In 2010, I decided to take the plunge and start freelancing, taking on design jobs wherever I could find them. In seven years that have passed, I had the pleasure (and occasional displeasure) of working with all kinds of people. I have held jobs, I have started things with friends, I have consulted with and for companies. Its been wide and varied, a lot of work but mostly fun. There are three distinct characters I have encountered in business, and at some time or the other, I have also been any one of these three.
Ah the Chancer, you starry eyed fuck. This person is entering the equation with a whole lot of luck. They don’t really know what they are doing. They just want to make money. They are winging it, swinging for the fences with eyes wide shut hoping, praying to connect. The Chancer goes for a presentation with a big client not knowing what the hell his story is and what he is hoping to accomplish. The Chancer usually has no actual technical skill or knowledge or lay of the land. They don’t even do their research. They rely on their wits and bullshitting skills. You might be tempted to laugh, but hey, this person has balls, they take action, they are coming to the table.
The Hustler has a rough idea of what he is doing. He has a ton of energy. He is resourceful. He has had some measure of success, and is great at getting things done. The problem is, unless the hustler has incredible self-awareness and a plan, he is probably going to be stuck hustling forever. They keep running around in circles, jumping from thing to thing, making money, losing money, not really building anything. They tend to be opportunistic; exploiting whatever loophole they can to make money. It’s a jungle out there folks. Every now and again though, with growth and time, the hustler gets his act together and transitions to the next level.
The go-getter is rare, but they are incredible. They know they don’t know it all and so they work very hard at plugging the gaps in their knowledge. Their greatest gift is self-awareness. They know what they are good at, and what they know what they need help with. They know greatness takes time. They are big dreamers, focused on the big picture but are also knee deep in the dirt, measured and grounded in their goals and working systematically to achieve them. The go-getter is driven by a vision that is much bigger than just making money or being successful. They take pride in their work and are always prepared. They are passionate and are trying to change the world or at least make their corner of it a little better, a little brighter.
It goes without saying that in order of desirability, it goes ‘Go-getter’, – ‘Hustler’, -‘Chancer’. But in many cases, you would have to transition from one to the other. Especially if you are the gung-ho type, jump off the cliff and build those damn wings on the way down. It’s incredibly exciting and nerve wracking. You start off a novice with the audacity of dreaming to be a master one day. Some people don’t want to put the work and time in, they just want to jump to level 10, and so they will take chances. They will get themselves in over their head, they will 9 times out of 10 crash and burn (looking at you Ja Rule and the Fyre Festival debacle).
Over time, you get a little better and you become a hustler. You have a bit of confidence, a lil swagger in your step, some Jay-Z bumping in your headphones, you getting it, you making moves. Just don’t get stuck there. Sure you can sling (sell) this product or service just fine and you doing okay. But are you building fam? Are you working systematically and letting your moves stack up to you checkmating life and winning the game? If not, get it together, move to the next level. Become a Go-getter.
That would seem very obvious but many people violate that simple idea. Notice I say ‘actively’. If you are building a business, you will be learning things from the sheer act of doing. Every day you work at it, there is some new perspective to be gained from direct experience. But if you do not study business itself and do not have access to mentors or ideas on how to build businesses and make them last, you are setting up yourself for failure at worst or dooming yourself to a mediocre level of performance at best.
There is so much you don’t know, flying by the seat of your pants and hoping it works out is not going to cut it. You have to learn. You can’t build your parachute on the way down without any materials. No matter the level of your business, there is a ton of information out there on how to make that business run to full potential at that level and then grow into the next stage.
The doing is indispensable. But you can supercharge that doing, by combining it with absorbing as much knowledge as you can or surrounding yourself with people who know. Do not let all this new knowledge trip you up however. You are entrepreneur, you have to be smart. Stay focused on the key metrics and activities, but broaden your horizons and consider other things as well.
You should be actively learning about business. Get books, take courses, listen to podcasts, watch videos. Learn about the basic components of business – business models, customer relationship management, marketing and sales funnels, operations, cash flow, etc. At the very least, knowing these things will give you an overview of what makes a good business tick and give you a good mental framework to evaluate ideas and strategy. Having these tools will allow you to understand and take the necessary steps to actually grow your business.
Understand your field as thoroughly as possible. Know who the major players are, know the landscape, know the opportunities, understand the general trend of your industry. But don’t just stop there. Learn about other businesses too, you would be surprised what sort of innovative ideas you can copy to take your own business to the next level.
Being good at business is not something that just happens. Like almost everything else, business is a learnable skill. You just have to make the commitment to learn it.
