There are laws in this world. Unbreakable, unshakable, unmovable LAWS.
Or the need for air and food and water.
Or the fact that toast always lands butter side down.
But as entrepreneurs, we like to think of ourselves as exceptions to ‘the rules’. After all, we HAVE escaped from the rat race. And we HAVE created something out of nothing. And we HAVE managed to eek out a living on our own terms. So that makes us riled, rebellious, righteous GODS, right?….RIGHT?!?
Well, no. Actually.
Because there are still unmovable, unbreakable rules. Even for the self-employed. Perhaps especially for the self-employed. Whether we like it or not.
1. No one will do it for you. And that’s a good thing. [click to tweet]
a. Hire all the team members you want. Have other people deal with the stuff you dislike or aren’t good at. Sure. Have at it. But before you do that, YOU have to learn how to do what you are hiring them to do, or you will never be able to evaluate their worth. And they won’t respect your feedback. And you will be creating the boss-employee dynamic for someone else that you just escaped from. And you don’t want to be that person, do you?
b. Also, if you get sick or unmotivated or just plane bored with a project, too bad. You have to do it anyway.
But what you’ll discover from all the learning and trying and growing is that you are about a hundred times stronger than you thought you were.
2. You have to invest a painful amount of either money or time [or both] over and over.
There are no shortcuts to a great brand. Or good copy. Or a beautiful website. Or a great network of colleagues. Or a cool product that people want to buy. If you want to stand out, connect, rise above the fray, you ARE going to have to invest. No, you can’t do your first website on the cheap if you want to sell a premium service. No, something is NOT better than nothing. Business is about investment and return, nothing more. The goal is to make more than you invested. How much more is directly proportionate to how much you invest.
And it will always take more time and more money than you expect. Get comfortable with that.
But a ‘painful amount’ means something different for everyone. The point is not actually to spend a big pile of money… it’s that you need to spend as much as you can and still eat. That’s what investing really means. If you have to scrimp and save and keep a job for a while, then do that. It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t everyone would do it.
Think of it like this: If you decided to open a brick and mortar store [you know, like back in the old days when people still did this], you would fully expect to spend a ton of money and time making an empty space into something special, right? You would not simply put your name on a chalkboard outside and put your beautiful wares on folding tables in a big colorless room, would you? Of course not. You would spend several months and many dollar bills making it a space that says, “I will be here for a long time. I want you to have a fantastic experience here. And I am going to do everything I can to make you feel like THIS is where you will get what you need.“
So why on earth would you think an online space would be any different?
And really, what better investment than your very own thing? It will pay you dividends that will bring joys to your life in ways you have not yet thought of.
3. You have to be excellent at customer service and communication.
And I don’t mean decent.
I mean kick-ass-more-than-anyone-ever-has-in-the-history-of-the-universe EXCELLENT.
You are not allowed to be annoyed by your inbox. Nor are you allowed to ignore client issues. Or compliments in social media. Or conversations you can offer something of value to. You have to be responsive, empathetic, kind, and firm all at once.
You have to learn the complicated dance of boundaries – anticipated issues – positivity – confidence – humility – kindness – understanding – and going WAY above-and-beyond precisely at the moments when you don’t want to and they don’t deserve it.
Because if you don’t, someone else will.
4. You have to sell something that enough people want AND have easy access to or you won’t survive. [click to tweet]
I’m delighted that you have found your bliss. I really am. [Try and imagine a world where I am capable of saying that without sarcasm.] But unless there is a market for it, you can’t make it into a business. Period.
Encouraging words from friends and family and the guy at the grocery store is not market research. Unless they are paying you, their opinion does not matter one tiny little bit in this area.
If your market for what you offer is too small, you will fail. If the people who want and need what you’re selling can’t get it easily [like if you sell something online and want them to mail you a check, for example], they will go somewhere else for the same thing… because somewhere else made it easier for them to say yes.
5. You have to love the terror. Love. The. Terror.
If you are not comfortable with huge [and I mean like eleven elephants stacked on top of a t-rex standing on your chest huge] levels of risk, you should not be an entrepreneur.
Being an entrepreneur is like closing your eyes and diving into an empty swimming pool backwards, with one one hand tied behind your back, and hoping that there’s enough water in it to not get smooshed like a watermelon by the time you hit bottom.
Over and over again.
And it will never, ever get easier, safer, or less terrifying.
But then again, a traditional job is not really any more secure, it just has a sexier illusion of lower risk.
So if you’re ready to take the red pill, and face the uncertainty, then dive in. But if you like routine and security, stick with the blue pill and the time-card. It will taste a whole lot sweeter.
6. You’re going to fail. And you have to love that too.
At some point, something you do will fall so flat that it will feel like nothing you’ll ever do will ever be worthwhile/noticed/appreciated and you will never want to get out of bed again. Know that going in. And be ready to cherish that moment when it comes. Because truly, that’s you’re REAL starting line. Everything before that was just warm-ups. Because it’s what you do with the failure – how you pick yourself up – that really matters.
7. It will never be like what you thought it would be when you started.
Your idea will change.
Your vision of success will change.
Your perspective and circumstances will change.
You have to be vigilant about looking for the moments of perfection and success, both inward and outward, every day. [click to tweet] Because chances are, there is no laptop-on-a-beach life in your future. And even if there is, it might turn out that that’s not what you wanted anyway. Have you ever tried to get sand out of a laptop fan? Yeah. Good luck with that.
8. There’s no crying in baseball.
Your business doesn’t care if you had a bad day.
It doesn’t care if you’re sick or in pain or just tired.
It doesn’t care if you lost your motivation, or can’t find your passion, or are letting fear get in your way.
Your business is an asshole. [click to tweet]
It can be the worst relationship you’ve ever had. The one where you swore never again and threw their clothes out the window and sold their favorite hockey jersey for a dollar to a bum. Your business will cheat on you with your best friend, blow off your birthday, and then show up with flowers and beer and charm you back with it’s adorable dimples, sweet nothings, and shiny gifts.
Make sure you have a support group. For reals. Because there really should be a pill or something for treatment of the chronic condition of ‘Business Ownership‘.
9. You can’t do it alone, but you ARE in it alone. AND people will come out of the woodwork to help you.
At the end of every day, it will be the people you connect with: clients, professional and personal network, your team members, your advisers, etc… that will make it all feel worth it.
But every morning, you have to be ready to face your to-do list all by your lonesome.
The good news is that as long as you keep moving forward, the level of generosity that will rise at your feet will overwhelm you. Because eeeeveryone loves to help someone who’s doing cool shit every single day with oodles of grace and pluck.
10. It will be a hundred and eleven times more rewarding than anything you have ever done before.
[Except maybe parenthood? They say that’s a big deal too.]
If you make it through the gauntlet, survive the all the terror, manage to not go crazy and/or lose everything, you will feel like a superhero. The first time you exceed your monthly projections, or get a really amazing response from someone, or sign a huge contract you weren’t sure you were ready for, you will feel like you can do anything.
Because you can.
And that’s really the only rule that matters.
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