Jon Acuff wrote a fantastic book. Quitter. I highly recommend it if you are thinking about starting your own businesses. The highlights of this quick read focus on settling on the fact that you are going to transition from your current job while progressively moving towards your “dream” job. This is a method, a technique that ensures you won’t starve on your path ahead.
This path is not for everyone and I’m here to tell you that it’s a challenging path. I embarked on a two-year journey that started with an idea, slowly birthed over time and grew a day at a time, sometimes painfully slow. Here I sit writing this to you as I am about to step fulltime into my new life. During this time my wife and I had a baby, wrangled a total of fours kids and we endured businesses losses and business gains. At this point the gains far outweighed any losses. I’ve learned a lot about myself and my wife during this transition. The biggest is that I’m a pretty lucky guy. I often worked a 40 hour week and then an additional 10 to 20 hours on the business and she put up with that… while keeping me grounded.
The new business isn’t perfect and it has its liabilities but my two-year semi-paid internship in my new business has taught me a lot and I feel that moving forward I can keep it growing and thriving.
All this might sound exciting but it’s not all pageantry and successes. While mentally enduring the thoughts of failure and self-doubt crept in a bit too often. Even though I’d consider myself a planner, I can only account for so many unexpected occurrences. I’ve had to resign myself to the fact that, I can’t out-plan the unplannable. Life happens. It’s just how we chose to deal with it. With the help of my wife, we’re just going to deal with it.
My wife has also been bitten by the entrepreneurial bug and has not one but two ventures that are already starting to roll. She’s making it look easy too! Good for her.
As you move forward in your life, are you doing what you want to do? Who or what controls and owns your time? Is this how you planned your life? If not, you’re the only one who can change it. If you are, you’re the one who can keep it right where you want it.
Distance makes the heart grow fonder, the saying goes. The distance from my blog has made me very fond of it recently. I need it. The nearly hundred posts that I wrote a year ago are a great little insight into some topics that I am very passionate about, from personal responsibility, finance, business to being a husband and father.
Since the last post, I’ve expanded and improved my business. We now cover half of the state of Michigan. I’ve hired some great new contractors and refined my business plan for the future. The first full year of business met my goals, and year two has nearly surpassed that initial goal and we’re only just starting the second quarter.
So why am I back, I’m back because the focus on the business has made me lose the focus on my life. It’s over taken everything. I’ve allowed it to become all-encompassing to the point where I’m not enjoying it. I just toil in the daily tasks and that’s not where I want to be or where I started out going. I want to be able to enjoy my family and my life to the fullest and only I can choose to change my current course.
A leadership lesson I learned long ago was to imagine a jar. Outside the jar you have one large rock that is just a bit smaller than the jar and a pile of pebbles. The large rock signifies the one important “thing” in your life. The pebbles are all the other little “to dos” that creep up. I’ve filled my jar with pebbles and now cannot fit the rock. I’ve got it backwards.
I’m here today to dump out the pebbles, add the rock and let those small pebbles fill in around the rock. What’s in your jar, a bunch of pebbles or your rock?
What is busy? Each of us have our own personal definition. It could be getting up and rushing out the door to your job in the morning feels “busy”. Or it could be the stay at home mother (or father) with a couple of children who has to juggle appointments, nap time, lunch, play dates and a myriad of other daily ventures is equally busy. Whatever your flavor of busy might be, you’re busy because you’re doing something. Try to be busy with something you love though.
When I was deployed to Iraq, I was fairly busy. I would wake up, run 3 to 6 miles, get cleaned up, eat and then walk around and visit a bunch of Soldiers or prep for a convoy mission. I was always checking out something. In the heat of the day after lunch I could probably relax for a little bit, to read a book or catch a nap. Then I would check out the command center in the afternoon and evening, have a meeting or two, eat, catch a movie and then do it all over again for about 400+ straight days. Those were long days, some longer than others. The busyness of those days has taught me that I can handle “busy” and nothing is busier than a houseful of children I’ve come to find out. Not even a wartime deployment could adequately prepare me for the energy of mutiple children under the age of five. And that’s okay.
