To do something to a tee is to do it precisely and properly, something 2AT Founder Toni-Marie Aston knows all about. An entrepreneur with over eight years experience in digital marketing and branding,Toni was motivated to start her own business when she saw how many startups were being turned away by big agencies. Determined to help those with smaller budgets as well as work for herself, Toni launched 2AT in 2015. Since then she has gone on to launch 39 startups and even hire an employee or two. We had a chat to her about the startup community, common business mistakes and overcoming your doubts.
When did you first decide you would like to work for yourself?
When I was about six years old I decided I would get extra pocket money by selling all the little trinkets in the bottom of my school bag and making a profit from that. That was my first entrepreneurial adventure. But I really thought about it, about five or so years ago. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, I just wanted to start something. I launched 2AT just over 2 years ago.
It’s interesting that you say that because both Hannah & Rachel have similar stories. Hannah was selling lollies on the school bus, while Rach had a button business, do you think there’s a type of person who gravitates towards being an entrepreneur?Definitely! I did so many things like that when I was little. My friends and I used to make perfume from water and mushed up flowers in our garden and sell it to adults that thought we were cute. So we were totally taking advantage of it! I definitely think every entrepreneur has a story like that. They might not remember it, and they might not have connected the dots, but definitely.
What’s surprised you about being an entrepreneur? You knew it was going to be hard, but what was unexpected?I didn’t expect two things. One, the startup community. I was completely unaware of it. I thought that people that started their businesses worked from home and slowly graduated to their own private office. I didn’t realise there was this whole realm of startups within the cities and suburbs, in co-share spaces, in cafes, in networking events. And they were all there supporting each other. It wasn’t until I happened to stumble across a network event and be told about it. Then I really immersed myself within it.
The other thing is, I didn’t know how hard and confusing tax was going to be. So my number one word of advice, if numbers aren’t your thing, outsource tax immediately and accounting, and do your financial forecasts straight away.You’re doubly immersed in that start-up culture as you yourself are a startup and your business is about helping other people create their own business. What made you want to help other startups?
Because I know the struggle. I saw people, in a number of ways, not being able to start their business. Sometimes it was due to lack of funds and being turned away from the big agencies or lack of resources etc.. Startups were completely unaware of things they could do themselves, free advice from people, funds, investors, all of that. And others didn’t quite understand what goes into a business, they would say , ‘oh, i just need a logo and then I’m set’, but it’s so much more than that. I wanted to be able to educate start-ups as well as provide a service because I just wanted to help them. There was no other strategy behind it.
What do you think is the most common mistake that people make when starting a business?They don’t acknowledge their weaknesses. They try and do everything themselves and don’t realise that if you’re not a website designer, and you try and invest hours and hours and weeks into building a website, you’re not putting a value on your time. They don’t realise that their time is value, when they could just put that money into outsourcing. I also see a lot of startups not educating themselves on how a business runs or what branding is before they start.
What advice would give someone who came to you and said they wanted to start a business?I have that everyday! If they were younger, I would say to work for somebody first and see the ins and outs of a business. Work for different size businesses - work for a start-up, work for a small business, work for a large business. Just so you can see how they all run. I also studied small business for a few months before I launched 2AT, so I could learn everything about business. Because you might be an amazing designer, or you might have a product, but usually you don’t know a lot about business itself. And do it because you’re passionate! Startups need to be passionate.
A lot of people talk about having doubts as a start-up. Is this something you struggle with?You can’t doubt yourself as a start up, if you doubt yourself no one is going to believe in you. There’s a saying that says, ‘you only have to be the smartest person in the room’, so generally, I only have to be smarter than my clients in digital marketing and branding. So if you can do that, that’s how you overcome it. It’s also realising that you have to be your own cheerleader. You can’t rely on other people to motivate you or Instagram quotes. You have to motivate yourself and you can’t doubt your product. If you doubt your product...maybe get a new one. Because you need to believe in it. If somebody tells you that it’s not good enough, you need to believe it enough and keep going.