Learning when to take a start-up break

my-best-mistake-20120615-thumbEntrepreneurs are often loathe to take holidays, not wanting to turn their attention away from their new venture for even a day.

 

But as Jocelyn Hunter found out, failing to take a break can do more harm than good.

 

Hunter is the founder of BENCH PR, a Melbourne-based public relations company specialising in IT public relations and business-to-business public relations.

 

After spending 10 years in the United Kingdom, working for both tech PR agencies and a software company in-house, Hunter and her husband moved to Australia in 2006.

 

“I came out here on a round-the-world trip – Australia was one of the places on our tickets. We got to Melbourne and loved it,” Hunter says.

 

“I got a job working in the corporate and finance team at PPR, and decided to stay in Melbourne.”

 

“I had to start over again – my contacts and knowledge of UK publications and outlets were useless to me in Australia, so I started building up those contacts here.”

 

“For the first time, I started working for non tech companies but I always found the work for the tech companies more interesting.”

 

After identifying a gap in the market, Hunter set up BENCH PR in 2008.

 

“I could see the number of tech companies growing in response to the various incubators and start-up funds available,” she says.

 

“I could see that more and more tech companies were popping up in Melbourne, and there wasn’t really an agency that specialised in technology that could service them.”

 

“I thought, well I know these guys have PR agencies but [those agencies] do lots of other stuff as well.”

 

“I thought, if that’s all they do, surely there are tech companies in Melbourne that have a requirement for PR support… I just stopped at that.”

 

Nine months after setting up her business, Hunter returned to the UK for what was meant to be a holiday. However, she couldn’t drag herself away from the demands of her business.

 

“I just found the whole holiday thing really quite tough… The time you’re spending with your friends and family [isn’t necessarily quality time],” she says.

 

“You have to work in a relatively new business, so you’re making sure you’re working hard for your clients.”

 

After struggling to switch off, Hunter decided to forgo a return to the UK the following year. But it was a big mistake.

 

“In 2010, I decided not to go back – it was too stressful. The business had doubled its turnover on the previous year and I couldn’t face [leaving] it,” she says.

 

“By not going back in 2010, I was just exhausted. I realised there was no way I could possibly service all the clients myself,” she says.

 

After acknowledging how important holidays are, Hunter finally hired several staff members, enabling her to not only manage the business better but take that much-needed trip back home.

 

“I took on two staff in 2010 and two in 2011, which meant that I could leave to go back to the UK last year, and have just come back from my trip this year,” she says.

 

“They could contact me but only if they really needed to. I set the boundaries right from the start, and everyone knew what they had to do.”

 

“I think now that I’ve been back this year and last year, the business is in a lot better shape than if I’d continued on my own and tried to do everything myself.”

 

“As a business owner, you really have to stop the control freak tendencies – you’re just making a rod for your own back.”

 

Now servicing 10 clients, BENCH PR expects to double its turnover from last year, particularly as its client base starts to look outside Australia.

 

“[The current staffing level is] working for now although there is a possibility to perhaps grow the team into Asia,” Hunter says.

 

“Clients want to go into English-speaking countries in Asia. I think that’s where the opportunity is.”

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