One of the best ways to grow your business is to learn from and be inspired by those who live in the same trenches. The people who exude what you want to be, who have fought the struggle, and who continue to excel regardless of how times change. I’m just a few months into my baby startup, so I thought I’d get some pearls of wisdom from folks I look up to. I was lucky enough to get Copyblogger’s Brian Clark, John Jantsch from Duct Tape Marketing and Atlas Web Service founder (and renowned troublemaker) Michael Gray into a short email interview.
Here’s a bit of what I asked them, what I learned and lessons I think we can all benefit from.
Most entrepreneurs are unemployable: Both Brian and John noted that the reason they work for themselves is that they simply can’t work for anyone else. Brian called himself ‘literally unemployable’, saying it was either this or begging on the street. Similarly, John commented he has some control issues (don’t we all?) and spends his life on the hunt to innovate and try new things – something that’s hard to do when working for someone else. Having just started my own company back in January because I was tired of other people’s rules and conditions, I sympathize with the pangs of John and Brian. Entrepreneurs want more.
The bold thrive in a recession: Michael, Brian and John all stressed that SMB owners can’t be afraid in a recession. Downturns open up and create opportunities more than they take them away. Michael particularly noted that during a recession when sales are slow, the only people doing any business are the big guys and the people who have a love for it. The middle tier who’s just in it for the money loses interest. Hopefully you bring some level of passion to your project and can pick up the disenfranchised middle ground. Coming in at zero during a recession leaves you nowhere to go but up in market share. That said, you still have to have a good business model. According to Brian, SMB owners can boldly steal market share simply by not being afraid.
Staying efficient is one of SMB owner’s greatest challenges: Eliminating time wasters is an absolute must for SMB owners. Michael commented that when you work with a big company, there’s no need for you to be efficient. Sometimes you’re even intentionally inefficient so everyone under you is busy. When you go on your own you have to learn to cut down on the maintenance points. Having something that has to be looked at everyday is good when you have staff, it’s not so good when you are the staff. There are a lot of cool and interesting things you can do when running your own business, but not all of them are profitable. You have to learn to figure out what actions have an influence on your bank account and what things are a complete time suck.
Most entrepreneur wish they’d “jumped sooner”: Now is the perfect time to start a business. Regardless of when “now” is. It will never be easier or more feasible and if you keep waiting for the ‘right moment’, you’ll wait forever. Michael Gray considers waiting an extra 2-3 years to go out on his own a mistake, fully admitting that even when he did do it, he didn’t know enough. The thing is, you learn by doing and by getting knocked on the head by your community elders. You’ll never be “ready” to go on your own until you actually do it. That’s when the learning process starts. Michael would kill to have those few extra years back.
You have to focus on the brand: John Jantsch feels not focusing on his brand was one of the biggest mistakes he made as an entrepreneur. For many years he was content to let the business be about him and what he wanted to do. Today, he’s changed his thinking on that and it’s an excellent point. You need to think beyond just today. What do you want from your business? Most people don’t want to be running the day-to-day. They want to get to the point where they can let someone do the nitty gritty stuff so they can focus on managing. If that’s the case, you can’t brand it around simply yourself. And you need to take steps to put that system in place from the very beginning.
Entrepreneurs value the freedom: Brian commented that freedom was the biggest reward of having your own business (though the money’s not bad either), and both John and Michael agreed. Entrepreneurs love being able to choose when and how they work, even if they do work harder and longer than most people. When you answer to yourself, the clock and calendar become irrelevant. Not being tied to a time clock is a huge bonus for most people.
Social media has made things easier for SMB owners.sort of: Brian called social media tools incredibly powerful for SMB owners because you can reach people without spending money. He joked that he doesn’t understand people who can’t figure out the ROI of social media marketing. Social media is about people. People buy stuff. That’s it.
Michael spoke from the other side, saying that if you’re a small business owner and not tech savvy, it’s changed things for the worse. Communication, networking and business deals are being done and you’re not part of it. The downside is it’s easy to get distracted by all this and not all of it is an efficient use of time and resources. Having 10,000 followers on Twitter is great, but if they don’t visit your Web site, tweet your links, bookmark your pages, or buy from you what’s the point? Social media is a tool just like a hammer, if you know what you’re doing you can build a house, if you don’t you end up with a broken thumb.
Now tell me you don’t want to print this out and sleep with it under your pillow tonight. Careful of the paper cuts.