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3 Important Lessons I’ve Learned From Starting A Business At Age 12

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Why did you start your business? Was it because you wanted freedom? To escape from a boring desk job? Maybe you wanted to start living the “Rockstar” lifestyle of Richard Branson?

All of us have our reasons for becoming an entrepreneur and doing it alone. For me, it was because I wanted a drum set.

My dad played the drums, so naturally I wanted to follow in his footsteps. I asked my mom and stepdad if I could get a new acoustic kit, and their response was that I could only get it if it earned it myself. This was upsetting at first, but I am so glad for the way things turned out, because it changed my life.

Did I mention that I was only 12 years old? That’s kind of important considering I couldn’t legally get a job. I had to figure out how to make this happen on my own, and I was determined.

Since I couldn’t work for someone else, I decided to start a lawn-care business. I learned so much from this first venture into the world of entrepreneurism, and these lessons have been invaluable to the 6 businesses that I have started since then.

Here are three things I’ve learned about starting a business:

1. Starting up is often the hardest part

I knew I needed to make roughly $700 in one summer while the grass was growing and I was out of middle school. I calculated that if I cut roughly one lawn every day left in the summer for about $10-$15 a piece, I would have the drum set by summer’s end.

My first obstacle? I didn’t even have a lawn mower. Like I said, we lived in a duplex, so the land lord was the one who cut the lawn with his own lawn mower.

If you’re starting a new business, it’s often those steps that come after that great idea that are the most perilous. This is when you start to see the reality of what you are up against, and it is really easy to quit and say “this won’t work.”

Not having a lawn mower was discouraging, however my stepdad made me an offer that was a pivotal moment in my life. He told me that if I could go door to door and get 10 people to sign a sheet of paper saying I could come back in a week or two to cut their lawn, he would front me the money for the lawn mower.

I went out that night, pounded on doors, and got told “no” a lot. I think I got around 8 signatures or so that night, and my stepdad was impressed enough that he bought me the lawn mower.

The hard part was over, and I was now in business! I have learned through several businesses that if you can quickly get past this very first obstacle, it is comparatively smooth sailing from thereon out.

“Problems are not stop signs; they are guidelines.” – Robert Schuller

2. Cold-calling is a painful, unforgiving, numbers game

Cold calling was essentially what I was doing at age 12 knocking on those doors. And I learned quite fast that it is a numbers game.

You knock on doors, you get a percentage of people who say yes, and then a percentage of those people actually follow through and do business with you.

I didn’t know about that last part, so when I returned to my list of signatures and knocked on their doors, I was disappointed to be greeted with either no answer or an “I changed my mind” from a big portion of them.

So I knocked on more doors, and more doors, until finally I started to get my first real customers (and cash in hand). What I learned from this long cold-calling process was that I hated knocking on doors. It was nerve-wracking and it really sucked to get rejected. There were times where I wanted to just quit and go home to play video games.

But each time, right when I was on the brink of quitting, I would get a “yes,” and that $10-$15 would suck me back in. I repeated this process for a while, but then I got smart. I asked myself: Why was I knocking on doors?

Looking back, I was inadvertently doing exactly what is commonplace in online business today, I was building a list.

So my 12-year-old self looked at my list and determined who would be most likely to pay me. My answer? My existing customers! I was spending so much time knocking on doors (lead generation) that I wasn’t properly following up with the people who already liked me. After all, grass grows fast in the summer. I would only need 3-5 regular customers paying me every week in order to hit my goal.

Just like the lawns I was caring for, I needed to be just as good at caring for and nurturing my customer relationships. So that’s what I did. I focused 100% on providing great service, doing more than was asked of me, and always asking if people had neighbors they were friends with who could use my services.

That was when I stopped cold-calling forever and started focusing on customer-nurturing and building a referral network. These things are always at the forefront of my mind today, even as my techniques and marketing knowledge have become more sophisticated.

 

3. A “burning so hot you think you might die” desire

If I didn’t dream of having that drum set and following in my father’s footsteps, playing my favorite songs, and maybe even starting a band…If I didn’t yearn for this every time I stepped into my room and looked at the spot where I would place that kit…there is no way I could have done it.

I would have quit by the 10th “No” I got while knocking on doors. I would have quit when I had a valuable regular customers drop my services in exchange for their nephew.

