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