12 Things I Learned During My First Year as an Entrepreneur

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I never wanted to be an entrepreneur.

I did not dream about it as a kid.

Rather, my disdain for corporate America forced my hand and led me here. I quit my job nearly two years ago and launched www.ontheregimen.com one year ago today.

After depleting most of my savings, making countless mistakes, and feeling more vulnerable, scared and anxious than ever before – I now have a “job” that has alleviated financial uncertainty. And one that I truly love, though I feel like an arrogant asshole admitting that.

If you are looking to make a similar move, here is the best advice I can offer.

Cliff Jump

 

1. Be Damn Good

Be amazing. Be the best. You cannot build a business on flashy bells & whistles.

Top notch design and high converting opt-in forms mean nothing if your customer does not value what you do.

Content is key. So, whatever you are giving/selling, make sure it is sound, no-bs stuff.

 

2. Find the Right Mentor, and Serve Him

“A single conversation across a table with a wise man is better than 10 years of mere study with books.”

Choosing the right mentor is a full post in itself, but the key here is to serve that mentor. I’ve seen people get a shot and blow it because they underestimate the importance of serving without expected return.

You can’t keep score in this relationship. Know that you need to give, give, give in the beginning, expecting NOTHING return. Always say yes, always take on more projects – and deliver. Not only is the experience and knowledge invaluable in itself, but you are building equity in a relationship.

Your mentor will groom you, lead you, and pay you back by alleviating years of blindly and inefficiently wading through business.

I was halfway thru Mastery by Robert Greene, a book on mentorship, when I booked

a one way ticket to New York City for an interview with John Romaniello.

3. Get Noticed

You can put out amazing content, but people need to see it.

Attend seminars and networking events, be active on social media contributing to relevant conversations, find places to have your work featured, whether it is a more traditional route like newspaper, radio or television or an up-and-coming distribution channel such as a niche blog or forum.

You need eyeballs on you and your work.

 

4. Walk The Walk

You want to write a cook book, but you can’t bake brownies?

You want to manage money, but you cannot articulate a forward p/e ratio?

Some will debate me here, usually out of shape personal trainers defending themselves.

Well, if you are telling people they can lose weight and stay lean year-round by simply lifting weights 3x/week, counting macros and drinking on the weekendsyou damn well better do it yourself too.

[insert narcissistic shirtless bathroom mirror selfie HERE]

 

5. Work Your Ass Off

There are certain periods in life where you need to dedicate a boarderline obsessive focus to one specific thing. That’s okay. Obsession is unfairly demonized, usually by people projecting bad feelings about their own work ethic onto others.

The truth is, there is no sexy rise to the top. Just like there is no quick fix and there is no billion dollar idea. It all takes hours and hours of hard, hard work.

“B-but, Facebook was an overnight success!”

No, Zuckerberg spent thousands of hours coding in his dorm room. Facebook was not an overnight success. Facebook was built on grind.

 

6. Get Your $$$ Straight

Step 1: Get out of debt. Step 2: Save up a some cash.

I dug up this little piece of gold for you. It was my projected monthly burn calc when I quit my job.

Vacanti Burn Rate

(As an aside: I only do ice cream first dates. No booze. No dinner. Non-negotiable.)

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Step 3: Estimate the bare minimum you can live off (monthly burn rate). Then determine how many months/years you can make $0 income before you are eating out of trash cans.

Be realistic and conservative here. That green cell should be AT LEAST 12 months. I would recommend 24+.

If you go into this big-headed and think you can make your clothing design business profitable in 3 months, you’ll be crawling back to that desk with your tail between your legs.

People often quote the “3 Year Rule”:

It will require three years after you quit your job to attain the same income you received while working.

While I disagree that this is a ‘rule’, it is a good reminder to be financially conservative.

 

7. Plan First, But Then Take Action

Planning is important, there is no denying that. Get your finances in order and map out short, mid and long-term goals with deadlines. Keep your goals where you can see them.

But then act.

You can’t hem and haw all day theorizing about what you will do. You need to take the leap.

Shitty writers did not become good by planning to write. Or thinking about writing. Or studying writing. Or telling people they were going to write.

You know what they did?  They wrote. They took action.

 

8. Actually Care About People

I cannot stand the word networking. It elicits awkward memories of socially dense and generally selfish young professionals in cheap suits talking over one another in some convention hall where light beer and white wine is served and business cards are wasted.

So, instead of saying network, I’m saying actually give a shit about people.

Like, be friends with them.

Bond over similar interests. Help them. Listen when they talk. Form an honest relationship aside from your intents and motivations.

You don’t always need to talk shop either. When I first met one of the co-founders of Fitocracy, we spent half the night comparing Coors light versus Bud light, postulating whether the writers of How I Met Your Mother could put together a 9th season that would satisfactorily conclude the series, and blatantly flirting with our twenty-something waitress (she loved it).