Willpower is a finite resource. But dreaming of that drum set kept me going. It’s what pushed me along when things got tough and I wanted to give up.

If there is any lesson I have taken away from my first business, it is, you can’t do amazing things if you don’t have an amazing reason for doing them. You only have so much willpower. If you don’t have that burning desire constantly nagging you, you will just give up. I can guarantee it.

But if you figure out what your burning desire is, and keep it at the forefront of your mind at all times. If you write it on post-it notes and put them everywhere. If you allow it to push you and even stress you out a little bit, you will surprise yourself with how your work ethic changes and how you will start to focus on the right things that will help you reach your goal.

And once you reach that goal and all of that hard work pays off, you become addicted to that feeling of achievement and success. I was able to purchase my drum set that summer (I still have it today), and I never did stop “opening up shop” to achieve my goals.

“Desire, burning desire, is basic to achieving anything beyond the ordinary.” – Joseph B. Wirthlin

What lesson have you learned from starting your business? Please leave your thoughts in the comment section below!

Collin is a serial entrepreneur and founder of the The 20 Something Entrepreneur, which is a blog and podcast dedicated to helping the young and the young at heart find more success in their businesses by learning from other young entrepreneurs who are still “in the trenches” figuring things out.

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6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Chetan

    Feb 3, 2016 at 9:50 pm

    Hello,
    Thanks for sharing your lessons with us.
    I completely agree you should have a desire to achieve something and relate that thing to your goal has worked for me as well in past.
    I like the idea of focusing on existing customers who are already with you and get the referral through them is a good idea as mouth publicity from customers have greater effect than ours. But I would like to know how you keep maintained the desire after getting the drum set.. Its good you achieve something at the age of 12yrs but how did you manage your success further in the future? How frequently did your burning desire change? Could you please share some more achievements that your burning desire related to in business? I know its easy to achieve once but how you maintain this further is what I would like to know.
    Thank you
    Chetan

    • Collin Stover

      Apr 4, 2016 at 3:27 pm

      Hey Chetan,

      Thanks for your comment. Excellent question!

      When I finally purchased that drumset, it was one of the best feelings ever. It was also the end of summer, so lawn-care season was over. This gave me a forced break, however by winter I was back out shoveling walks, and when we moved the next spring I started sending out flyers to the neighbors advertising my lawn care services. Nothing fancy – only one called – but that one person owned a handful of properties and did *a lot* of work, so they were actually the only client I needed that next summer. By that point, there were two things fueling my motivation, even as I went through one of the most difficult times of my life due to emotional/mental health reasons:
      1. My commitment to that one customer. I had promised to be there week after week, and I kept that promise. It helped that the older couple I was working with were extremely nice. They reminded me of less-crazy versions of my grandparents, and were people I didn’t want to disappoint.
      2. Since a young boy I have always desired autonomy. I wasn’t a bad kid, but I did not like feeling like decisions were being made for me. I wanted to make my own decisions, and I wanted to be independent. My mom was a single mother, and she instilled this independence idea on me from a young age. She still worked, so for a while I had to walk myself home from the bus, let myself into our apartment, cook myself a snack before she got home to make dinner, etc. It was one of the best things that could have happened to me. My mom is the best mom in the world, but I never grew this immense reliance on her growing up like some people do. This allowed me to “do my own thing” and figure out what works for me. This is a long answer of saying I like freedom and autonomy in the core of my soul, and working a “real job” with a boss (I’ve tried it before, twice) is extremely painful and emotionally disturbing for me. So the thing that drove me and still drives me now is the idea that I want to be in control of my own destiny and not go through the painful experience of having a boss.

      I hope that answers your question. Let me know if it doesn’t.
      Collin

  2. Payden

    Feb 3, 2016 at 7:53 pm

    One of the best articles I’ve read. Thanks Collin.

    • Collin Stover

      Apr 4, 2016 at 3:16 pm

      Thank you so much Payden! That means a lot. I have more in store for you!

