When I left LG, I jumped into a business idea. No planning. No learning. Just jumped the hell in. Turns out that faith and gusto don’t mean a damn thing if you don’t know a damn thing. As much as I’m a huge proponent of the ‘Just Do It’ camp, just doing anything without any sort of a plan is a disaster waiting to happen. Here’s the $250K lesson I learned in my first year as an entrepreneur.
1. If you don’t set goals, somebody else will set them for you. If you have no idea what you’re aiming for, you’re going to end up at some random place, with random people, doing random things. Sometimes this works out awesome. But most times it’s a disaster. “I want to make a million dollars.” is not a goal. “I want to make a million dollars by selling _______ by (date)” is a goal. Without a goal, you can’t create a plan. Without a plan, you can get pulled every which way. You’ll end up saying ‘Yes’ to a lot of people because without a goal and a plan, you don’t know what you should say ‘No’ to. Don’t wing it. You can always make the money back. Time is lost forever.
I didn’t have a real goal. All I had was a goal to make money. No plan. Just jump in and roll. I figured I would be able to learn by doing.
2. Learning by doing is expensive. When I wrote about the lady who started her own business, it was a true story. She did it the right way. She spent months reading about the business she wanted to start, talking to others in the industry, making connections and finding her first customers. She did this while she still had a day job. Getting prepared is not the same as procrastinating. Getting prepared is the pro-active act of learning and planning. Procrastination is talking about stuff you’re going to do and not doing a damn thing.
I did it the wrong way. I was keen on execution. I figured I was smart enough to learn fast enough to earn fast enough. All I learned was how to burn money – really fast. I figured I would be able to get enough advice to keep things going.
3. Most advice is bullsh__t. If there is one bit of advice I would stress you listen to, is don’t listen to anybody’s advice unless they are doing exactly what you want to do and doing it better. Otherwise, all advice, be it about your market, your business, or even random motivation is complete and utter bulls__t. Dude, free advice can sink you. Paid advice can sink you even faster. Hire a sales agent. Hire somebody who can get you billable business. Do not hire somebody who bills you by the hour to tell you that your font needs to be Helvetica with a shade of green. You know what your brand should look like. Asking 20 of your well-meaning friends over beer and pizza is cheaper and will have more impact than hiring an expert who doesn’t really care. The only exception I would make is for young or independent designers who haven’t tasted the drug that is corporate billing. They are used to billing people who have to spend their own money. The difference in advice and authenticity is astounding.
I’ve received advice from a lot of people. It costs them nothing to steer you down the wrong path, even if it was well intentioned. Losing money I can live with. Losing time hurts more than a hernia.
Try to attract good mentors. And steer clear of folks who drop names like a seagull drops ____. But always keep a positive outlook on people. I had a lapse where I became very insular and tried to do everything on my own.
4. Don’t go it alone. Dude, resign your post as the manager of the world and find partners. Yes, some people might screw you. But even if it looks that way, often times if you shut-up long enough to read the signs, you’ll find that you had just as much to do with stuff going bad. Been there. Been that. However, the moment you stop assuming that people are good, although flawed and opinionated, but ultimately good, you become a calculating android who’s creed is ‘It’s only business. It’s not personal.’ Everything is personal. If you’re the type of person who goes into business with people and say it’s not personal, I don’t want to know you. Crooks often say “I was just stealing the money. It’s not personal.”
Ironically, those who fear getting screwed over the most, will likely do most of the screwing over. Takes one to know one I suppose. If bad things happen, you don’t have to forgive or forget. Just cut them out of your reality.
But don’t give up on meeting new people and finding new partners. People need people. Sometimes just for support. Find somebody who is strong at what you’re weak at.
What would I do differently if I could go back?
Nothing. Had to go through it or the lessons wouldn’t stick.
What would I do differently today?
1. Have the goal crystal clear and on paper.
2. Jump in with both feet…into the learning. Give away product/services for free to get feedback. Read, apply, feedback, etc.
3. Don’t waste a nickel on ‘marketing advice’ until you have something to market. And even then, money is better spent on sales agents. You need sales. Sales pays for everything else.
4. You don’t necessarily need a partner at the get-go. But you do need a mentor. I would only consider a partner when there’s an opportunity to scale.