What Artlivemedia founder Michelle Bourke has learnt from creating a $1.3 million digital agency in just two years

Michelle Bourke Artlivemedia

Michelle Bourke started her digital agency Artlivemedia back in 2014. In just two years, the business has grown to turn over around $1.3 million and has snapped up a number of high-profile clients, including IAG Insurance and Public Transport Victoria.

Bourke also sits on the board of Startup Victoria, and spends her spare time mentoring young founders. SmartCompany caught up with Bourke to find out what she’s learnt from creating a fast-growing digital agency and her advice for budding entrepreneurs. 

I started off in industrial marketing and then worked for Telstra for many years.

The things I noticed about many agencies were things that included not just lack of detail, but lack of understanding [that] as a customer, you care about the return.

Think about where your industry is going to be in five years and plan to meet that moment.

We’ve never been in a situation where one clients has made up more than 25% of our revenue. You have to be cautious around your ability to handle risk.

When you see businesses at the cusp of, and being able to take advantage of a big shift, it’s because they’ve been watching and planning to meet that moment.

I stay on top of the news. But it’s more than that – you have to go to events, speak to people and be on the ground.

If you’re a business owner and you’re working in your business, not on it, you won’t have time to succeed.

Just like work-life balance is a constant balancing act, I think control, letting go and delegation is a constant balancing act. You need to create a balance between your need for perfection and your desire to grow. You can’t have both.

There is also no way you can grow a business without putting processes in place. They’re your lifeline to getting things done.

No one is going to love your business as much as you do and you can’t expect them to.

Sales is something that does not happen by itself. Particularly in this business, when you’re talking about tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars, businesses want to talk to a very senior person.

If I were to start again, I would wish I would have started networking earlier.

A lot of people who are motivated, hard workers are typical type A personalities. I prioritised getting stuff done. I didn’t think strategically about what building networks would do for me.

I look back and I think I could have gotten to where I am now five years earlier if I thought strategically about my networks a lot earlier in life.

My partner once said to me, “you treat your business so strategically, why don’t you think about people that way?” As soon as I started doing that, it made it a lot easier to connect the dots.

Know your customer. Don’t separate yourself from them – and understand their pain. Just listen.

It’s extremely painful to put yourself out there. No one likes doing it. But do what’s painful.

If it feels uncomfortable to you, that’s probably a good sign. It means your pushing through that boundary.

The reality is, no one cares about your idea; they’re working on their own ideas.

So share your idea and get feedback. If you work in a bubble, it’s very unlikely you’re going to be successful. Get in line and stay in line.

If you’re an entrepreneur, you can become distracted by stuff and by the monotony and the stress. But in order to be successful, you need to stop being distracted and focus on this one thing.

If you’re someone who’s sitting in a corporate right now, know that you can’t build a business on the side. You have to commit.

If you’re an entrepreneur, take the risk. If you don’t quit your day job, then you’re not doing the idea justice.

But before you quit your day job, actually ask how you know people are going to buy what you sell. Who needs it? What is the future demand?

If you can answer those questions, then it’s a good business idea.

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