  3. Ram Vijay

    Feb 3, 2016 at 12:21 pm

    Extra ordinary article. Very well explained with an example. “Burning Desire” is all we need like a 12 year old kid.
    Keep posting 🙂

    • Collin Stover

      Apr 4, 2016 at 3:17 pm

      Hey Ram, Thanks so much for your comment! Yes – a burning desire is a huge part of it. It is *not* all we need, I don’t believe, however it is what drives us to do the things we do need to do. I think of it as a foundation. 🙂

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Startups

You Are The Problem With Your Business

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A great way to screw up your company is to get into the habit of blaming your suppliers, the market, your staff or your product for your failures.

I recently heard a story of a business that had set up a website. They sold various products and services focusing on helping people with psychological issues. The business owner was smart. The product solved a problem.

Unfortunately, the company was making almost no money. They’d hired someone to help them with their digital marketing and it wasn’t working.

Plenty of traffic was coming to the site, users were having a look around and then not buying a single thing. Who’s fault was this?

Well, according to the business owner it was the person running their digital marketing. As a result, they wasted approximately eight months marketing a website that couldn’t make any sales. The reason the business was failing according to the owner was because of the keywords that were being targeted in the marketing campaign. This is a horrible excuse.

The reason your business fails is because you’re blaming someone other than yourself. It’s the quickest way to bankruptcy. Don’t do that.


Your company is a reflection of you.

It took me a long time to figure out that a company is a reflection of its founder.

One of the businesses I had, had a toxic culture and a bunch of people that were rude to customers, arrogant and not nice people. That was a reflection of exactly who I was at the time.

The company was reflecting the flaws of my own life and what I refused to admit.

In the case of the business owner above, what was obvious is that they were good at telling lies to themselves. It was easy not to change as a business owner and insist that the change needed was nothing to do with their vision.

The issue of their company was not the digital marketing strategy but their lack of understanding around what their customer wanted.

The thought that their products were too complicated, not solving a real problem or priced incorrectly was an admission of guilt they wanted no part in. Hence the eventual demise of their company.


Take responsibility and it will change.

When you own the business, everything is your fault.

You have the power to solve any problem you choose. It starts with you being brave enough to admit that there’s a problem, and then secondly, being bold enough to insist it’s your fault and that you can change it.

The problems in your business can all be solved. That’s what it took me a very long time to understand. When I changed as a person and faced up to my hidden battle with mental illness that I didn’t want to talk about, the odds turned in my favor.

Had I have not taken responsibility for my mental illness, I would have never become a leader in a business or started another side hustle. I would have been crippled by the big, bad world that I thought I could control.

Control came from responsibility, and responsibility solved the major problem in my business: me.


Change is a must.

Not with your digital marketing strategy.
Not with hiring new people.
Not with developing a new product.

Changing yourself is the *must* because YOU attract the problems and the solutions into your business”

You can’t find the solutions or stop the never-ending problems until you stop the cause of it all: you. You’re the problem with your business. The good news is that it’s entirely within your control to fix.

Change you.

Not the business.

<<<>>>

If you want to increase your productivity and learn some more valuable life hacks, then join my private mailing list on timdenning.net

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Startups

The Different Ways of Measuring the Success of Your Start-Up

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Image Credit: Unsplash

You’ve probably heard people use the term “unicorn” in a business context. This means a privately held start-up whose value has grown to at least one billion American dollars. Think Airbnb, Uber, and so forth. There is no doubt that some start-ups have been major financial successes. And many smaller-scale start-ups are doing great as well, working hard and turning a steady profit. But that begs the question of whether finances are the only way to measure the success of a start-up. As it turns out, they might not be. At least, not always and not on their own.

How to Evaluate Success

As anyone who’s been involved with start-ups knows, you need a fair amount of flexibility to do well in this environment. Take the division of labour for example – rather than strict roles, you’ll often see everyone do a bit of everything. The same principle extends to measuring success. It can be vague and mean different things to different people, and it can change over time.

But amongst all that vagueness, one thing has become clear. Predicting the success of a start-up is very difficult for external observers. As a matter of fact, it’s often impossible. Therefore, in order to evaluate how successful a start-up has truly been, we need to know the goals of its founder(s).

“Success means we go to sleep at night knowing that our talents and abilities were used in a way that served others.” – Marianne Williamson

The Numbers

When people think about business, it’s common to boil matters down to the finances. And it certainly is possible to use numbers to measure and predict the performance of a start-up business. Net worth, gross margin, customer acquisition cost – these can all be indicators of success. But, a start-up can post impressive numbers for a while, perhaps even attract large investors, and still shut down in the end. So does this make it a failure?