Lessons from re-launching my business site
A little over a month ago, my new business site went live. This was after 3 years of having nothing on that domain name, and this was one step in a long journey of a thousand steps. I had been freelancing and consulting for a while and being so busy, having my website up was one of those tasks you file under important but not urgent. It was also a task that would demand many hours of my time and require a firm foundation of strategy and intent behind it. It took a while but I finally completed it. I did it! A person like me who is prone to being very productive getting everything else done but what’s actually important to move me forward towards my goals. These are the principles and lessons I learned from this process.
- Long Term Intent
Before I started work on the website, I had to take several steps back to evaluate my business, what I was strong at, what trends I had discovered and what my goals were. I even defined what I want my business to look like in 50 years. This allowed me to work backwards and sketch out the stages I would probably go through to eventually get there. Understanding the bigger picture provides context to the initial goal of getting the website up and helps drive a sense of urgency towards accomplishing this goal.
- Relevance for today
I did not just understand what my big picture goal was and how my initial goal of setting up the website sets me up for that, I also understood what it would do for me today. Getting this done would crystalize my messaging and be an important step in the sales and onboarding function of my business.
There are many things that compete for my attention and time everyday, from client requests, projects and social functions. I ended up committing about 6 months (I thought it would be 2 at first) to getting this done. This meant forgoing 99% of social functions and limiting the amount of client work I took on. I was now my first and most important client. I spent free weekends doing the necessary groundwork for the website.
- Break it up to parts
Because defining my brand and creating the website was going to be quite a long process, I had to break it up to chunks and work through it systematically. I worked on my brand definition and key messaging, then I created the site structure, found a theme I liked, designed the interface using the theme as a framework and my brand definition as a guide, then eventually setting up the site itself. Chunking helped because I always knew where I was and what to do next to move the project forward.
- Stealing time
Like I said earlier, I get busy, and even though I was able to set aside hours at a time or half days or full weekends to really digging into the project, sometimes I would get really busy. But because I had broken the work into chunks and was working systematically, even being able to steal 30 minutes here, an hour there was vital to getting this done. I would take a spare 30 minutes to quickly hash out the content for a section I was working on, or to reevaluate some design decisions. One time, feeling a bit burnt out and vegging out on the couch, I grabbed my notepad and quickly brainstormed ideas for blog posts. If you know what you are doing, chunks of 25-30mins can eventually go a long way. When I eventually sat down to put in a days work on the website, I had ironed out many of the kinks in those time chunks and things went smoother
Working on one thing for months is not easy. There are many temptations to give up and distractions to derail you. You have to persevere.
- The last stretch is the hardest
The final month working on the site to get it live was tough. There was some design fatigue and it just seemed like the work would never end. 90% of the work was done, but the last 10%, fixing errors, putting in the details, seemed to take just as much time. I just had to push. In the first week of 2017, I set a deadline to go live by the end of the week and that’s all I did everyday, sat down and worked on the site until it was done and I hit publish.
Once the website was live and I made final tweaks, sent off the link to a few friends and colleagues to have a look, I went out and grabbed a bottle of champagne and celebrated with my friends. I finally got some real shit done.
So those are the lessons I learned working on this, and I look forward to getting many more crucial things done as I move forward on this journey, creating the company of my dreams. I hope it helps and inspires you to get your important things done too.
And other things.
I was catching up with a friend on Twitter, and she mentioned to me how she needed to execute on her projects more and do some writing and shooting (she is an aspiring producer), but the main thing that keeps tripping her up was the idea of failure. She was so scared of failing she would sabotage herself before she could even get started.
But that’s nonsense.
You need failure. How else are you going to learn. Embrace failure as a key part of the process. Failure is how you get feedback. Failure forces change. School teaches us that we need to have all the answers up front. We need to be perfect. But we are just not perfect, we don’t have all the answers, we don’t even know what we don’t know. So you have to try stuff, and that stuff will probably fail. But you will learn something and then you will try again. And if you try enough times, eventually something will stick, you will taste success.
This doesn’t mean don’t be prepared though. Do your homework, do your research, learn as much as you need to. But add a generous dose of action to all that learning. In fact the action is a huge part of the learning. The doing makes your efforts tangible, it makes the journey to your goal more visceral.
We get too preoccupied with succeeding or being perfect. We are scared of getting dirty, we are scared of the mess. Our focus should be on the process. The doing is what’s important, the doing is your spiritual practice. If you focus on getting the day to day right, letting each swing rip, each stroke in, You will work your way past many ‘failures’ into success.
Don’t let the fear of failure stop you. Don’t let the need for perfection cripple you. Let failure be your teacher. Let failure lead you to your eventual success.
Trust no man
But the one above
And the one in the mirror
Rely on yourself first. At the end of the day all you got is the man above (God/Higher Power) and the man in the mirror. Everyone else has to earn your trust. Even YOU have to earn your own trust, with action, by doing what you said you would do, by executing against your goals.
