[In this reprinted #altdevblogaday-opinion piece, Nameless founder Tiffany Smith shares the five pieces of advice she wishes someone had given her before starting her own studio -- so you don't have to make the same mistakes!]
1. However much money you think you'll need to start a business, you should take that number and double it
I thought I had strategically planned every penny when I first started, but I had no idea that there would be so many unanticipated costs. Since we have a home office, I use temporary commercial office space and conference solutions for meetings and demonstrations. We always like to buy lunch for our clients, and we like them to lunch well.
By the time everything is factored in, depending on how many people will be at lunch, you could be looking at a cool grand just as a baseline. Being a good host is very important, and it's something that in my mind should not be skimped on, but it's expensive. These costs are just a few; we have also incurred other unexpected expenses from things like travel to business taxes.
2. Doing business with friends should be approached very carefully
I have lost a friend because of a business deal gone wrong. Hopefully it will be the only one, but it did happen. Had I thought about it beforehand, the situation may have been avoided. When you do business with friends, you tend to think of contracts as unnecessary, but they are very necessary.
Nobody wants to go back and forth on a contract with a friend; you start to feel like you're saying you don't trust them. It's like asking someone to marry you, and then asking them to sign a prenuptial agreement. What happened to the trust? I'm not saying it's true for marriage, but a contract is absolutely necessary for a business agreement, no matter how close you are to the person on the other end of the deal.
3. Be cautious about deals with payment on the back end
We seem to get a lot of this type of proposition; it might be because we are such a small company, and thus we're taken a little less seriously, or maybe it's because we look like suckers, I don't know. Either way, we are often approached by people who want us to revamp, port, or update their game, and they'll pay us "when the game makes money".
It's almost always a bad idea and here's why:
- Hollywood accounting. The practice in which people inflate their costs in order to make it look like they spent more money in production than they did, just so that they may pocket the change. Wikipedia explains it way better than I can
- If the game doesn't make anything, you don't either. People are very quick to tell you how their great FPS -- which you've strangely never heard of -- sold so well on the 360 several years ago that they now want to bring it to PS3, and we're the lucky company that they approached to make the deal.
- This kind of ties in to the last point; it costs money to make money. The problem with back end deals is that you don't know how much you're going to make, if anything, so you can't budget effectively. It's an all-out gamble as to whether you'll get out as much or more than you put in.
We have had two situations where we were completely ripped off. Do I sound a little jaded? It's because I want my money! You know who you are if you're reading.
4. You'll sacrifice a lot of time
Setting your own hours is a wonderful thing, and I imagined a cushy little offset schedule so that I could avoid the hustle and bustle of the rest of the rat race. Eating lunch at silly times and generally just working when I felt like it. Nope, not at all. I work all hours, and when I'm not working, I still find myself thinking about work. This was never the case when I worked for anyone else. It was so much easier to leave the job at work.
5. Motivation is hard when times aren't good
There are days when you just want to throw it all in and go work for somebody else. Motivation comes in different forms for different people. For me, it comes with needing to make ends meet. Not only do my husband Rob and I work in the same industry at the same profession but we also both work at the same company, and we are the only two people who can keep it going. If this goes wrong, we could be in a bad place very quickly.
If there is an overall lesson that I have learned with regard to starting up my own business, and if I could sum it up in fewer words, I would say that I think a business should be thought of like a tiny little baby that needs to be nurtured and loved in order to grow. A new business is a tiny little entity that requires your undivided attention in order for it to thrive. You're going to make mistakes in raising it, but you have to keep reassessing and making the best decisions you can every single step of the way.
[This piece was reprinted from #AltDevBlogADay, a shared blog initiative started by @mike_acton devoted to giving game developers of all disciplines a place to motivate each other to write regularly about their personal game development passions.]