The answer to this depends. If the founders wanted to start a lasting business, then yes, they failed to meet their goal. However, that isn’t always the case. If they were looking for a short-term solution and came out with more money than they had coming in, a closed-down start-up needn’t be unsuccessful. It can actually be the opposite of that.

So, looking at the figures isn’t enough, and there are different perspectives to consider. When they start planning their business venture, start-up founders may not have any particular numbers in mind when it comes to profit. Instead, they can judge their success according to some of the following criteria.

1. Happy Customers and Solving Problems

The story of a start-up often begins with a problem. The desire to help people overcome a specific issue can be the spark which ignites the creation of an entire business. And in the end, that may be all that matters to the founders.

This is closely connected to the happiness of the customers. If the resulting product or service has made people happy by helping them solve a problem, that is all that may be required for a start-up to be a success. Now, no business wants unsatisfied customers. But in cases like this, happy customers aren’t the way toward the ultimate goal – they are that goal.

In other words, some start-up founders don’t just use financial reports to measure how much they’ve achieved. To them, the one metric which stands above all others is the quantity of positive feedback they’ve received. The main area of focus is customers who use the start-up’s products or services to solve a problem they were having.

2. Impact

Every start-up founder likes doing well in terms of revenue. But for some of these entrepreneurs, the profit is merely a side effect of what they actually set out to do – impact the world in a positive manner. You can see an example of this line of thought with Elon Musk. He said that back in college, he had wanted to be a part of things that could end up changing the world. The continuation of this philosophy is evident in his electric cars (which aim to reduce pollution) and the SpaceX program (which strives to break down some of the barriers of space exploration).

In both cases, the furthering of mankind is the ultimate goal. Many other start-up founders feel the same, even if they have smaller goals in mind. To these people, there is no greater proof of success than if their company has had a positive impact on society or even a small segment of it. In their view, to make a difference is to succeed.

“The only limit to your impact is your imagination and commitment.” – Tony Robbins

3. Freedom

For some, starting up their own business is less about getting rich and more about gaining the freedom to conduct their business the way they want to. In this case, financial success is just a means to an end. The endgame is to be your own boss.

The fact is, some people don’t do well when they’re constantly receiving orders. They are simply hardwired to be free thinkers and they require an environment that allows them to do things in their own way.

Being in a position where you hold all the cards can be exhilarating. The knowledge that your decisions are final is very empowering, and many strive for such freedom. If a start-up can allow such people to go from being a regular employee to being in charge of making all the decisions, then it has already achieved all the success that it needs to.

4. Time for Friends and Family

As many people know all too well, a job can easily turn into the focal point of your daily life. Instead of being a way to support your lifestyle, your work dominates your time. And when that happens, the time you have to dedicate to your loved ones becomes scarce. Combating this is precisely what some have in mind when they decide to take the leap and start their own business.

Now, running your own company is no mean feat and it will require a lot of effort. But the beginning is the most time-consuming part of the process. Later on, it can be possible to create a system which leaves you with a lot more time on your hands. You can spend this time with your significant other, your children, or your friends. A start-up which gives you this opportunity is perhaps the greatest success of all.

A start-up is an extension of its founders and so are that company’s goals. Some entrepreneurs are in it for the profit, but not all of them. In the end, there is no single way to measure the success of a start-up. It all comes down to the specific aims of those who established it. But if the founders can end their day on a happy note, then the venture is a success even if it doesn’t fit some standard definition of the term.

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Startups

The Problem Is Not Your Website Or Your Product.

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spend a lot of my time talking to business owners. They focus on their product, their marketing channels and trying to make more profit.

I met one such business owner who was in the plastic surgery business. Their product (boob jobs and nose jobs) was not working. Their website sucked and people clicked off as soon as they visited it.

People would call their office, get put on hold, listen to the on hold message and hang up.

This business didn’t seem all that special. I’ve talked to many businesses and didn’t think for a microsecond that a plastic surgery clinic could ever teach me anything valuable.

I’ve been to Hollywood on holidays and the issues of body image are all too apparent to me. Anyway, this post is not about body image.