People will fail you. Not because they are being sinister, its just human nature. There is a lot going on at anytime, and its our nature to look after ourselves and ours first then reach out to others.
And of course I am being hyperbolic to make a point. We still have to trust. We can’t survive alone. To exist in the world, we have to trust each other. I trust you do your job, and you trust I do mine well. I trust whoever made the train to have done a good enough job to get me to my destination safe. I trust who ever made my phone to have done it well enough to function properly and get things done. There is always that layer of trust needed to function in the world.
But when the chips are down. You have to be able to rely on yourself first. Do not put yourself in the position where your destiny, your life is in the hands of another person. Don’t have your survival be dependent on the kindness of strangers. Take care of yourself, rely on your self.
Of course there would be times you absolutely have to trust others. You had to trust who ever cared for you when you were born. Sometimes things happen e.g. you get hurt and you have no choice but to rely on the kindness of others. It is great that we have the capacity for compassion and altruism as a species.
But as much as possible, understand that people will fail and things will go south. Have a contingency plans in place. Rely on yourself first, be the last line of defense in your life against life’s shit storms.
Self-reliance means taking responsibility for yourself and your life. Not outsourcing that to an institution, to a company, to a social group, or to a guru or pastor. It’s your hand on the steering wheel of your life’s experience. You need the ability to access your reality as clearly as possible and know what you need to do to get what you want in every situation.
Do clients or customers tend to take a while to pay? There are many ways to solve that problem in human behavior. You could take on as many jobs as you can take and so that those who do come through can tide you over while the others take their time to settle accounts. Or you could streamline your business and only target premium clientele. Or you get the money upfront or at least half of it. In every situation where things could go south because of the human condition, as much as possible, make alternative arrangements. Rely on yourself to solve the problem.
Even in life itself. Rely on your self, on your mind, on your reasoning capacity. Instead of blindly following every advice, test it against your experience and your make up. No one has the answers, and no one knows you like you. So take responsibility for your journey, seek our knowledge and wisdom, learn from others. But ultimately, the decisions are and must be yours.
Take care of yourself, rely on yourself, and you will be able to take care of others.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions.
There are many things that are good, but only a few that are truly important, and truly great. Many times, what stops us short of greatness and our full potential is not failure or doing the wrong things. It’s giving too much time and energy to things that are merely good.
Good is answering every email in your inbox, and promptly too! (yay inbox zero). *Smh*. Good is tidying up your workspace and making everything extra super duper organized. Good is answering every phone call and every request, living at the whims of everybody’s agenda but yours. Good is accepting every social invitation, (you know you gotta nurture those relationships). Good is…well…good. Good is normal. Good is average. Good is mediocre.
Great? Great is harder. Great requires a little more time, and a whole lot of thought and experimentation. Great is uncertain. Great is what’s truly important even though it may not scream to you with the urgency of that last email with the title ‘Re: Incredibly Urgent! ‘. Great is the work that you really feel drawn to create. Great is that project you want to undertake, the book you want to write, the business you need to redesign and optimize. Great is that sweet spot of exertion, mission, creativity and impact.
Not everything is equal. It may take the same amount of time to make those edits for that client that it would take you to draw up a strategy for your business. One will reward you right now. The other will pay you dividends for months or years to come. One is good, the other is great.
Somehow we already know this but what keeps us running on the ‘good’ treadmill instead of steadily plodding along the ‘great’ trail we ought to be blazing? Lack of focus and misplaced priorities. If you are not focused, If you have not taken the time to be self aware enough to know what you want and what is truly important, you will not make it to great. You are not working at great because you want to please everyone. You are not willing to draw a line in the sand and say NO! You think you are multitasking god. You are trying to do everything, and eventually the days will slip into weeks and the months. You suck at everything because you have not committed to one thing.
You only have so much energy and time in the day. Spend the best of it on the most crucial things. Do the one thing that sets you up for more success in the coming year. Take care of the one thing that would make everything else easier.
Don’t procrastinate your great by focusing on the merely good.
There are two qualities of important great things that make procrastination so hard to resist:
- We are not clear on what it is, what it takes and how long it would take
- The great thing seems too big and insurmountable
It is much easier to take the easy wins, answer those emails, get on those other tasks. It makes us feel productive. It is easier to get stuck on just good.
To reach for great, you need a new set of tactics
- You need to block off time to sort out or get rid of the ‘good’ stuff. Get them done, outsource, etc.
- Block off time for the important. Block off time for great everyday. This is the time you shut off from the world and work only on the important thing.
- Break it down to its component parts and work on it piece by piece.
- Meditate on your great thing. Think about it all the time. Why is it important? What do its component parts look like? Flesh it out in your mind, make it tangible.
- Just start. Once you begin, you build enough momentum to make it stick and carry you to the end.