12 Things I Learned During My First Year as an Entrepreneur
Posted by Michael Vacanti
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.
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 weekends – you 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.
(As an aside: I only do ice cream first dates. No booze. No dinner. Non-negotiable.)
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.
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.