I ended up losing this business as a customer — not that I would ever have sold anything to them if it were up to me. I sat down one afternoon and thought about why we no longer did business with them.

That’s when I realized it’s not about your product or your website. All the issues with this plastic surgery clinic and a lot of other businesses I’ve dealt with stem from one thing. Let me explain in more detail.


Your Google Reviews say you’re an piece of work.

I looked up their Google Reviews and their customers said they were assholes.

They spoke down to clients, they didn’t deliver their clients what they wanted, they argued with their staff in front of customers and they treated people like they were nothing more than a dollar sign.

All I had to do was read their Google reviews to see that the problem wasn’t their product or their website.


Your clients tell you every day that you suck.

I asked the plastic surgery what their clients said.

Many of their clients told them that their services sucked and they would prefer to go to places like Thailand where they could get a better product at a much lower price.

The business owner made the mistake of thinking it was their product that was the problem and that a new website will tell clients a different message.

That wasn’t it.


You abuse your staff and they consistently leave.

I spoke with many staff that worked for this business.

Every single one of them hated the company and were not afraid to say what they thought of the business owner.

The business owner would sit outside on a nice sunny day and look across the street at all the yachts and the people boarding them.

They’d sit there and think that every lead they got was going to take them one step closer to owning their very own yacht.

“If only I could deliver more boob jobs, maybe I could have one of those,” they thought quietly to themselves hoping that no one else could hear how ridiculous this sounded.

I can remember multiple times being on the phone to the business owner and having one of their staff burst into tears halfway through the call.

The first time it happened I didn’t think much. After the third time, I got the message. During the short time I dealt with this business, people consistently left. If you made it to the six-month mark, you were some sort of hero and would probably be given a free surgery to say thank you for your work and make you feel worse about your own body at the same time.

It was free noses and boobs in return for daily abuse.

The problem still wasn’t the website all the product.


You don’t solve real problems; you solve your own problem.

A good business solves a problem.

That problem typically affects human beings and solving it is how you make money in business. Solving problems can start out with a problem that affects you, but at some point, you’ve got to start solving that same problem for other people/businesses.

This owner of this plastic surgery clinic was only trying to solve their own problem which was making more money to buy fancy items like yachts.

Only solving your own problem is not just selfish but bad business.

Good business is solving a big problem or lots of small problems for entire strangers who you don’t know thus doing something valuable for the human race.

Solving only your problem will make you poor.

The problem still wasn’t their website or product.


Creating more problems.

Everything this business owner sold created more problems.

They’d film videos to purposely make people feel like their body wasn’t perfect.

They’d write articles suggesting that everyone needs botox to feel young.

They’d take photos of men and women who were supposed to be perfect so that young people would dream of looking like them.

Not only was their business not solving a real problem; it was also creating more problems every day that it existed.

If your business creates more problems than it solves, you’re in real trouble.You need to take a long hard look at the business and become obsessed with doing everything you can to change it — and do so damn fast to limit the whirlwind of problems you’re creating behind you.


The heart of the problem.

It’s the business owner.

The business I mentioned will fail. That part is certain. The problem with the business is not the website or the product.

The problem is the business has no heart because the business owner has no heart.

You cannot focus on your own selfish desires, create really bad problems in the world, treat other human beings like garbage and expect to go buy a yacht and live happily ever after. It just doesn’t happen like that.

Whether you are a plastic surgery clinic like the one I described or a solo entrepreneur, the problem with your business is you.

Fix the problem of YOU. You can’t get away with being horrible forever.
Being horrible is bad business.

Being respectful, kind and valuable is the final answer to the problem with your business.

<<<>>>

If you want to increase your productivity and learn some more valuable life hacks, then join my private mailing list on timdenning.net

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Entrepreneurs

18 Must Read Business Books for Emerging Entrepreneurs and Startups

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business books

Reading is both relaxation and training for the mind. Who reads, dives into another world. Learning, entertaining and breaking out of everyday life for a short moment. One could go even so far as to say reading is the second most beautiful thing in the world! Whether it is non-fiction or a novel of all the world’s man has created, the book is the most powerful tool. That is also, why we wanted to find out which business book you should undertake in the new year. (more…)

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