Being busy has the ability to focus you on what is important. You have no choice but to utilize your limited amount of time and resources in a manner that not only supports the task at hand but your entire life. Being busy is a good thing. It gives you focus. If your busyness is focused on a task that you love to do, you’ll probably feel time just melt away as you conduct your business. Focus your energy and time on the things and people who you love and you won’t have to toil a day in your life.
You know what? You don’t know what you’re doing. Seriously, you’re no expert. You probably aren’t even sure what your next move is going to be. What makes you an expert? Did you go to school to get your information or read a book or something? Quit fooling yourself, you know you’re in over your head.
That’s doubt. Know what it looks and sounds like. Know how it makes you feel and don’t you ever forget. Doubt can destroy your confidence when you hit a bump in the road. Know the difference between doubt and fact. You’d be surprised, sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between the two when you are having a debate in your brain moderated by your Self Esteem.
Take a step back and separate your doubt from actual facts. The devastating or embarrassing end to your project or business venture probably won’t happen. It’s only playing out in your head, which IS NOT reality. It’s not. Keep going, keep working and keep pushing forward. It’ll be okay. Focus on the positive and all the good you are doing.
Sometimes the wisdom and clarity of a seven year old makes me stop and think. My daughter and I were talking about her future and what she wanted to be when she grows up this past weekend.
She mentioned that she wanted to open a book store. Her love of reading has blossomed over the past year and she reads everything she can get her hands on right now. She is currently reading Stuart Little and a Star Wars trivia book. She can thank her Dad for having both of those lying around.
As the discussion progressed I stated in all of my wisdom that a bookstore might not be the best business to open in the future. Large books stores like Border and Barnes and Noble are currently going through some tough times and are failing. I also added that most people may read books on an electronic device in the future like a Kindle or Nook.
She thought about my genius laden insights for a second and simply said, “Kids probably won’t have a Kindle. They’ll still need books.” She’s right. She’s absolutely right. It’s going to be hard to replace children’s books because kids need those thick, colorful pages to gnaw on and have read to them at night. Children will still need books.
What glaringly obvious facts are you overlooking in your everyday life? If you’d like to know, my daughter will be available for a consultation. It won’t be cheap. Bring your check book.
“I just don’t know what is working and what isn’t working.” Have you ever thought or said that about your business marketing strategy? Do you have a strategy? Is it the radio ads that are working? Is it the Google ads? Is it organic search? Is it word of mouth and referrals? I don’t know. Even when a customer says “We found you on the internet” what does that even mean? You’re probably listed on sites you didn’t even know you were listed on.
What do you do if you can’t put your finger on it? I’m a bit of a stickler for details and the details are eluding me. The good thing, is that something seems to be working. Are your customers still coming in? Mine are. I’m just not sure exactly why. I’ve blogged about this very issue before and yet I’m still unable to collect the data in a fashion that tells me what is working.
I’ve been told that a potential customer who actually needs your service needs to see your advertising between seven and twelve times just to “maybe” think about using your service. Maybe. So maybe, just maybe (that’s a lot of maybes) the equations is the sum of all parts equals one customer. I really don’t know just yet but you can be sure I’m going to find out.
Here’s what I know so far. Marketing that does not give direct feedback is sort of like magic to me. Radio for example, I have no idea who is hearing my message. I only get a report saying that the ad played. Whoopee. I knew that going in. I even have a specific phone number to track calls but that is not even a fool proof method. What does work is talking to people directly. I like that. I like the feedback.
So I am paddling in the lake of marketing uncertainty only really knowing that I’m exerting effort but the tide seems to be sloshing me all around without a discernible course.
What’s worked for you?
This is part two of the blog, To the class of 2011. It picks up with my predictions for what the class of 2011 might expect now as they move forward with their lives over the next couple of years.
Here’s how the scenarios might look to a majority of you.
A. You go away to college and have no idea how much it costs. Tuition, room and board, gas, phones, utilities, rent, cable, internet etc. No idea. That’s okay! You have a $500 scholarship and your FAFSA application. You’re covered! (Not really.) Let’s continue; You are doing great at school and you are secretary of the student council, volunteer at the local animal shelter and have a fantastic 3.45 GPA in Political Science.
You are doing an amazing job and continue to do so for the next couple of years.