Have a genuine interest in the person, and you will both gain more from the relationship.

 

9. Wake Up Early

While your schedule and life circumstances will play a role here, the morning is generally optimal for uninterrupted productivity. There are fewer distractions at this time of day.

Get up early, and do the important stuff first.

It’s a great time to focus on creative work before you dive into busy-ness: your inbox, phone calls or meetings.

 

10. Give Relentlessly

I mentioned serving your mentor, but you need to give to EVERYONE.

Give your customers free content. Give your peers whatever they seek (introductions, opportunities, time and advice). By giving to everyone, you build brand equity and create implied obligations.

Again, don’t keep score. You aren’t trading favors. Give to everyone and expect nothing in return, and you’ll end up with a LOT coming back your way.

 

haters11. Ignore Everyone

I almost didn’t include this. The haters-gonna-hate memes have been played out.

But it is SO ESSENTIAL to the creative process that you filter out external expectations. You cannot create great work if you are tailoring your content to appease those who dislike you.

I didn’t really tell anyone I would quit my job, and I told very few people my online fitness plans before they launched.

Because the few people I told would say:

“What are you gonna do if you fail?”

“Is there really money in fitness?”

“Aren’t you wasting your college degree?”

“What will you do in a global stock market crash without a safe job?!”

I didn’t have any of those answers.

And you won’t either.

So, instead, I want you to listen to one voice and one voice only: your own. Ignore nearly everyone, and be very careful in selecting who you lean on for guidance.

 

12. Don’t Be An Entrepreneur

This seems like a catchy finish, but it’s not.

I’m not teasing you. I’m not tempting or baiting you. But the truth is, the sacrifices you will have to make during year #1 are beyond what most people would consider “worth it” for the reward.

It isn’t just giving up the little luxuries – a couple hours of television and fewer nights dining out.

I skipped two very good friends’ weddings to attend fitness seminars.  I missed Thanksgiving with my family and a best friend’s bachelor party because I couldn’t afford a plane ticket home. I ate all of my food exclusively from Costco for six straight months. I spent much less time on other goals, maintaining relationships, engaging in mindless fun, and basically living an enjoyable life.

People like to think that freedom is sexy and easy, but it’s not. It’s a grind.

 

So maybe you shouldn’t do this. And that is absolutely fine.

But you know what,

For me personally, to escape that cubicle and live a life I designed, I would do it all again in a heartbeat.



Comments for This Entry

  • Fred Eklund

    Excellently put buddy - hitting the nail on the head here. Keep the steam up!

    April 8, 2014 at 6:17 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Nicole

    I think I could easily live out of Costco for six months. :D

    April 9, 2014 at 4:19 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Jorden Pagel

    Thanks Mike! As someone who is in the beginning stages of this process this article is very helpful and insightful. I would definitely like to see a deeper look into the mentor aspect and I'll for sure have to pick up Greenes book too

    April 9, 2014 at 5:01 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Arjun

    WOW. Absolutely brilliant. Best one yet, V. Proud of you.

    April 9, 2014 at 10:43 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Feyyaz

    How are you only spending 200 bucks on food? :D Can you give me a breakdown of what you're buying etc.?

    April 10, 2014 at 8:52 am | Reply to this comment

    • Mike Author

      Bro there was a lot of perdue chicken, olive oil, peanut butter, oatmeal and jasmine rice. Fortunately, I was bulking most of the time. If it had to be high protein low calorie, would have been tougher. Might have gone broke ;)

      April 16, 2014 at 1:36 am | Reply to this comment

  • Chris Esplin

    I left my full-time job a year ago to work on istilllovecalligraphy.com full time. My wife and I started the business three years ago and grew it gradually until we had enough income that I could quit working for others and start working exclusively for us. This post resonates with me, particularly #1. You have to know your field and be at or near the top of it. It is impossible to fake being that good. I'd add a rule #13: Do the hardest things first. Most people start businesses by getting a website, hiring someone for a logo, incorporating, writing business plans, etc. These are a waste of time unless they're prerequisites to solving the hardest problem your business has. If the core of the business is marketing, then start an email list and get 1,000 subscribers before you allow yourself to tackle any other problem. If you're selling content, write the hardest content first and work backwards until you have all of the content you need to launch. Then get yourself a website and start trying to sell. My second piece of advice to anyone thinking about quitting is to get in shape. I wake up at 6am and lift or run 3-5 days a week, and having the early wake up time linked with physical exertion has been invaluable. It not only enforces a schedule, but it also causes me to do something challenging every day, and it leads to a virtuous cycle of feeling good and working hard. Great post Mike.

    April 10, 2014 at 1:39 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Jubin

    Thanks Mike, Thanks for sharing us the (sometimes ugly) truth about entrepreneurship. I was taken by your article completely.

