Mistakes we made going from freelancers to company owners

James Chambers
James Chambers, Co-founder
4 min read
4 min read

When Tom and I started Chambers Judd (as Animade was then known), we were effectively two freelancers sat in a room. Over time more people arrived, the company name changed and as I write, we’re up to 20 odd people. We now sit in a nicer room (it has windows).

Looking back on the last few years it’s astonishing to think how we ran things in the beginning, and the pain we could have saved ourselves had we done a couple of things differently. So to that end, I’ve compiled a list of blunders and subsequent lessons learned.

Don't drop everything as soon as people ask

I’ll caveat this by saying if you have skills people need, it is, of course, important to use them in the most helpful way you can. Inevitably when a project launches, there are tweaks and adjustments to be made as it gets out into the wild. It’s just the way it is.

There is a balance to be struck between being helpful and overworking yourself. I’ve found that if you instantly stop what you’re doing and carry out each request as it happens your day can very quickly fill up with bits and bobs without getting a good run of time on anything.

Yes, some emails with the subject line “URGENT!!!” genuinely are urgent, but in reality, they are few and far between. Know the difference between urgent and important, and try to gather small tasks and favours as they come in during the day. Then you’ll be able to tick them off in one big lump once the important work is done.

Get a handle on cash flow

Possibly our biggest blunder. For a surprising amount of time, Tom and I didn't know with any real certainty how long we could keep going with the money we had in the bank. We just winged it job to job, safe in the knowledge that larger numbers were better than smaller ones. We were lucky, and this worked for a while, probably longer than it should have. There were two of us and reasonably predictable overheads, so we got away with it.

However, one cold November morning in 2010 when we finally sat down and put together a spreadsheet, we realised things weren’t quite as we’d like them. It emerged that in about four weeks we wouldn’t have enough money in the bank to keep going, and those four weeks fell over Christmas (i.e. when no-one is commissioning new work). Huh.

In the end, we scraped together some small jobs here and there, and we got through it. But if we hadn’t sat down and gone through the figures when we did, I wouldn’t be sat here writing this today.

Bottom line–get an accountant. Or at the very least a spreadsheet.

Put company money in one pot

The financial side of things was one of the more daunting aspects we faced at the start. Something I'd encourage anyone who starts working with other people to do is open a company account, and pay all company money into and out of it.

A company bank account seems like it would be mostly logistics, but I think that initially, the most valuable benefit is psychological. Particularly in the early days, a company is a fragile thing indeed. Running all your company finances out of one bank account is not only more professional but creates a sense that everyone is pulling in the same direction.

Applying these lessons

Part of all this was just the rough and tumble of starting up. Picking holes with the benefit of hindsight is easy. But we could have made life easier for ourselves if we’d gotten into some good habits a little earlier.

What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments.

James Chambers
About the Author

James Chambers is the co-founder of Boords, and one of the founding directors of Animade

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