and low with our brands and watching our bottom line sink further and further away from us in the process.
By 2016 Rigani had been treading water for a few years.
I made the call to invest big, hoping to take us to that next level. Pregnant again and not wanting to repeat the mistakes from my first baby, I was determined to find a big gun Director so I could take maternity leave. I called in reinforcements from my brand manager days in Melbourne and brought my seriously talented friend Lauren on while I took a much-needed break.
This did three things:
1. We stopped undercharging. Lauren was the numbers gal and made us recognise the value and prestige of the team we had assembled. No more undercharging and overdelivering!
(Actually, that’s a lie, we continued to overdeliver).
2. We refined our services and systems. Our collection of IP grew exponentially and our clients saw measurable results.
3. We entered a new client bracket. Without intending to, I had built the agency into a service that the small businesses I had started this hoping to help could no longer afford.
We were now treading deep water just hoping to catch a big fish but drowned in the process.
Then Lauren received an opportunity that could not be passed up. She left with my wholehearted blessing, but that left me at a crossroads. Return to work with a 3-year-old and a 5-month-old and go about rebuilding AGAIN? Or cut my losses?”
By October 2017, my agency was losing money every.single.month. We flirted with an airline client, they led us on, but it never amounted to anything except a lot of our time invested. We jumped through all the hoops to work with Government but the phone was yet to ring. We hooked a big education client in Melbourne but it was fleeting.
When Lauren left we were $120K in the red and I had a 5-month-old daughter who needed me. Fixing this wasn’t going to be a picnic.
It would mean some hard decisions, serious cost-cutting, policing the time tracking like a hawk and dumping some much loved but poor paying clients to make room for…well, paying ones.
I deliberated hard and ultimately I realised that somewhere along the way, the light had gone out for me. My passion for the work we were doing had faded and I wasn’t prepared to give up those precious few months with my daughter.
I made the hardest decision of my career and decided to cut my losses on the agency. I had to go about unpicking everything I had spent all of these years building.
Incredibly, all of the team were massively supportive so that made the logistics easier. But I felt like I had failed. Like this was it, this is what my career surmounted to. This was the very definition of failure, right?
For those who know me, I have never struggled with self-doubt, but closing my agency had me shook.
After spending my career in marketing managing big brands like Vegemite and Maybelline, running my own business for years, all of a sudden people would ask my advice and I would think, who am I to give this person any advice? I actually found myself saying to them, “what do I know?” I was in a hole.
So much so, that when the Northern Territory Government called with the brief of a lifetime I almost didn’t bother.
Thankfully Lana was there to get me out of my funk. She dove headfirst with me into the Government project and I started to find my voice again.
In 2018, the year that my business failed, was the best year of my life. And this government brief was just the tip…
Alanah and I accepted the call from the NT Government and so I worked from home, part-time, with my best friend, doing the most rewarding and meaningful work of my entire career.
I worked almost exclusively with the public sector, coming up with creative campaigns for things like getting more teachers in our classrooms and recruiting more social workers and nurses. It was incredible. I felt that adrenalin rush I used to get at the start of my career. I felt my confidence sew itself back together.
I made back all of the money my business had lost the years prior, and I did it while being a ‘present’ Mum.
After nearly 5 years in Darwin though I knew the clock was running out on this Defence posting, so it came as no surprise when Lana and I both received posting orders within a few weeks of each other. She was heading to California and I was heading to Newcastle, NSW.
It’s so cliche to say things fall apart to make way for better things (plus it’s a quote from How I Met Your Mother), but gawd damn it, Ted Mosby, you’re so right.
When Lana came to me with the idea for Idiello only a few short weeks before we both left the Top End, I knew it was time to pull the curtain on my agency for good. But for an entirely different reason than “failure”. And this time, I’m choosing to see it differently. I’m ending on a high.
As a mum of two, a business owner, and with my husband away serving in the military – it was far from easy but provided an opportunity to learn my resilience and uncover my need for a business model that could not only accommodate but support my lifestyle, and also share my gifts with the business community.
Idiello allows me to maximise my limited time and resources and unleash my creative side without driving myself into the ground.
By providing this creative solution to other small business owners, they too will have more time and creative bandwidth to be able to focus on the things they love.