    April 12, 2014 at 1:19 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Ana

    Hey, i know it is not related but I have a question that I could not answered even researching... What percentage of protein should come from the whey protein? I know it probably depends on the mark but let's say that if I take 150g of protein per day what how many g should come from the whet protein? Thanks :)

    April 20, 2014 at 4:55 am | Reply to this comment

  • Jennifer

    Well written, Mike. My 19 year son likes to work his butt off and wants to be an Entrepreneur some day, which worries me a lot cos i know it's a grind. But your last sentence of the article really lift up the heart. I like your sharing of your experiences and wise advice, forwarded to my son for reading :) Thanks for the sharing!

    May 2, 2014 at 2:52 am | Reply to this comment

  • Jesper Josefsson

    Hey man! Just recently found out about you so I've read up on almost all your work on the blog. Some awesome stuff right there. But there is some things I can't wrap my head around, for starters how to find a great mentor in the fitnessbizz. I know you guys in the US have some fantastic peepz like Roman, Rippetoe and all the others but here in Sweden it dosn't seem like there is any perticular people to follow in this industry. Which feel a bit sad for us young bloods who is just starting out with a company of our own. Especially when we know what an impact a mentor can give on you! Would love to have an talk with you Mike someday, but for now I would be happy if you could give some advice on how to find a mentor outside the states.

    May 20, 2014 at 8:56 am | Reply to this comment

    • Mike Author

      Jesper, I appreciate your note man. A couple things: 1) I think there are good fitness people all over the world, in my experience. Martin Berkhan and Borge Fagerli, for example, are both northern euro guys. 2) I wouldn't limit yourself to local experiences. Get active on social media and in the comments section of blogs. Reach out to guys you admire and offer your help as an intern, or pitch some ideas for opportunities to guest post. Don't let geography limit the scope of your pursuit. Best of luck man.

      May 22, 2014 at 2:03 am | Reply to this comment

  • Phailon

    Thank you so much for investing time into your blog. I became certified as a personal trainer about two years ago but currently not working actively in the field. Mostly because starting off I sought out mentorship and found that people were very self-focused and not interested in mentoring. I attended two fitness conventions last year that I didn't feel were worth the money I spent to attend. So talk about discouragement. But about two months ago, I regained a desire to get back to my personal fitness lifestyle and in doing someone told me about macronutrients. This is what brought me to your site yesterday and today I have a food scale and am counting my macronutrients. Now with this post I am motivated to get back to helping others achieve their goals. But as you said and Chris' advice reiterated, first things first. I have to get into shape myself, which is for me, doing the hardest thing first. Thanks again!

    May 23, 2014 at 4:14 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Katie Landerud

    Hey Mike, My friend Maggie had contacted me out of the blue yesterday telling me to check out your website. I haven't really spoken to her in over a year. So, I thought, this must be really good. I am a day dreamer especially on my 40 minute drive to work. I absolutely love your realistic approach to what hard work really is, no sugar coat, not a "get rich fast" scheme. Really down to earth truth. Makes for hesitation, but so true. I feel inspired.

    August 7, 2014 at 12:31 pm | Reply to this comment

  • brittany

    This is ON POINT !!!!!!! So awesome. *** Antispam disabled. Check access key in CleanTalk plugin options. Request number 390b1014214c7e737055b072529e113f. Antispam service cleantalk.org. ***

    August 27, 2014 at 1:35 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Malek Banoun

    This is great! Loved the content and the advice was so accurate! Thank. You. Mike!!!

    September 4, 2015 at 2:27 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Mimi at Tahoe

    Mike said: Don't let geography limit the scope of your pursuit. This whole article is hugely uplifting. Like working out, piano study needs good coaching as you begin reading music and using both hands. A friend was just telling me someone is giving piano lessons all over the world -- by Skype!

    January 13, 2016 at 5:32 pm | Reply to this comment

  • alana

    Mike...thank you for sharing such awesome authentic content. I wish that I would have read this is 2015, but there is no time like now! Keep it coming...along with your snapchat vids! Snapchat: @amariet23

    January 15, 2016 at 12:25 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Stu

    How did you make a truly authentic, accurate, Useful, and awesome article starting with a number. I almost didn't read it because I'm sick of 3 steps for this and 5 ways to do that! You are the best!

    March 25, 2016 at 7:50 am | Reply to this comment

  • Katie

    I've never heard anyone explain entreprenuership that way before! Thank you for your honesty!

    July 4, 2016 at 4:13 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Ben

    Awesome read and just what I needed.

    July 13, 2017 at 8:52 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Ali Abdulkareem

    Thanks Mike! I am an aspiring content provider for people living with Diabetes like myself, don't really know how I can provide a value for the people yet, but really limiting the people I take advice from, so from you and Gary (Vee) I am documenting my journey and not creating, aka not giving advice and hoping to bring value along the way! Much love.

    July 22, 2017 at 2:24 pm | Reply to this comment

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