Fast forward to college graduation and now you are one of the lucky who made it all the way through unlike some of your roommates who just have thousand of dollars of debt and no degree. You’re different because you have tens of thousands of dollars of debt WITH a degree. You’re in great shape! (Not exactly.) At 22 years old the world is yours for the taking. If you’re going to work for your Uncle’s Firm and have a job all lined up you are in the minority. Congratulations. Most people don’t have a good job lined up. Most people have to go out and look for a job. The funny thing is, that after four/five years of college, you failed to learn how to write an effective resume and how to interview. Uh oh.
So now you’re broke, don’t know how to interview and your resume consists of one line of education and work experience totaling assistant shift supervisor in the cafeteria. With 9% unemployment nationwide (it’s still going to be rough in four years from now) what sort of rock star job to you think you’re going to get? For a large number of people who aren’t engineers and computer science majors you’re probably going to revert back to what you know. A job that you probably held BEFORE you left for school. You’ve moved back in to your parents place because you can’t afford rent right now. Good thing they kept your bedroom the same. There is one big difference though, now you have fifty thousand dollars worth of student loans to pay off making $10-$15 an hour. Ouch!
You see, the debt you incurred changes your mindset. Instead of being able to do the unpaid internship across town, now you have to go and work in an unrelated field. Instead of getting married to your college sweetheart you hold off because he is also living at his parents house because of his student debt. You’re entire life changes because of that debt. Keep that in mind when you sign on the dotted line. Your choices have consequences.
This is not 10 years or even 15 years ago when my contemporaries were securing their first jobs outside of college. It’s going to be much harder for you not just because of the job market but because of your debt load. Student loan debt is one of the only debts that you can NEVER get rid of, not even through bankruptcy.
All this is yours forever (or what will seem like forever) if this is the path you take. You’ll be hitting 40 years old and still paying the same tired old bill because your 18-year-old self signed up for it. So, high school graduate, don’t you think it’s time to take another look at how you’re actually going to pay for your education?
Or you could consider this.
B. You work. You work like you’ve never worked before. It won’t kill you, trust me. You’re 18 and healthy. In this scenario you may work at a job or trade that requires you to work your way up and pay your dues, all the while they pay you while you earn valuable experience. Great! Keep doing that. Just keep saving and paying with cash.
If you still want to go to college great! You can do it. Here’s what I propose. Go to work. Get two jobs. Live at home. You’re parents probably wouldn’t mind especially if you keep doing chores. It’s a great deal you’ll soon find out. Save for that first semester and go to the local community college. Do that for two years. You heard me TWO years. During that time you’ll have done a couple of things. You will have learned how to WORK and how to SAVE. You’ve personally funded your first two years of school AND you’ve saved enough to move on to a four-year school to graduate. You are putting yourself through college and you’re only making about $25k a year for the last two years. Great job. You also wont’ be afraid to pick up a part-time job while you are at your new university either. Because at this point, just working one part-time job while taking fifteen credit hours is a breeze. Now this route may have taken you more than four years. That’s okay. Maybe it took you six years and now you are twenty-four years old with a college degree and ZERO debt. Not only that, you have YEARS of work experience under your belt in a myriad of different industries. You had the freedom to switch jobs because you could! You followed your passion one, $13 dollar an hour job at a time while you fit in class and studying. You have a new appreciation for hard work and what your efforts are worth.
The difference between these two scenarios in easily quantifiable. It’s a debt load equivalent to a starter home or a brand new 5 series BMW. It’s massive, ugly and will be a part of every decision you make until you are at least forty years old. That debt isn’t going to go away when you get married or have kids or try to buy a house or a new car. All the time the debt load will be there for the person in Scenario A. The people in Scenario A followed the masses and didn’t realize it was leading them down a path chained to a massive bill that they can never get rid of. Education at any cost is silly. Do it smart, don’t learn the hard way and pile on the debt. The group in Scenario B worked hard, saved and paid for cash at the tender age of 24, they are debt free. They are free to follow their hearts and dreams without the burden of an extra, interest bearing bill every single month for the next fifteen or more years.
You decide which one makes more sense. You’re an adult now. You can do what you want.