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20 Things I’d Tell Myself Before I Started a Business

February 1, 2013

About one year ago, I set out to start my own business.  As of this writing, our business has not folded, I have not quit, I have not been committed, and I’m not burned out yet.  So far, so good. I’m continually learning and hopefully bettering myself, and I hope that never changes.  At the core of owning your own business is the unrelenting desire to succeed as an individualist on your own terms.  Cubicles and bosses and HR reps be damned.  This is about more than money to me, owning my own business is about changing things, about doing things my way, and about overcoming whatever comes at me.  I’m still broke, I’m still stressed, and I’m still scared. But I’m happy.  The more business owners I meet, the more I see that even when the money is tight and the obligations pile up, most of us still prefer this self-invoked insanity to a cushy nine-to-five job.  For the first time in my life, I’m proud of what I do and I’m excited to do it.  That’s a rare feeling.  If I could go back in time to last year, there are many things I would tell myself to make the road less bumpy.  I’ve enjoyed every bump, but a little less stress and a little more sleep would have probably been better for my social life and my sleep schedule.  Being a fan of lists and bullet points, I’ve arranged the 20 things I would tell myself before we started out.

1. “Dude, relax.”  I still say it to myself roughly 5 times an hour.  But it really is the most important mantra for a business owner to possess.  No, you can’t possibly know everything you need to know when you start out. Your nest egg isn’t big enough, your network isn’t vast enough, and your skill set isn’t fully developed yet.  But that’s the point.  you learn the really crucial, really tough stuff by striving to get better.  Go easy on yourself.

2. Get a bunch of mentors.  I’ve been lucky enough to have good people take me under their wing and show me the ropes.  Never have too much pride to let someone help.  That’s the beauty of this whole thing, right? We get to look at what others have done and learn.  Find people you trust and let them help.

3. Read. There is no greater tool at your disposal than books.  You learn from reading. The minute you stop learning, your business is dead.

4. Thrive on stress, but don’t let it paralyze you.  There is a threshold within us all for stress.  It’s different for everyone.  Get right up to that threshold and try to stay there.  That’s where you work the best.  Once you pass it, walk away and recharge.  Fear will paralyze you.  Paralysis is bad in just about any sense of the word.  Know your limits, respect them, but don’t be afraid of expanding them.  Just know the difference between pushing your limits and being overwhelmed.

5. Stay Competitive.  In every business owner is the desire to be better than the competition.  It’s easy to settle for ‘good enough.’  It is also unacceptable.  If you ever lose the edge or will to win, you’ve got to get back to the drawing board.  If you can’t find it, start submitting applications and give up your office space to the hustlers.

6. Turn off your TV.  I think that one speaks for itself.

7. Learn the difference between good and bad advice.  I’ve gotten tons of advice in the past year. If I’d taken the majority of it, I wouldn’t be here.  There is a big difference between what is safe and what is best for you.  Most people close to you want what is safe, and they want you to be happy with that safety.  Happiness within safety does not exist.

8. Never forget your biggest failures.  the first political campaign we managed, we lost.  I was devastated for 2 weeks.  I was also able to pick out a lot of things we did wrong.  If we’d won with a flawed strategy, I would have thought I knew everything.  I would have then done it the wrong way until I had to learn the same lesson down the road.  I still think of that race every day.  On purpose.  It taught me more than all of the collective triumphs of my life.  At the core of successful people is an unrelenting hatred of failure.  If you don’t have that, you don’t have ‘IT’.

9.  Mess around with your business model.  In fact, business models suck.  They are for rigid people that think they want change when what they want is stability and freedom.  Guess what? That isn’t real.  One or the other, pick your poison.  Don’t be afraid to change daily.  You won’t have the luxury in ten years.

10. Toot your own horn.  Owning a business is tough.  If you’re doing it, then you deserve respect.  No matter what your age, experience, or clientele, don’t be afraid to be proud of where you’ve been and where you’re headed.  It takes guts to start out with nothing.  People know that.  If you’re in the arena and you’re making ends meet, you’ve proved enough to the masses.

11. Stay Hungry. Always try to push for change.  I don’t want to be the guy everyone wants to work with, I want to be the guy everyone is afraid to work against.  There’s a huge difference. You can always be better. ALWAYS.

12. Never forget where you came from.  Every person at the top is standing on the shoulders of a lot of good people.  It’s harder to climb back down these people than it is to climb over them.  Don’t burn your bridges and don’t lose your sense of self.  These things guide you when times are tough.

13. Help others.  My dad and I were talking one day about all of these great connections I was making.  At the end of the conversation he said, “You know, you aren’t far off from being someone good to know.”  When you do in fact become someone that can be of value to others, take advantage of that.  It feels good.

14. Break every rule.  I was told so many times that I had to take certain steps to get to where I wanted to be.  I had to follow old rules and do things a certain way.  I’m glad I didn’t listen.  The people that make the rules are disrupted by change.  I thrive on it.  Do things your own way.  You won’t be happy otherwise.  When it works, you will be filled with pride. If it doesn’t, at least you went down swinging.

15. Look at your business through a different set of eyes.  Sometimes I get discouraged because things aren’t moving fast enough.  Sometimes I just need to take a step back and reassess.  When I truly do that, and I see how far we’ve come in a year, it blows me away.  It’s a long, long journey.  No one day or mood or occurrence decides the outcome.

16. Check your baggage at the door.  Owning a business is hard as hell.  There are lots of little things that go into the everyday grind.  You’ve got to check yourself when you get bogged down.  You’ve got to deliver to your clients and the people that count on you.  Leave your anxiety and other garbage at home.  Walk out the door every day like you own the world.  If you only believe it until you get home, you’re still ahead of the curve.

17. Never grow up.  Being an adult and growing up are two different things.  Adults handle their bills and responsibilities and are dependable.  Grown ups are jaded and tired and out of ideas.

18. Evolve.  Your business will change, even if you sell unchangeable products.  You will also change yourself.  Don’t get flustered when your priorities shift.  If you’re really in it for the long haul, they most certainly will.

19. Get a new hobby.  Believe me, you’re going to need it.  Even if you don’t have much time for it, you will need a refreshing reprise.

20.  Have fun.  It’s all about the journey, right? Enjoy what you do.  Welcome the uncertainty.  Induce new experiences.  It will be worth it in the long run.

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From → Business, General

3 Comments
  1. Dad permalink

    That is a nice piece of work. U are learning a lot in a hurry. Just keep soaking it in and taking time to reflect on it. Love, dad

  2. Sorry I missed this . I just read it and couldn’t agree more. Owning your own business is the most invigorating, depressing, demanding, rewarding, challenging and satisfying way to spend your work life. Frankly, not everyone is cut out for it. They would rather have the security than run a risk of failing. Me? Failure makes you think and work harder. When things go right, the work and sacrifice are worth it.

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