I’m 28 and for the past 10 years I guess I could be described as someone burning the candle at both ends. A phrase that is perhaps a close second place to my Mum’s number one favorite “Your working yourself to death”
Well for me that phrase finally hit home a few months ago.
Some of you guys will remember my good friend Bilal. He’s another crazy hours worker here in china and our “shift patterns” cross over most days. With a 12 hour time difference to his largest customer market base he has to work when he should be sleeping in order to talk to his customers, usually 7pm till 3 am. During the day he has the usual running around to do meaning sleeping time and rest are cut.
Coupled with a poor diet due to slim food choices here, heavy smoking due to stress and lack of exercise due to time constraints Bilal would definitely give my mother a panic attack.
About 3 months ago it caught up with him and after dinner one night his right lung collapsed and we had to rush him to hospital. Well actually we had to take him to several as we had difficultly finding one that spoke English and would take him in. In a strange twist of fate Bilal, a successful business man who is turning over big numbers each month, found himself fighting for his life in a dirty hospital corridor in what felt like a 1950’s war scene. We all have to remember that at times like this we are only human.
It hit us then just how far away from home we are and just how it can all go wrong very quickly. After the chest X-rays we found out Bilal had a pocket of air and liquid between his chest wall and his lung that was filling thus compressing his lungs, his left lung was now also at risk of collapsing. He needed an operation to drain the pocket right now. Problem was this hospital could not perform it for several days due to a very apparent staff shortage.
We are all members of a gold studded VIP platinum luxury private diamond encrusted western medical practice but after speaking to the doctors in this hospital none of them would perform this operation due to the risk of moving him. We eventually found a place that would perform the operation and we moved him there. I stood in on the operation as he shared a table with another patient who was getting his eyes operated on. It was a head to toe set up, the kind you did when your best mate slept over when you were 12 – pretty shocking to see in these circumstances.
After a week he was able to come home. Reality checks don’t come much harder than that. He has now quit smoking, joined our gym and is trying to cut down the working hours. A month after recovery we took our first weekend off work for months and headed out on our pit bikes.
In a small expat community where we all have this similar lifestyle it made us realise that it really is not good for us living like this.
It seems I had not quite learned my lesson fully and the man upstairs took it upon himself to give me a little reminder to slow down. I picked up a really bad flu in china around the start of December. This was pretty much a standard man flu for a week where i made a lot of dramatic sneezes and pined for Heinz tomato soup as my girlfriend brought me various Chinese versions, most of which I left on the bedside table.
After a week or so of this I slipped into a feverish strain of Asian flu and was actually in a pretty bad way. Its seemingly not publicised very much here but around 7 people died of this in the time I had it, was quite scary. A string of medications and treatments seemed to hold it at bay and 2 weeks later I was able to go home and catch a flight to England on the 23rd December. I was relieved to get through immigration as the doctor had said my fever might stop me from being allowed to pass through the infra red body heat scan area.
After 2 days in the UK I was really sick again and the time was treated by English doctors – I’m not sure now which were better. Initially he seemed pretty certain I had malaria and I was in a pretty delirious state in and out of bed for a few more weeks. I was further worried by the vagueness of the diagnosis and the general consensus that after 10 months in east Asia I “Could have anything”. My stress levels were not helping, as you can imagine 5 weeks of me not being able to respond to emails and Skype had created a lot of issues and my staff back In China were struggling to keep up.
After my latest set of bloodwork came back clear I decided to head back to china to catch up, still feeling a bit sick but just about recovered. I guess I will never actually know what was wrong with me but I do know I was sailing close to the wind.
What can I learn from this? I guess I have genuinely been working 20 hour days for pretty much 10 months solid now with very little time off work. I have read online about a lot of people working this way and I just thought I had to put up or shut up. I do believe in working hard but I feel that perhaps over the past year I have not been working as smart as I would like to. Looking back, a lot of the jobs I have been doing could have been delegated but being the type of person I am I don’t really like to delegate. I guess now I need to change my mindset.
I have had a good 2012 and business has grown more than I though possible, it is apparent now that in order to grow I need to pass on some job roles that don’t necessarily need to be done by me to some of the staff I have here. Throughout this past year I have been a sourcing runner, container packer, web designer, fabric delivery driver, cake eater, buyer, carton designer, market researcher, and product tester to name but a few. As entrepreneurs we can all say that we have at one time or another done pretty much every job role possible to get out ideas airborne, I guess when it’s airborne you need to start passing these jobs on to others.
Those of you who follow my blog will know the crazy journey I have been on in the past year. As I continue to move forwards I have to be conscious that my business growth does not effect my business service. Not an easy thing to do.
As I said, delegation has never been my strong point. I like to do everything myself, I trust myself and over the years I have come to rely on myself. I find it difficult to outsource a task to a third party our a member of my team. Clearly this kind of thinking is counterproductive and as we continue to up our production in the factory and expand our trading company I have to find a new way of operating.
So there are changes ahead. All of which I have been putting off in an effort to keep as much control over things as possible. Most of which I should not have been putting off at all. Being away from work without an infrastructure in place to soak it up has caused me a lot of issues. Going forwards I am putting measures in place to ensure this does not happen again.
Firstly I am expanding our office here to take on more skilled product sourcing staff. This will allow us to better serve our existing client base while taking on and turning around more customers both big and small. We currently get a very high volume of sales leads and up until now I have been doing the majority of the customer liaison and product procurement myself. I love talking to new customers, learning about their projects and history but it has now become unfeasible for me to do all of this myself.
I’m open to suggestions on how best to do this but for the mean time initial product sourcing will be taken care of by our growing team here with me handling the quality control and order finalisation. Each customer will have an account manager here who will be their point of contact in China.
I’m looking at some kind of online platform we can use to update each order process as it goes along allowing each customer to see updates on the projects we are working on together and allowing several staff members here to add various input and updates to the project easily. This inevitably points towards some changes on this blog, it will become a bit more structured to reflect us as a business and not just me rambling on.
I have taken on an English member of staff based in the UK with the view to opening an office and showroom there later this year. Sam and I have worked together on a number of projects since being 14. He is visiting us later this month for an induction and to arrange samples for the showroom. This UK base will have its obvious advantages for my European customers both new and old. In time I will also replicate this with other projects I am working on in other countries.
My factory has been a bit of a surprise for me and I’m happy that I seem to have made a good decision for once. I am currently expanding the machinery we have to increase our production capabilities, even looking beyond garments. To celebrate here is a man selling balloons near our office, though he looks somewhat less happy than me
China has been a good move for me, there is certainly a lot of opportunity here and I want to share that as much as possible, like I said I am open to ideas on how best to do so and will be implementing the ideas I mentioned above over the next few weeks.
For the moment I have a lot of orders to catch up with.
Thanks for the continued interest in my story.